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2019-08-20 20:00:00 CEST

After Europe, Latvians want the world

Graudina and Kravcenoka plan on expanding their continental domination to the World Tour

Kravcenoka and Graudina finished ninth in their first edition of the World ChampionshipsKravcenoka and Graudina finished ninth in their first edition of the World Championships

If we started this article talking about a pair of young beach volleyball players from a Northern European country who had the continent at their feet a couple of weeks ago in Moscow, you’d probably assume Anders Mol and Christian Sørum were our subject here, right?

Well, not this time.

The BeachVolley Vikings indeed triumphed at the 2019 edition of the European Championships at the Russian capital ten days ago, but so did 21-year-old Tina Graudina and 22-year-old Anastasija Kravcenoka.

Unlike the Norwegians, though, the Latvians did it as the underdogs as they entered the tournament as the 20th-seeded team and came out on top to take the continent’s crown.

“We knew we could beat every team in the Euros, but at the same time our main issue recently has probably been consistency, so we could lose to any of them as well,” Kravcenoka reflected. “But after every match we started getting more and more confidence that we could win a medal in the end. We hope this is just our first step. We feel we still need to improve our game, especially against non-European opponents, to get our first World Tour medal.”

Confidence and experience are definitely something Graudina, the 2018 World Tour Top Rookie, and Kravcenoka built during their march towards the top of the podium in Moscow. The young Latvians were pushed to as many as five three-set matches, including three during the elimination round, and won all of them.

It was certainly invaluable experience for the young Latvians, who had won the Under-22 European Championships in 2016 but were yet to make similar impact at the professional level.

“This tournament has definitely given us much more experience than any other,” Graudina explained. “But it wasn’t like everything was new for us because in 2017 we also won our pool and went to the quarterfinals, where we lost to Germany. This time we had a similar path, but we ended up on the winner side against Itllinger and Laboreur. The fact that we won so many three-setters makes us especially happy because last season we would almost always lose in every single third set, so it’s nice to see that we have improved our mental game as well.”

Graudina was the World Tour's Top Rookie in 2018Graudina was the World Tour's Top Rookie in 2018

The European title, the most relevant victory of their still young careers, came in a year that started in less-than-ideal conditions for the duo, though. With Graudina committed to play for the University of Southern California at the American collegiate level, the team didn’t get together in the sand until May.

After an inconsistent start of season, the Latvians first impressed when they got top-ten finishes at both the World Championships and the Gstaad Major, but they saved their best to the historic triumph in Moscow.

“It wasn’t easy, but the keys for us were to believe in each other and to try to do our best every time we stepped on the court regardless,” Kravcenoka added. “Also, this is our fourth year as partners so I’d say we know each other pretty well at this point.”

They play together and they dream together. And their next one is the same of every beach volleyball player competing in the World Tour – to qualify to the Tokyo Olympics. Except that if they make it, they’ll become the first women from their country to do so.

Kravcenoka debuted in the World Tour just in 2017Kravcenoka debuted in the World Tour just in 2017

Ambitious dreams require sacrifices and Graudina is ready to make her own by sitting out of the next collegiate season to fully dedicate her time to the chase of their Olympic dreams.

“It was hard to make this decision, but in the end I had to reevaluate my priorities and what I want to accomplish, which made me realize that I’ll do whatever it takes to get to the Olympic Games,” she said. “But these two years in which I had the privilege of being a Trojan have widened my world view both in life and in volleyball. I have met so many inspiring and intelligent people who have impacted me as a person, so I can say that this experience has been life-changing.”

So should be the next one.

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