SPARC, Volleyball New Zealand Announce Talent Identification Programme

Thursday 14 February 2008, 8:00PM

Volleyball New Zealand today announced that they have reached agreement with SPARC on investment in a talent identification programme to support Volleyball New Zealand’s emerging and established beach volleyball athletes.

The SPARC investment package will primarily target elite athletes in Volleyball New Zealand’s ‘Sandstarz’ squad, but will also be accessible to a wider group of Volleyball New Zealand beach volleyball athletes to help establish a clear pathway for all competitive volleyball players.

“Investment in the Sandstarz squad is the catalyst that will enable New Zealand to cement its presence in world volleyball and help ensure we are able to build on successes to date,” said Mike Dudson, High Performance Manager for Volleyball New Zealand’s beach volleyball programme. “Last year was a watershed year for beach volleyball, and this investment from SPARC will allow us to maintain the positive momentum our athletes have created.”

Sandstarz standouts Jason Lochhead and Kirk Pitman have recorded several outstanding performances on the Swatch FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) World Tour, and are now ranked 29th on the Olympic ranking list, with a goal of being ranked 23rd in the world ahead of the Olympic selection date of 20 July 2008.

Lochhead and Pitman are scheduled to compete in 16 FIVB Events in 2008 and are midway through the qualifying period for Beijing.

On the women’s side, Susan Blundell and Anna Scarlett will play in their first world tour tournament together in Adelaide in March. Blundell and Scarlett have committed to training and playing full time in 2008 and have their sights set on qualifying for London Olympics in 2012.

“Volleyball New Zealand’s elite and junior beach volleyball athletes are showing tremendous promise,” said Vanessa Paun, SPARC’s performance consultant for talent identification and talent development. “Our goal is to nurture these athletes as they set their sights on future Olympic glory.”

Up and comers Sam Wallace-Boyd and Mark Peterson placed fifth at the 2007 FIVB Junior World Championships, and Hannah Croad and Rachael Morgan finished ninth.

More recently Sam and Edwin O’Dea, while meeting the criteria to play in the Under-19 grade of the Australian Junior Beach Volleyball Championships, chose to play in the under-23 division, where they won the silver medal, narrowly missing out on gold in a three-set thriller.

The 2008 under-19 world championships will be hosted by Holland from 30 July to 3 August, with the under-21 championships to be hosted by England, from 3 -7 September 3-7. These tournaments will be the primary focus of the Sandstarz junior men’s squad in 2008.

The Sandstarz team features Lochhead (Tauranga); Pitman (Tauranga); Wallace-Boyd (Tauranga); Edwin and Sam O’Dea (Tauranga); Sam Tuivai (Auckland); Mark Peterson (Whakatane); Damon Haenga (Whakatane) and Russell Watson (Taranaki). 

In addition to SPARC’s investment, Volleyball New Zealand is also seeking a major commercial sponsor to help meet the training an competition objectives of the programme.

Members of the Sandstarz team will be together at Mount Maunganui on Friday 15 February for a junior camp and to attend the Volleyball New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships on the Saturday and Sunday, 16 and 17 February.