Challenge - Espinho, POR - 2023 - Beach Pro Tour 2023 season - News

Pavan/McBain (CAN) vs. Gottardi/Menegatti (ITA) - Round 1 #5614940

World champion Sarah Pavan will try to advance for the first time with new partner Molly McBain

The high level and the depth of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour will be on full display on Thursday, the opening day of the Challenge tournament held in Espinho, Portugal, when some of the most accomplished players on the planet will be in action fighting for a spot in the main draw of the event.

With eight berths in each gender in play, the qualifier at the Praia da Baía will count on the presence of 18 Olympians, as well as one world champion and three Olympic medalists. The tournament will go on until Sunday, when the champions of the Espinho Challenge will be known.

  • Watch the Beach Pro Tour Espinho Challenge live on VBTV

Seeded third alongside new partner Molly McBain, Canadian legend Sarah Pavan is the biggest star in the women’s qualifier in Espinho. The 36-year-old blocker is just four years removed from winning the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship and has appeared at the last two Olympics, finishing fifth on both occasions.

Pavan started a new partnership with the 25-year-old McBain last month and the two are still looking for their first appearance in the main draw of a Beach Pro Tour event after falling in the qualifiers of both the Jurmala Challenge and the Gstaad Elite16.

BPT Uberlandia - Women Round of 12 - GERvsSUI_01

Borger and partner Ittlinger will need to overcome the Espinho qualifier

German Karla Borger, 34, is another player with multiple Olympic appearances set to compete in the Espinho qualifier. Now paired with Sandra Ittlinger, the defender has finished 19th in Tokyo two years ago with Julia Sude, who is also set to compete in the qualifier in Portugal, playing with Isabel Schneider.

When it comes to Olympic experience, however, no woman in the entire field beats Spanish Liliana Fernández, who has competed in the last three editions of the event. The 36-year-old European has a new partner in 2023 in Paula Soria and the two won their first title at the Madrid Futures two months ago.

**Beach Pro Tour Espinho Challenge – Match Schedule**

Last year’s Espinho Challenge bronze medalists among the men, Latvian veterans Janis Smedins, a bronze medalist at the London 2012 Olympics, and Aleksandrs Samoilovs will have a big mountain to climb to repeat their podium finish this year. Seeded 30th in the 32-team qualifier, the two will have to overcome strong competition to find their way to the main draw.

Italian defender Daniele Lupo is another Olympic medalist to highlight the qualifier in Espinho - he took silver at the Rio 2016 Games. A three-time Olympian, the 32-year-old defender and fellow Olympian Enrico Rossi have advanced in three of the four Beach Pro Tour qualifiers they played this season, including last week in Gstaad, and will try to do it again in Portugal.

Completing the list of Olympic medalists set to appear in the Espinho qualifier is American Taylor Sander. A volleyball bronze medalist at the Rio 2016 Games, he and partner Taylor Crabb will return to international competition for the first time since the end of April, when they fell in the qualifier at the Uberlândia Elite16, in Brazil.

Coming back from an even longer absence will be Dutch Olympian and World Championship silver medalist Christiaan Varenhorst. The towering 33-year-old blocker hasn’t played on the Beach Pro Tour since last year’s Espinho Challenge and after spending the last several months sidelined due to a back injury, will play for the first time with new partner Leon Luini.

With 48 matches expected to be played across both genders, the qualifier in Espinho is set to begin at 08:00 local time (07:00 UTC).

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