To see not one but two English teams climb the ranks at a top tier international men’s beach volleyball tournament is a sign that something good is happening to the country's beach volleyball, with Issa Batrane, Frederick Bialokoz and Bello brothers Joaquin and Javier showing the way.
Batrane & Bialokoz looking to take English beach volleyball to new heights
Published 09:00, 18 Nov 2022
Batrane and Bialokoz played their first Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite16 tournament at the Cape Town event in South Africa from November 2 to 6, and what a debut it was. They mastered two straight-set wins in the qualifiers, including a sweep of American stars Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, to qualify for the main draw. Their fellow Englishmen Joaquin and Javier Bello also battled through the qualifiers successfully, so there were two English teams in an Elite16 main draw simultaneously.
Batrane and Bialokoz continued their successful run in the main draw, defeating seventh-seeded Austrians Moritz Pristauz and Martin Ermacora in three sets. They lost their next two matches and narrowly missed out on making it to the quarterfinals, falling behind on rally point ratio, but it was the best result for an English side at an Elite16 event.
“For me, the emotions were high in the successful moments. In other situations, when things didn’t go to plan, they just continued to make me hungrier to work harder and perform better next go around, but even now I wouldn’t have imagined us getting into an Elite16 this season, let alone qualifying and beating some of the world’s top teams,” 26-year-old defender Issa Batrane told Volleyball World.
That success came less than a month after their previous best result on the Tour, at the Maldives Challenge. After making it through the qualifier for the first time at the Challenge level, they started the main draw with a win against experienced Italian Olympian Alex Ranghieri and his talented young partner Marco Viscovich, which was enough for a ninth-place finish.
“After those bigger results, of course, emotions are high, but it normally takes a little bit of time to kick in after the final point,” 22-year-old blocker Frederick Bialokoz said. “There’s less a sense of disbelief, but more a feeling of ‘oh, so that happened!’ After those games, however, we always had other games that we needed to try to reset and refocus on. This worked to varying degrees of success, but I’m sure this too will come with more experience of playing at the higher levels.”
Before that, the English pair medalled twice on the Beach Pro Tour in July, claiming bronze at the Ios Futures in Greece and the Ciro Marina Futures in Italy. In Greece, they started the main draw with their first international win over their compatriots, the Bello twins.
“Our aims for this season were to medal at the Futures and qualify for the main draw of a Challenge event, which we have managed to push past already with the results this year. The main draw at the recent Cape Town Elite16 was never in our minds, but we always worked hard in training and backed our ability to perform figuring out ways to improve with our team of volunteers around us back home,” said Batrane.
Batrane is the more experienced of the two players. He started beach volleyball at the LeAF Academy in Bournemouth, England back in 2012, after moving to the school from London to continue playing indoor volleyball at a higher level. He started competing internationally in 2015, representing his country at various age-category beach volleyball European and World Championships through 2017.
“I was quite fortunate that England’s junior national team beach volleyball coach was also the coach at the school, which naturally meant that towards the spring and summer I had the opportunity to play and train more on the sand,” Batrane added. “Having a mix of some great volleyball and beach volleyball minds coaching at the school helped with this initial process of playing on the beach. At the time, our school coaches were Vangelis Kouteleas from Greece, Kirk Pitman from New Zealand and Aden Tutton from Australia.”
Batrane’s first experience on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour was as a replacement for Sheaf in England’s leading duo at the time. Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf achieved the country’s highest-ever placement in the men’s FIVB World Ranking, reaching number 32. The replacement was in October 2017, when Batrane and Gregory appeared at the Aalsmeer One Star. Issa had a few more participations with Gregory as well as some with partners from his junior years. Interestingly, it was with him that Gregory achieved his highest placement on the World Tour, a fifth place at the 2018 Montpellier 1-star.
Bialokoz, on the other hand, was born just months before the turn of the century into a family of volleyball players, and grew up going to watch his dad play.
“When I started playing properly he suggested we start going to play beach at Deep Dish Crystal Palace. When I first joined at the age of 14, there was no junior club, only adult memberships, so to circumvent that I was registered as an 18-year-old on their system,” Frederick said. “I became the junior club for a couple of years. I’m glad to say that the junior club has come a long way and now it has over 1,000 kids involved. We do still train at the courts in Crystal Palace and are grateful for the support from Deep Dish.”
Bialokoz made his World Tour debut at the Porec 1-star in 2018, when he was just 18 years old. He played a few times with Mark Garcia-Kidd and their best result was a ninth place at the 2019 Rubavu 1-star, which they claimed just before Bialokoz joined forces with Batrane.
“We teamed up in August 2019 after our current coach Lewie Lett had made the recommendation to play together for a long-term project,” said Batrane.
From that moment on, the two players have been permanent partners with varying levels of success at World Tour and then at Beach Pro Tour events.
“After the Myslowice Futures, we all committed to restart the season to try and reach our 2022-2023 goals,” coach Lett told Volleyball World. “This meant we changed quite a few things. They were really patient with multiple parts of their game. They even saw a slight dip in performance. But I’m proud of the boys, their hard work and how they stuck to the processes that we spoke about three months ago. The aim now is to become consistent in our performances.”
Batrane and Bialokoz’s immediate plans include competing at the two upcoming Beach Pro Tour events in Australia, the Torquay Challenge from November 23 through 27 and the Torquay Elite16 from November 29 through December 3, and then next year picking up from where they left off and continuing to improve.
“Goals for next season for sure include plans to just continue to work hard and become more consistent at the level we want to compete at, but also push to try and qualify for the European Championship and maybe even the World Championship,” said Batrane. “However, nothing comes without the hard work and dedication of the team we have at home and sticking to the plan of being open to change for the better of the team.”