New Zealand beach volleyballers aiming for a podium at Asian Championships
28 Apr 2016
Libby Houghton didn't think much of it when she tried beach volleyball for the first time.
Now she's on her way to Thailand to represent New Zealand at the under-17 Asian Championships.
"My coach told me just to come and have a go. I tried it out and stuck with it," she said.
Houghton first played the sport three years ago and, at the time, was also playing social volleyball, basketball, football and touch.
However, she had to give those sports up as she committed herself to a new passion.
The 15-year-old Spotswood College student said that decision had been a good one so far.
"I've got to where I want to be which is going to Asian Champs with the under-17s"
For team-mate and playing partner Ella Akkerman, a student at Aquinas College in Tauranga, the road into beach volleyball was a very different one.
"My dad played for New Zealand for 10 years and some beach on the side of that," the 16-year-old said.
"I've been around volleyball since I was five, so I've just been surrounded by it."
To get selected for the New Zealand team, the pair had to go through a number of training camps.
They were selected to represent the country at a three-day competition in Vanuatu, but were withdrawn from it so they could play in the New Zealand beach series as preparation for the Asian Championships.
"There were the two under-17 teams that are going to Asian Champs of the girls and the rest were under-21s and then old New Zealand players and some international players.
"It was a development process. We weren't going to win many games, well we weren't supposed to win many games," Akkerman said.
The pair had been playing together for about six months but knew each other beforehand which meant they were able to gel as a team from the outset.
"I think we've got very similar personalities. It wasn't like a huge transition.
"We're both quite silent players so we kind of know where each other are anyway," Akkerman said.
The duo performed well in the series despite their age and inexperience, finishing 11th out of 16 teams.
Although they would have liked to play in Vanuatu, both Houghton and Akkerman said they would much rather be playing in the Asian Championships.
They will be one of four New Zealand teams competing in Thailand, with another girls' pairing and two boys' teams.
Houghton said they would be aiming for a top five finish in the competition, if not a podium.
"We'll pretty much just go over there and give it everything we have and see the outcome."
The team are being led into the competition by for New Zealand representative Jo Waller and a positive result will see them pick up a spot in the World Beach Championships.
Houghton said she hoped to see more people in Taranaki get involved in beach volleyball in the future because it was a sport anyone could get something out of.
"There is a lot of pathways for beach. It doesn't matter where you're at you can still go to tournaments and get involved."
The pair said their next goal was to gain a spot in the 2018 Youth Olympics continue to go further with the sport in the future.
"We're committed now so we've just got to stick with that motivation. You can't do it part time at this level," Akkerman said.
The Under-17 Asian Championships take place in Thailand from May 6-8.