Taryn Kloth against Svenja Muller in Kuşadası

Taryn Kloth against Svenja Muller in Kuşadası

It may be too early to draw general conclusions about which teams and players will stand out in 2022, but here are a few to look out for after last week’s tournament in Kuşadası.

Some of the Kuşadası heroes (left to right): Paul Burnett, David Ahman, Jonatan Hellvig, Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth

Some of the Kuşadası heroes (left to right): Paul Burnett, David Ahman, Jonatan Hellvig, Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth

Taryn Kloth & Kristen Nuss (USA)

25-year-old blocker Taryn Kloth and 24-year-old defender Kristen Nuss are having a blast in their rookie international season. They made their debut in the qualifiers of a Futures event on the Beach Pro Tour, but went on a winning streak of seven consecutive matches to top the podium in Coolangatta. Their first appearance at the Challenge level, in Itapema, then saw them knock out last season’s headline maker Sarah Sponcil and her current partner Terese Cannon. Kloth and Nuss followed that up by winning the season opener on America’s ATP Tour, shockingly shutting out reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada in the final.

At that point, it was already clear – these newcomers will soon be among the household names in international beach volleyball. And their Kuşadası campaign only confirmed that notion. Kloth and Nuss once again started the tournament from the very first qualification round as the eighth-seeded team in the qualifier bracket and made it all the way to the top of the podium, rolling over a number of powerful opponents including 2021 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals winners Karla Borger and Julia Sude of Germany, Kuşadası top seeds Elize Maia and Thamela Coradello of Brazil, and Olympic silver medallists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho Del Solar of Australia. It is definitely worth revisiting Nuss’ four aces in a row during the first set of the gold medal match.

Kristen Nuss’s top plays against Clancy & Mariafe

David Ahman & Jonatan Hellvig (SWE)

The beach volleyball world started talking about the Swedish jump-setters some three and a half years ago, when they triumphed at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Around that time, at the age of 16, they started playing lower-level World Tour events. In 2019, they earned their first international medal at the senior level, a Doha 1-star bronze, and about a year later they celebrated with their first World Tour gold at the Montpellier 1-star. In 2021, the Swedish teens regularly qualified for 4-star main draws and even made it to the quarterfinals in Itapema before finishing the season as U21 world champs in Phuket.

Ahman and Hellvig reached another high-level quarterfinal at the Beach Pro Tour’s inaugural stop, the Tlaxcala Challenge event in March. Their way up continued in Kuşadası. Starting as the 11th-seeded team in the main draw, they hammered out six wins in a row, losing only two sets in the process. Just watching the Swedish prodigies’ playing style is a real treat for the eye.

Paul Burnett (AUS)

The Australian defender is 24 years old. Before the pandemic, from 2017 to 2020, he played at 11 World Tour events and made it to the podium once, at the 2018 Ljubljana Winter Edition 1-star with a bronze. Once Damien Schumann of Australia’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic team decided to retire, Paul Burnett jumped in to replace him as the new partner of 32-year-old Chris McHugh. The new pair made headlines at their very first international tournament as a team, claiming the continental title at the 2021 AVC Asian Championship in Phuket after knocking out the world’s number one team, Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan of Qatar, in the semis.

McHugh had won the Asian Championship with other partners more than once before, but he had not medalled at a high-tier world-level tournament since his Klagenfurt Grand Slam bronze back in 2014. He medalled in Kuşadası, with Burnett by his side. After making it through the qualifiers to reach the quarterfinals at the Tlaxcala Challenge upon a win over Brazilian legend Alison Cerutti and Gustavo Carvalhaes, and getting another fifth-place finish at the Doha Challenge two weeks ago aftern defeating Evandro and Alvaro Filho, Burnett and McHugh powered through all the way to the final in Kuşadası, knocking out the likes of Spain’s Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera and Italy’s Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi in the process. Burnett shone in the tight battle against Ahman and Hellvig as the Aussies got to within a set of the trophy and their silver medal just confirmed that they are a team to watch.

Paul Burnett’s top plays against Ahman & Hellvig in the Kuşadası final

Svenja Muller (GER)

There is a bit of a battle between several ladies’ pairs to fill the void left by Laura Ludwig and Margareta Kozuch among Germany’s leading duos. While Borger and Sude are arguably the country’s top team, a healthy internal competition to join them or even push them out of the way on the road to Paris, involving Sarah Schulz and Chantal Laboureur, Sandra Ittlinger and Isabel Schneider, and Cinja Tillmann and Svenja Muller, seems to be evolving and producing good international results. The latter are the only team who have not made it to a Beach Pro Tour semifinal yet, but their overall results show the most consistency and solid progress, which, combined with the great potential that comes with Svenja Muller’s young age of 21, offer a promising outlook for the future.

So far, Svenja had been known mostly for her success in age-category competitions. She was a U18 European champion in 2018 and reached the FIVB U21 World Championship semifinals in 2019. Upon joining forces with the more experienced Cinja Tillmann in the summer of 2021, Muller and her new partner immediately medalled at their first World Tour appearance with a Brno 2-star bronze. They finished the 2021 season with an Itapema 4-star ninth-place result and picked it up from there with another two ninth-place finishes at the first two Beach Pro Tour events in Tlaxcala and Rosarito, in both cases starting from the qualifiers. Svenja and Cinja made it a step further to the quarterfinals in Doha, eliminating Borger and Sude on the way, and confirmed that good performance with another fifth place in Kuşadası, eventually falling to champions-to-be Kloth and Nuss in the quarterfinals.

Marie-Sara Stochlova (CZE)

Marie-Sara Stochlova has taken on the challenge of replacing retired three-time Olympian Marketa Slukova as Barbora Hermannova’s partner in Czechia’s top women’s duo. The 2016 U18 European champion made it to a couple of 1 and 2-star podiums in 2021 before joining forces with Hermannova towards the end of the year. Neither the team’s debut at the Itapema 4-star, nor their 2022 opener in Tlaxcala, with wo 17th-place finishes, offered many reasons for great optimism, but obviously they just needed time to adjust to a new playing style with both partners active in defence and blocking. Things looked much better in Doha, where the Czech pair finished ninth.

Their progress really became evident in Kuşadası. 23-year-old Stochlova and 31-year-old two-time Olympian Hermannova won their pool, emphatically shutting out both Brazil’s Taina Bigi and Victoria Lopes and Tokyo 2020 runners-up Clancy and Mariafe. They followed that up with another straight-setter against Italy’s Claudia Scampoli and Margherita Bianchin to advance to the quarterfinals before losing narrowly to Ittlinger and Schneider, 2-0 (22-20, 21-19), to finish fifth. With Stochlova and Hermannova playing in the main draw at the Ostrava Elite16 this week, it will be interesting to see if the home crowd in Czechia further enhance the team’s progress on the Beach Pro Tour.