Australia breaks through for first World Tour title since 2001

After a decade of playing beach volleyball against each other, Australia’s Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann have teamed up to win Australia’s first FIVB World Tour gold medal since 2001.

McHugh and Schumann were too strong for fellow Australians Cole Durant and Zachery Schubert in the final of the one-star event in Shepparton, regional Victoria.

And Australia’s Nikki Laird and Phoebe Bell won the bronze in the women’s competition, with the gold medal going to Canada’s Julie Gordon and Camille Saxton in straight sets over Germany’s Kim Behrens and Anni Schumacher.

McHugh and Schumann came together because their regular playing partners are both injured, but Schumann said he was enjoying playing with his former nemesis.

“For one thing it’s much nicer being on this side of the net and not having to try and avoid his missiles,” Schumann said.

“I’m really enjoying playing with Chris. We’ll head to Manly to play in the Four Nation event and then we’ll play a couple of more tournaments together.”

McHugh was in his first tournament since surgery late last year, and said the body was feeling good.

“It’s been a few months of recovery now, and it feels really good,” he said.

“Damien and I have been playing against each other since we were about 16, so we’ve finally got a chance to come together to see what we can do.”

For Durant and Schubert, a combination that came together post-Rio Olympics, the final was a case of missed opportunities.

They gave plenty of cheek early in the opening set, but after reaching an 11-10 lead, McHugh was able to string together three consecutive points to wrest control of the set, eventually finishing 21-18.

The second set followed a similar course, with Schubert and Durant fighting their way to a 7-4 lead, but that quickly became 8-10. Despite a late fightback they were unable to arrest the run of McHugh and Schumann, eventually losing 21-18.

Oceania completed the podium with New Zealand’s O’Dea brothers, Sam and Ben, taking bronze over USA’s Adam Roberts and Martin Lorenz.

Earlier Australian top seeds Nikki Laird and Phoebe Bell were able to bounce back from their disappointing semi-final loss to win bronze over the young German pairing of Leonie Kortzinger and Sandra Seyfferth.

After their error-prone semi, the Australians got their act together in front of their home crowd to stitch together a 21-14, 21-16 win.

The Germans, who survived two tough-three set matches on Saturday, were playing in their first World Tour match together. For 19-year-old Kortzinger it was her first World Tour event.

Bell and Laird, who came together for this tournament after playing over the summer with different partners, did not drop a set on Saturday, but found it hard to hit top form in the semi-final against Germany’s Kim Behrens and Anni Schumacher.