03.06.2020 - Vienna, Austria
Defense is one of the most important aspects of women’s beach volleyball. More often than not, matches at the highest level of the sport are decided by the capacity of keeping the ball up in the air and denying the opponent a point with a tricky move in the back of the court.
Beach volleyball is blessed to have right now one of the greatest generations of defenders the sport has ever seen. With different nationalities, paths, techniques and strengths, these five women are just a few of those who made the backcourt game improve so much in the last few years.
Here are the best defenders of the Beach Major Series:
The fact that Heather Bansley heads this list is by no means a surprise. The Canadian has been at the top of her game in the last five years and deservedly won the World Tour Best Defensive Player award in four of those seasons, establishing herself as a top defender in the planet. Every time Bansley steps on the sand she’s just about to quietly put up a defensive show of her own, digging a fair amount of the balls that go past Brandie Wilkerson’s block. The combination of her solid defensive game and Brandie’s intimidating presence at the net has been the key for the team’s impressive rise on the world rankings over the last couple of years. The 32-year-old Bansley is a very cerebral defender and she used all of her massive experience and accurate understanding of the game to adjust her style when she moved from Sarah Pavan to a completely different kind of blocker in Brandie at the end of the 2016 season.
Larissa França is one of the most technically-gifted players to ever compete internationally. The fiery Brazilian has won a record 62 World Tour events, including five at the Beach Major Series, and had one of the best all-around games the sport has ever seen. She has won individual awards in the World Tour in five different categories and was the Best Defensive Player in 2009, 2012 and 2014. Digging the ball was always one of her specialties and a force in her partnerships with Juliana Felisberta and Talita Antunes. The London 2012 Olympic medalist was a great strategist, reading her opponents’ games as few others did. And when she was caught by surprise, she would just use her ridiculous athleticism to chase the ball in the sand. Good news for us is that Larissa is working on a second comeback this year at the age of 38, so odds are we’ll be able to see a little bit more of her magic on the sand very soon.
If beach volleyball fans around the world were asked to describe Laura Ludwig’s game in two words, it’s very likely that ‘smart’ and ‘passionate’ would be at the top of the list. The German star is one of the most fascinating athletes to watch in the World Tour and her defensive game is a pretty genuine representation of who she is as a player. A three-time Olympian, Laura grew over the years to become one of the top defenders in the world and experience played a big factor on it. As years went by, the Olympic champion seemed to somehow get smarter and more determined to prevent any balls from landing on her side of the court and, at the age of 34, there are no signs she’s ever slowing down. The World Tour Best Defensive Player in 2013 and 2017, Laura is also one of the few players in the world with the ability to score straight from defense with her trademark move of returning opponents’ spikes directly to their own courts.
Not many teams in the World Tour have improved as quickly as Australians Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho over the last few years. And even though Taliqua’s game at the net is certainly one of the team’s main strengths, Mariafe’s backcourt skills are also a big part of the success the Aussies achieved recently. Born in Peru, the 26-year-old Mariafe mixes to perfection the fighting spirit that characterizes South Americans in sports in general with the flexibility and creativity that has been the trademark of Australian beach volleyball. Last year, she showed how much of a fighter she is when she played the bronze medal match of the World Championships with an injured MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) and still won it. Her defensive skills have drastically improved over the last few years and her calm and positive attitude in the court are certainly of great help any time the team is going through difficult moments in tournaments.
If we started the list with a Canadian, we’ll end it with another one. The 2019 World Tour Best Defensive Player, Melissa Humana-Paredes is one of the most efficient defenders in the planet with her game based on great speed in the back of the court and superb technique to control the ball. Since 2016, the 27-year-old has been blessed with the opportunity of playing behind the tallest blocker on Tour, her partner Sarah Pavan. It took Mel some time to figure out the best way to take advantage of Sarah’s massive net presence, but once she did it the team has enjoyed a great amount of success winning gold medals at the Beach Major Series in each of the last three seasons, including the fantastic victory at the 2019 World Championship. The nickname ‘Smiling Assassin’ fits her game just perfectly as she’ll move quickly in the backcourt, dig as many balls as are thrown at her and score the point – all of that with a charming smile on her face.