2018-06-19 19:09:00 CET

Aussies boys’ shock split

Volleyball Australia part Commonwealth champs for Tokyo tilt

Chris (left, center) and Damien (right, center) top the podium after their dramatic Commonwealth Games final in Gold CoastChris (left, center) and Damien (right, center) top the podium after their dramatic Commonwealth Games final in Gold Coast

Two months after winning a historic Commonwealth Games gold medal, Australia’s number one men’s beach volleyball team, Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann, will be playing with new partners following Volleyball Australia’s decision to split the popular duo.

The Aussie boys, regulars on the Beach Volleyball Major Series last season, will now be playing with new partners and will resume their rivalry from opposite sides of the court.

Following a meeting with the Australian federation, defender Schumann, 30, and 28-year-old blocker McHugh will swap teammates with another tandem, Cole Durant and Zachery Schubert.

Schumann will partner with 26-year-old Durant, while McHugh teams up with the youngest of the quartet, 22-year-old Schubert, as both teams aim to take the Volleyroos back to the Olympics. Not since 2008 has an Australian men’s team competed at the major games.

McHugh told beachmajorseries.com that Volleyball Australia “believes this is the best chance for Australia to have two men’s teams at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo”.

The duo's last Major Series event together came in Fort Lauderdale earlier this yearThe duo's last Major Series event together came in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year

Schumann/Durant will make their debut this week at the two-star tournament in Singapore, while McHugh/Schubert kick-off their first tournament in a three-star competition in Haiyang, China in July. Both teams will enter the A1 Major Vienna presented by Swatch in August.

Volleyball Australia’s bombshell means Chris and Damien will be unable to build on a solid 2017 season that saw them finish ninth in the World Championships in Vienna.

“After the Commonwealth Games, and after our gold medal tour of schools and children’s hospitals, we were called into a meeting by the federation,” McHugh, who has fully recovered from a knee operation six weeks ago, explains.

“The head coach, Andrew Schacht, and technical director, Victor Anfiloff, said they were going to split us up. They said they believe it’s the best chance for Australia to have two men’s teams in Tokyo.

“I can understand it from the federation’s perspective. Beach volleyball is not a big sport in Australia and, because we’re so far away from World Tour tournaments, it can be difficult to hard to compete.

“But ultimately we need the federation’s support; we’re contracted to them and we have to abide by their decisions. It’s not ideal for myself of Damien, but we’re committed to helping Australia get two men’s teams to the Olympics.”

The decision came as a bit of a shock to a clearly disappointed Schumann, who spoke to us after a training session in Singapore.

“The first few days weren’t good, I was shell-shocked to be honest,” admits the defender. “I was down and out a bit, but, at the end of the day, it’s the federation’s decision and we have to respect that.

“I enjoyed playing behind Chris – he’s been the best player in the country for about 10 years now. I was pretty disappointed but in the days and weeks that have followed, training with Cole, it’s clear that this partnership has the makings of something.

“Cole has experienced a similar journey in his career – potential overlooked for different reasons – so we’re used to fighting for things, and that makes this new partnership interesting and exciting.”

Chris (spiking) and Damien had a match point against Lucena/Dalhausser at last year's World Championships but missed out on a place in the quarterfinalsChris (spiking) and Damien had a match point against Lucena/Dalhausser at last year's World Championships but missed out on a place in the quarterfinals

On his new teammate, McHugh said: “I’ve never played with Zach, we both come from the same state and both live in Adelaide, we’ve trained with each other as part of the national team for three years, and he’s shown he’s got potential. With Cole, he got a good fifth in Kish Island last year. He’s done things in training that I’ve said ‘wow that’s impressive. He’s 1.95 and quicker than Damo across the court – that’s impressive for a big guy!

“It’s going to be a work in progress but we’ll get used to each other in some World Tour tournaments this year before Olympic qualification begins in September. We’re both prepared and in it for the long haul. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Having only joined forces with each other at the start of last season, Chris and Damien’s blossoming partnership is cut short after just 14 World Tour tournaments that saw them finish in the top 10 in half of those.

During their Commonwealth Games campaign, much was made of the rivalry of the two, having played against one another in the past. So will sparks fly once more when they meet each other on the opposite side of the sand again?

“I don’t think so, a lot was made of it during the Gold Coast but myself and Damo are and always will be good mates,” says McHugh. “The result at the Comm Games will bind us together as friends for the rest of our lives. It was something memorable, to win the Comm Games at home and it was a massive thing for our sport in Australia. I hope both teams can continue to ride the wave of enthusiasm and go for Tokyo.

“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to when we were younger when there was that animosity. But it’s like anything when you play your former partner, you know each other so well. During matches you’ll be throwing the kitchen sink at each other to try and win but once you step off the court, you’re good mates.”

They are thoughts echoed by Schumann. “It’ll feel just like the old days!” laughs the man known as the Bobcat. “What we went through in 2017: getting into the main draw, playing five-star tournaments, taking on some of the players who are my idols – and beating them – was great. I’m now looking forward to throwing everything into the partnership with Cole.

“Of course the Comm Games story of Chris and I being rivals was a fantastic one but we’ve got bigger things to worry about that our petty national rivalry. It’s been two Olympic cycles since an Australian men’s team went to an Olympic Games. So while we’ll of course training with each other and playing against each other, we both know there are bigger fish to fry.”

Good luck guys, we’re looking forward to seeing you again in Vienna!

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