Beach Volleyball: Shuffle to reinvigorate line up

By Peter White


The fallout from the failure of Tauranga's four world-class beach volleyballers to make the London Olympics continues with a complete change in team line-ups to contest this summer's beach series and beyond into 2013.

Kirk Pitman and Jason Lochhead have been the torchbearers for New Zealand men's teams since they teamed up in 2004 but have joined forces with the O'Dea brothers in two new teams.

Pitman, who turns 31 tomorrow, will be partnered by Sam O'Dea, 22, with the 28-year-old Lochhead joining forces with Ben O'Dea, 20.

Sam O'Dea says the changes are positive and will give both teams a real edge in 2013.

"After both teams competed on the World Tour in 2012 and missed out on Olympic qualification in the final round, we all decided to split up with the goal to qualify for Rio 2016," Sam O'Dea says.

"Ben and I are both at the start of our careers and Kirk and Jason have played in over 100 Fivb World Tour events and bring a wealth of invaluable experience.

"Both teams aim to compete again on the World Tour which starts in April, with the first goal of qualifying in the top 32 teams for this year's World Championships.

"Kirk and Jason weren't sure what they were doing and although Ben and I could always keep playing together, it kind of fell into place with the new pairings," said Sam O'Dea.

"Kirk asked me if I was interested in playing with him next year and then Ben asked Jason.

"Ben and Jason played a tournament in Russia and did very well so that showed they could play some good ball together. Kirk and I trained in LA against some of the top US teams and beat them pretty well so that showed we could play together."

Sam O'Dea says there will be some adjustments to make in both teams as to who takes on the back court defensive role and the front blocking role.

"It is a bit different because me and Kirk are naturally blockers, so we play at the front of court, and Ben and Jason are defenders, but I think I might stay as the blocker and Kirk will change to be the defender.

"It is going to be good and I am really excited."

Sam O'Dea is looking forward to learning as much as he can from Pitman while building what they hope will be a world title-winning partnership.

"We are different people. I can be a lot quieter on court and Kirk talks a lot, but that is a good dynamic. Kirk is a different player to me so there is a lot he can teach me. The more and more I play overseas, I realise that experience matters so much. Kirk is really good at keeping a calm head if you lose a couple of points, whereas sometimes me and Ben can get a bit worried if we are losing and then it can tumble down hill."

The national beach tour, which begins on January 18 in Mairangi and finishes with the NZ Open at Mount Maunganui main beach from February 1-3, has attracted some top international teams and will be ideal competition for the World Tour.

Sam O'Dea had a setback when his long-term mentor and manager Mike Dudson stepped down from the role but he has absolutely no issues at all with Dudson's decision.

"Mike is huge in the sport," he said. "Everyone who plays at a high level in New Zealand will know Mike. He was also a tutor of mine at BoP Polytechnic, so for me personally he was massive in helping me balance the work and the play.

"He made it easier for us to play and was always available to link up when we were overseas.

"Alison Storey from Karapiro is managing Kirk and me now. She loves beach volleyball and is right in the thick of high performance sport in New Zealand."

Beach volleyball may have a popular image but it is not a sport to make big money from.

Funding their overseas campaigns is now the priority for all four athletes, with Ben O'Dea working in Melbourne in order to fund next year, Pitman is based in England while Lochhead is living in Los Angeles.

Sam O'Dea says it is unlikely they will get anything from Sport New Zealand so he is working as much as he can and hopes to pick up some sponsorship through local companies.

A key fundraiser is the summer beach camp coaching course he is running for any school-age boys and girls from the Bay of Plenty in January.

The camp will be held at the Mount main beach on Mondays and Tuesdays across four weeks and is leading up to the New Zealand Secondary Schools championships at the start of February.

To book a place in Sam O'Dea's summer camp, email him at odea.sam@gmail.com

- Bay of Plenty Times

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