2018-07-20 07:00:00 CEST
Slovakian Natalia Dubovcova has had a hard journey to find a new partner, but now things are going her way
Ending a partnership and jumping in to a new one is something ordinary for beach volleyball players around the world, but sometimes making this kind of change is not that simple. That was exactly where Natalia Dubovcova was at just a couple of years ago.
After competing in 80 tournaments in eight years with Dominika Nestarcova, the 27-year-old blocker felt she was ready for a new challenge in the summer of 2016. But being from Slovakia, she had very limited options for a future partner.
Dubovcova was one of just three Slovakian female players to have at least 10 World Tour tournaments under their belts at the time and is arguably the most successful of them, having won four bronze medals already. So, where could she find a partner that would allow her to remain competitive in the international scene?
“It was hard, but motivation was sky-high,” the blocker told beachmajorseries.com. "I was really looking forward to start with a new partner, but to find someone who’s talented and is not afraid to give the beach a try in Slovakia is almost a mission impossible. There aren’t many professional players in the country, so I had to go with someone who was playing indoors.”
And selected for the task was Andrea Strbova, a 22-year-old defender who was from a volleyball family, who accepted the challenge of moving to a different sport. The duo started competing in 2017 and the presence of a new partner by her side brought Dubovcova the fresh start she has looking for.
“Andrea brought new energy to training and it was fun to see how much she enjoyed all the new things, which were normal to me, such as training at the beach,” she acknowledged. “Our personalities clicked together and our progress is very clear.”
Their improvement can indeed be noticed in plain sight. After playing in just two tournaments in 2017, the tandem has taken part in eight World Tour events this season and after three unsuccessful attempts to make through qualifiers, they bounced back with a surprising bronze medal in the three-star tournament in Mersin, Turkey, in May.
In just 34 World Tour matches together, Dubovcova and Strbova, who are currently ranked 34th in the world, have already obtained some important victories against three top10 teams such as Czech Republic’s Marketa Slukova/Barbora Hermannova (seventh), Germany’s Julia Sude/Chantal Laboureur (third) and Victoria Bieneck/Isabel Schneider (ninth). Now the pair will line up in the qualification tournament at the A1 Major Vienna presented by Swatch in two weeks' time.
“The medal we won in Mersin made us more confident and so did the victories we had again these big teams,” Dubovcova added. “Realizing that you can compete with the top teams is certainly extra motivation.”
At 28, Dubovcova is already a seasoned World Tour player and, while playing with a much younger partner, one would expect she would take a mentorship role within the team.
Her strategy, however, is to focus on providing support for Strbova as she immerses in to the beach volleyball world and let her new teammate find her own way in the sport.
“The best way to help her is by playing well and understanding that Andrea is still new to the sport and that she’ll make mistakes and that’s okay,” she explained. “I’m also very cautious about how to share information with her. She had so much to learn, but I tried to not overload her.”
The new partnership was born with the challenge of qualifying Slovakia to the Olympics for the first time in beach volleyball in Tokyo 2020. This goal was pursued by Dubovcova when she played with Nestarcova and the duo came close to making it to Rio 2016, but ultimately fall in the last stage of the European qualifiers.
“Qualifying for the Olympics is always tough and I learned it the hard way with Rio,” she recalled. “But we believe we can make it and that was my most powerful argument to convince Andrea to move to the beach. If she wants to be in the Olympics one day, it will have to be with beach volleyball.”
My mom gave me this present before last tournament- her painting called Victorycatcher.. and it works! 🏐😊💛🖌🎖 #painting #bestmom #beachvolley #thanks #fivbbeachvolleyball
89 Likes, 4 Comments - Natalia Dubovcova (@nataliadubovcova) on Instagram: "My mom gave me this present before last tournament- her painting called Victorycatcher.. and it..."
If the odds are not on their side, any outside help is more than welcome. And if it comes from someone special, well, that’s even better.
Dubovcova’s mother, Daniela, a former volleyball player herself, created a painting named 'Victory Catcher' to bring her daughter lucky on her Olympic journey. Coincidence or not, the blocker was handed the painting right after the tournament in Mersin, when they stepped in to the podium for the first time together.
“My mother gave this painting to bring us good luck as we pursue our Olympic dream,” she says. “Our spiritual side is very strong and we have some talismans that we believe can bring good energy. My boyfriend jokes that we are witches from Slovakia, so hopefully it helps us.”