Three years ago this weekend, a gangly teenager from Brisbane made the Australian beach volleyball community sit up and take notice.
It was the Australia Day weekend in 2014, and 17-year-old Phoebe Bell had just teamed up with another equally gangly Queenslander, Taliqua Clancy, to win the Queensland Open at Surfers Paradise.
A lot has changed for the now 20-year-old. She’s still gangly, but she has since cemented herself as one of Australian beach volleyball’s most exciting prospects.
Last year she teamed up with 2012 Olympian, Becchara Palmer, to help secure Australia a second Rio Olympic quota; she also moved to Adelaide to join the national High Performance program.
Two weeks ago she again teamed up with Palmer to win the SA Open, beating the highly credentialed Olympic pair of Nikki Laird and Louise Bawden in the final; and last weekend she teamed up with fellow Queenslander, Jessyka Ngauamo to win the inaugural Australian U23 women’s title.
This weekend she’ll be back with Palmer, looking to win the Queensland Open again.
It wasn’t that long ago that Bell was almost lost to beach volleyball. She was also making her mark as an indoor player, her potential leading to a tug-of-war for her services.
Bell was part of the Volleyroos squad in 2015, but was injured on the eve of the World Grand Prix and unable to compete.
Eventually a decision had to be made, and Bell says she’s happy to feel the sand between her toes.
“I have played a lot of indoor in the past, however I have now fully committed to beach,” Bell said this week.
“I made the decision to fully commit to playing beach when I moved to the National centre in Adelaide just over a year ago. I love indoor volleyball and definitely do miss it at times, but am extremely happy with my decision to switch to the beach full time.”
Its a decision which appears to be paying off for the Queenslander, who desperately wants to be part of the debut next year of beach volleyball at the Commonwealth Games.
In the longer term, it’s Tokyo which entices her to put up with hot sand, sunburn, and tough training sessions.
“At the moment I am doing everything I can to give myself the best chance of going to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with my long term goal being to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games,” she said.
“I absolutely love living and training in Adelaide. We have a great group of core girls training down there who are very committed and hard working, which makes the training environment fun.
“I train with five Olympians, so the training environment is of an extremely high level. This means I am constantly being pushed and forced to play to a higher level.”
A top-class field of international and Australian players have nominated for the Qld Open, with Bawden and Laird again shaping as the biggest threat to Bell and Palmer.
In the men’s draw, defending Qld Open champions Damien Schumann and Josh Court will face tough opposition from NSW Open winners Cole Durant and Zachary Schubert.
Both teams are based at the High Performance Centre in Adelaide.
The Qld Open begins at Surfers Paradise on Friday, with the finals on Sunday.