2018-04-08 10:33:00 CET

Love thy neighbor

We lift the lid on the unique friendship of rival teams in beach volleyball at the Commonwealth Games and beyond

Trinidad and Tobago's Daneil Williams (left) says his relationship with his Caribbean rivals is like brotherly loveTrinidad and Tobago's Daneil Williams (left) says his relationship with his Caribbean rivals is like brotherly love

Trinidad and Tobago versus St. Kitts and Nevis. It’s not the first beach volleyball rivalry that springs to mind.

Yet the stadium announcer of the first game on day two of the Commonwealth Games was more than happy to whip the capacity crowd at Coolangatta into thinking St Clair Hodge and Shawn Seabrookes of St Kitts and Daneil Willians and Daynte Stewart were arch rivals.

On the contrary. It was anything but. The moment both teams helped one another off the sand at the end of an exhausting second-set rally said it all.

Rivals? Forget it. There was a whole lot of love on the golden sands of the Golden Coast on Saturday morning.

“These guys are my brothers,” says Daneil after he and 17-year-old teammate Daytne got their Commonwealth Games off to a 21-14, 21-14 winning start. “Way back when I started on the NORCECA tour they helped us and taught me everything I know. It’s a rivalry on the court. But it’s friendly. As I said, we’re brothers – afterwards we’ll relax and have a few drinks.”

St Clair, who turned 36 on Saturday, agrees with his Caribbean adversary.

“I call it ‘big yard family’, ourselves, the Trinidad and Jamaican boys when we meet up,” says St Clair. “We help each other. We all have limited resources but we all share the same passion for the sport. When we get on the court we’re not friends but off the court we share the same emotions and enjoy each other’s company.”

The other half of the St Kitts constellation, Seabrookes, is the oldest competitor in the men’s draw.

For the 38-year-old, the Caribbean competitiveness just adds to the family nature of their friendship.

“I call it fraternity because over the last five years beach volleyball has evolved in our part of the world to the point where everyone is helping each other,” says Shawn. “At the beginning there was a huge disparity between the levels of teams but now everyone is now willing to teach each other news things to help improve the sport. Yes there’s friendly rivalry but we’re helping each other along – it’s like we’re all beach volleyball brothers.”

Chris Gregory (left) and Jake Sheaf of England would relish the chance to take on AustraliaChris Gregory (left) and Jake Sheaf of England would relish the chance to take on Australia

Rivalry in sport is everywhere these days, especially in team sports such as soccer or – apt in this part of the world – cricket.

Yet, in beach volleyball, the friendly rivalry is what makes the sport so special. The regulars of the Beach Volleyball Major Series can testify to that. Traveling the world and facing each other at opposite ends of the sand is commonplace. In what other sport would you train alongside a team you’re in direct competition with?

“There’s a camaraderie in beach volleyball which is unique,” says Sam Pedlow. “We’re all good friends off the court. On the court of course it’s business, but afterwards we’d like nothing better than hanging out after the game.”

While both England and Australia enjoy a healthy rivalry in other sports, both Aussies Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann and Englishmen Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf aren’t quite ready to burn a beach volleyball and go toe-to-toe for a little urn, like they do in cricket.

“You won’t see a bigger rivalry in world sport than England versus Australia in the Ashes,” says Jake. “We know the Aussie boys from playing on the World Tour but in front of a hostile crowd we know it won’t be easy.

“We’re friends with the Scottish boys (Brodzski/Cook) and the Canadians (Pedlow/Schachter) and I’m sure they’ll be some banter flying about but at the end of the day this is beach volleyball, one big family.”

There's no sledging in beach volleyball says Australia's Taliqua Clancy (right)There's no sledging in beach volleyball says Australia's Taliqua Clancy (right)

Schumann and McHugh know the crowd will be on their side, desperate for them to get one over their Commonwealth rivals.

But should the Aussie favorites meet England or New Zealand on the Gold Coast, the pair know all the banter will be good natured.

“At the highest level in cricket or rugby, Australia versus England or New Zealand is massive and at the end of the day we’d want to beat those teams up!” laughs Chris. “We’ll play to win, I’m sure they’ll be a little bit niggle but we know a lot of the players personally and that makes a big difference, especially when you’re friends.

“Win or lose, they are people we have made relationships with. It’s beach volleyball… sure we’re competitive and want to win, but off the court it’s a different story there’s nothing but good vibes.”

In the women’s half of the draw, Beach Major Series medalist from Poreč in 2015 Taliqua Clancy knows many will focus on the Australian rivalry with New Zealand, whose team Shauna Polley and Kelsie Wills made their Major Series debut in Fort Lauderdale in March.

“We’re neighbors but it’s friendly, fiery, completion,” says the 2016 Olympian. “Everyone would like us to play them and take them down but for us we’ve know them, it’s friendly. I think we’ll leave the sledging to the cricketers.”

In beach volleyball you’ll rarely see the passion boiling over on court. Instead, you’ll see the love, friendship and mutual respect.

And if a player ever takes a tumble on the sand, there’s always a welcome hand to help them up.

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