Beach volleyball pairs aim for Swiss headway

Mark Shen, 20, (left) and Benjamin Yio, 19, will represent Singapore at the FIVB Under-21 World Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland this week. A women's team will also participate.
Mark Shen, 20, (left) and Benjamin Yio, 19, will represent Singapore at the FIVB Under-21 World Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland this week. A women's team will also participate. PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Beach volleyball in Singapore is set to take a big leap this week with its first foray outside Asia.

The Republic will be represented by a men's and a women's team at the FIVB Under-21 World Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Benjamin Yio and Mark Shen comprise the men's pair while the women's duo are Gladys Lee and Eliza Chong. The quartet will be accompanied by coach Teo Chiek Shan.

While newly appointed head coach Sonthi Bunrueang, a Thai, will give Switzerland a miss due to visa issues, Teo feels that his absence will not matter too much.

He pointed out he has been a national coach since 2008, adding: "The players aren't too affected by it. We just want them to go out there and enjoy themselves with no pressure.

"It's a long journey and the first time we're heading so far out. Realistically, we know what we can deliver and just aim to play our best."

The players are naturally stoked with the opportunity.

Eliza, an 18-year-old student at ITE College West, said: "We're looking forward to playing in such a prestigious tournament. It'll be quite a big step up, compared to playing in Asian tournaments."

Yio, 20, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate who is waiting to enlist for national service, said: "We will take this as a great way to learn from some of the world's best young players."

The Volleyball Association of Singapore (VAS) is hoping the exercise will help put beach volleyball on the radar of Singaporeans.

Said Shermin Low, sports events and marketing executive: "Through this venture, we hope to see an increase in popularity for beach volleyball and to highlight it nationally.

"The beach sport is not as developed nor as strong as indoor volleyball but we slowly hope to change that."

Shen, a former indoor volleyball player with Nanyang Junior College who joined the national beach volleyball youth ranks after being scouted in a schools A Division game in 2014, said: "Beach volleyball is more of an independent sport. You can correct your own mistakes easily.

"Also, I can get more recognition as a player for my efforts when I play and that keeps me going."

There will be 24 teams in Lucerne, with only five making it to the competition's main draw.

Singapore will look to advance past the qualifying rounds, held in a single-elimination format where they might take on countries like Turkey, Oman and Kazakhstan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Beach volleyball pairs aim for Swiss headway'. Print Edition | Subscribe