Women's beach volleyball pair Kelsie Wills and Shaunna Polley were officially named to represent New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast yesterday.
The two form players among the New Zealand elite women were announced at the appropriate setting of Mount Main Beach. Their bronze medal performance at the 2017 Ulsan 1 Star World Tour event in Korea clinched selection.
The pair who both turned 25 in recent weeks will make history along with the men's pairing — to be announced later this month — as the first to represent New Zealand at a Commonwealth Games.
Beach volleyball will be played at the Games for the first time in April.
Wills, who is originally from Matamata and lives at Mount Maunganui, works as an auditor for KPMG Tauranga when she is not playing beach volleyball around the globe.
"We started playing together in March so are pretty fresh still but we have had a good nine months together and it has been going well. It has been the goal since we started playing together and realised we were a decent team and thought we can really go for it," Wills said.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs trying to achieve the criteria and things. I don't think we knew we could get there during the year. It has happened so quickly but it has been a solid year."
Polley is from Hamilton and travels to Mount Maunganui three to four times a week to train with Wills and their coach Mike Watson, himself in contention to win one of the men's places for the Gold Coast.
All that travel and hard slog has been rewarded with selection in the team.
"I had a goal and I wanted to achieve it. If driving here is what I have to do then I have to do it. It has really paid off," Polley said.
"It is pretty awesome. There are so many words you can use to describe it. It is something that is so special to our sport and it is really going to help the sport grow and everything. It means a lot to me and my family knowing we can play a part in that. I am looking forward to it."
Winning gold is the goal they have set themselves for April.
"I think we are going to win it. We wouldn't be going if we didn't think so," Polley said.
"But there is Australia and Canada who are probably our two biggest competition. They are full-time, paid athletes and unfortunately we are full-time workers and full-time athletes so we are trying to do the best of both worlds."
Volleyball NZ's beach volleyball project manager Tim Cleaver is excited about the impact the Commonwealth Games will have for the sport.
"It is a big growth step for us and is going to get us a lot more exposure for beach volleyball. It has been a long process. Volleyball Australia had to work very hard to get it in there. It is obviously going to be one of those iconic venues to have beach volleyball on the Gold Coast," he said.
"For our sport we are aiming for two medals, one in the men's and one in the women's, and hopefully getting gold."