2016-11-02 10:22:00 CEST

Anouk and Joana – The new team on the block

Two rising stars of beach volleyball talk to us about their new and exciting partnership

Anouk and Joana celebrate on the podium at the Swatch World Tour Finals in Toronto in September. Photocredit: Joerg Mitter.Anouk and Joana celebrate on the podium at the Swatch World Tour Finals in Toronto in September. Photocredit: Joerg Mitter.

The Swatch Major Series will burst spectacularly back into life in February 2017 when the full-on beach action returns with the eagerly-anticipated Fort Lauderdale Major.

But for two of beach volleyball’s rising stars, the start of the 2017 season in the glamorous surroundings of the east Florida coast will be completely different.

In September, as the curtain came down on brilliant season, Joana Heidrich and Anouk Vergé-Dépré had plenty to smile about. Not only did both players savor the unique experience of playing at the Olympics, but they also left the Swatch World Tour finals with a medal each, further enhancing their own and Switzerland’s growing reputation in beach volleyball.

For Joana, she and partner Nadine Zumkehr scooped silver in Toronto, while Anouk – with teammate Isabelle Forrer – secured bronze. There’s even a selfie on the podium to prove it.

However, for both teams, their appearances and smiles on the sand at a packed Polson Pier would be the last time they would appear on the Center Court together. After the Swatch World Tour Finals, both Forrer, 34, and 31-year-old Zumkehr announced their retirement from beach volleyball, leaving Anouk and Joana on the hunt for new partners.

Their solution was simple: the rising stars from Swiss beach volleyball announced they would join forces.

“Joana and I met to discuss our goals and opinions and we then talked to our coaches to make sure there is a vision for us as a team,” Anouk explained exclusively to swatchmajorseries.com. “I’ve trained a lot against Joana over the past four years and we know each other well as opponents. We both had the tendency to play with each other.”

“I was never afraid that I wouldn’t find a new partner,” adds Joana, who turned 25 in October. “After Nadine officially announced that she would stop it wasn’t an easy decision but not a hard one either. Me and Anouk have trained a lot together before and we know each other’s game. I think Anouk is a very complete player and she is very ambitious.”

Joana (right) puts her point across to Nadine Zumkehr during the women’s gold medal match at the Swatch World Tour Finals. Photocredit: Joerg Mitter.Joana (right) puts her point across to Nadine Zumkehr during the women’s gold medal match at the Swatch World Tour Finals. Photocredit: Joerg Mitter.

With both players building sparkling reputations as brilliant blockers at the net, eyebrows were raised when the news broke that Anouk and Joana announced their new, sandy constellation.

But that’s no problem for Vergé-Dépré. The 24-year-old will drop to the back of the court and play defense to leave Heidrich prowling at the net.

“I am really motivated to learn defense. In the last few years I’ve learned a lot as a blocker and I think it can still help us to both block when the weather is really hot for example,” says Anouk on her new role on the sand. “For me it’s a very interesting challenge to learn defense. It will change my view of the game. Of course it will take some time and it will need hard work, but no pain, no gain, right?”

Both players have, coincidentally, starred in 63 international tournaments each, winning a total of 13 medals between them.

And despite their tender years in beach volleyball terms (the average age of women at the Swatch World Tour Finals was 29.5, by the way) the pair have experience by the bucket-load.

“I’m not worried that we’re a young team,” says Anouk confidently. “I think we’re ready for that. We are both young players but also with some years of experience on the FIVB World Tour. I learned to understand myself better and to take responsibility on the court in the last few years with Isabelle. I think it will push us to even more self-control and progress.”

“The Olympics was an incredible experience and I learned a lot,” adds Joana. “It will really help me in the future. Yes, we are young but we both already have the experience and both played at the Olympics so that will really help us.”

Next season will not be the first time that the duo have appeared on the same side of the sand. Oh no. Anouk was keen to show us a photograph of them celebrating their Under-18 Swiss Championship triumph back in 2007. 

The shape of things to come? Joana and Anouk (centre) celebrate their youth championship success. The shape of things to come? Joana and Anouk (centre) celebrate their youth championship success.

“The big strength of Joana is that she will always go the extra mile if she knows it will bring success,” says Vergé-Dépré. “She will do everything to progress. She’s tall and athletic and I look forward to having her in front of me. Of course we still have to find out what we need as a team but I’m positive we can help each other become better players.”

Anouk looks back fondly on her the time on court with Forrer – “She was always patient with me and let me find out what I needed to do to get better,” she says about Isabelle.

But the plan for her and Joana is ultimately success. “The long-term goal is to get a medal at the Olympics,” says Vergé-Dépré. “But that’s a long road and for now we just want to take it step-by-step.”

Little by little, every game as it comes…these are clichés that seasoned pros use, yet these ambitious youngsters have young heads on experienced shoulders.

The question is, can they use it to their advantage in the Swatch Major Series in 2017? We can’t wait to find out! The Swatch clock is already ticking down towards Fort Lauderdale.

Anouk (right) and Isabelle Forrer with their bronze medals at the Swatch World Tour Finals in Toronto. Photocredit: Martin Steinthaler.Anouk (right) and Isabelle Forrer with their bronze medals at the Swatch World Tour Finals in Toronto. Photocredit: Martin Steinthaler.

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