Hot competition, Asia's heat awaiting Kiwi pair

ASIA BOUND: Julia Tilley and Shaunna Polley hope their trip to Asia will open doors to an Olympic berth in Rio 2016.
ASIA BOUND: Julia Tilley and Shaunna Polley hope their trip to Asia will open doors to an Olympic berth in Rio 2016.

Hamilton's Julia Tilley and Shaunna Polley set off overseas on Saturday on a month-long venture which they hope may lead them to the 2016 Olympics.

New Zealand's top-ranked women's pair were heading to play on the AVC (Asian Volleyball Confederation) Beach Tour in Thailand and Vietnam, as well as try and qualify to compete on the big stage of a FIVB (international federation) World Tour event in China.

Winning the New Zealand Pro Tour at the end of January (for the second successive time) gave the duo the right to compete on the Asian Tour, where they will be joined by one other Kiwi women's team and two men's sides.

Tilley, 24, and Polley, 20, were in their second year of playing together, and were looking to build on their experience on the Asian Tour last year, where they finished fifth, seventh (twice) and ninth in three-day tournaments involving 16 or 24 teams from the Asia-Pacific region.

''We're definitely looking to build on last year's results, and try to crack a top four, that'd be really good,'' Tilley said.

''The competition's pretty strong. It's just hard because some of the teams you're up against play full time, they're professional.''

The other thing they were preparing for was the heat.

''I always find the first training you just feel like you have asthma or something because it's just so hot and the air's so thick,'' Tilley said.

''It's pretty tough, especially because we're playing teams that are used to it. It is a real advantage for them. But you do get used to it and you do work out strategies where you can kind of make the most of it.''

The pair will play two events in Thailand, and one in Vietnam, with the trip to China in between.

''It's all the Olympians and everyone's going to be there, so that's really exciting for us,'' she said.

In China there would be a main draw of 24 teams, and the Kiwis would have to go through a large qualification process.

Anyone was able to enter the World Tour, and based on their ranking points from last year's efforts on the Asian Tour, the Kiwis have made qualifying.

The World Tour was where the pair wanted to be regularly, but financial constraints were holding them back. With no funding from Volleyball New Zealand or Sport NZ, it was up to Tilley and Polley to fund their way.

Thankfully for the Asian Tour, the Asian federation pay accommodation and food costs, but the duo have to find a lot more, including funds for their Mt Maunganui-based coach Charles Leota, who they would like to take on the trip.

Tilley and Polley have teamed up with World Class Waikato, who help 12 young Waikato athletes connect with charities, and have linked with Plunket, which ties in nicely to Tilley's job as an early childhood teacher.

A fundraising dinner will be held on May 1 at SkyCity Hamilton to raise money for the individual projects and ventures, before a month-long challenge through Telecom's Givealittle website.

All this would help toward next year's Olympic qualifiers, with the duo conjuring a plan to lead into that.

Polley would finish her science degree at the University of Waikato this year and the pair would look to move to Mt Maunganui over the summer, go to Asia again and possibly set up camp in the United States or Europe and play over the New Zealand winter.

Waikato Times