BPT Challenge Itapema - SUIvsGER_6350

Huberli passes as Brunner and her were undefeated in their first day in Itapema

Nina Brunner and Tanja Huberli are on a mission at the Itapema Challenge. After starting their season with a frustrating result at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite16 event in Rosarito last month, the Swiss are now in Brazil and determined to get things back on track on the international beach volleyball circuit.

The first part of their plan was executed on Friday, when they won a pair of pool matches at the Meia Praia Beach, but the most important phase of their plan will be realised on Saturday, when the Europeans will try to continue moving forward in the elimination round of the tournament.

Their next match, in the Round of 16, will be one of the most anticipated in the tournament. The Swiss, who are currently ranked third in the world, will face the team that sits right above them in that list, Dutch pair Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam, who won gold in Rosarito and silver at the Tlaxcala Challenge. Besides being direct rivals for the top spot in the FIVB World Rankings, the two teams have some history, as they met in the gold medal match of last year's European Championship in Vienna, when Brunner and Huberli took the title. The match will start at 9.00 local time.

· Watch all the matches of the Itapema Challenge live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

Brunner and Huberli had an uncharacteristic display in Rosarito, where they lost all their three of their pool matches, failing to make it to the next round and having to settle for a 13th-place finish. It was their worst result in international beach volleyball since August 2019.

“Nina couldn’t practice much in the two weeks before Rosarito and our preparation was far from ideal”, Huberli explained. “It was really hard to find our rhythm. We spent the last week in a training camp in Rio de Janeiro and we feel so much better now. There's a lot we still want to improve on, but we’ve been more consistent and that showed today.”

Brunner and Huberli started the tournament in Brazil resembling the team that struggled in Mexico and dropped the first set of their opening match to qualifiers Margherita Bianchin and Claudia Scampoli, but came back to defeat the Italians 2-1 (20-22, 21-17, 15-10). In their second match, the two played at a level more in tune with their title of reigning European champions, downing Germans Chantal Laboureur and Sarah Schulz in straight sets (21-15, 21-17) to top Pool C.

“We played at very different levels in the two matches,” Brunner reflected. “We had some really big problems at the start of our first match and were trailing in the second set, but fought back and got our first win this season, which was a relief. And that helped us play more relaxed in our second match and be the players we normally are.”

Hüberli Brunner vs. Laboureur Schulz - Match Highlights

Brunner and Huberli were one of just two non-Brazilian teams to win their pools in the women’s tournament in Itapema. Besides the Swiss, only Americans Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske, who defeated Brazilians Elize Maia and Thamela Coradello 2-0 (21-8, 22-20) in Pool E, avoided complete domination of the host country in pool play.

The four Brazilian teams that won their pools and will enter the Round of 16 in great form were Talita Antunes/Rebecca Cavalcanti, Taiana Lima/Hegeile ‘Hege’ Santos, Carol Salgado/Barbara Seixas and Andressa Cavalcanti/Vitoria Rodrigues.

BPT Challenge Itapema - Women_BRAvsNED_6286

Andressa and Vitoria in action against the second-seeded Dutch

Andressa and Vitoria, by the way, caused the biggest upset of the day in Itapema by defeating Stam and Schoon in two sets (22-20, 24-22), by the thinnest of margins, to win Pool B. The Dutch advanced as the second-best team in the group.

“They’re a really tough team,” Andressa commented. “But we believe a lot in the work we do and try to take good care of our side of the net. We just want to get better and do the best we can. We think that’s the only way to earn our place among the best.”

Stam Schoon vs. Andressa Vitoria - Match Highlights

The Challenge events represent one of the three levels of the Beach Pro Tour. They are ranked between the Elite16, which feature the highest level of the sport, and the Futures, which offer young, up-and-coming players access to international beach volleyball, and feed into the elite of the sport.