International Volleyball

New Zealand beach volleyball “on precipice” of breakthrough

Ben O

HERMOSA BEACH, California — For five minutes or so, Ben O’Dea and Brad Fuller spoke on the slow, agonizing rise of Patrikas Stankevicius and Audrius Knasas.

Lithuania’s top beach volleyball team was clearly talented, having won Futures events in Slovenia, Poland and Hungary. They’d qualified for a Challenge in Morocco and an Elite16 in Paris. But something was still missing, an element that put a ceiling on their confidence, which should, given their level of play, be unquestioned.

The Big Win.

“You see that so often with World Tour teams at that Futures or Challenge level where you get one good result, and all of a sudden you have that confidence that you can compete with these guys, and then that becomes your standard,” said O’Dea, the 32-year-old who, alongside his brother, Sam, has long been the face of the New Zealand program. “So many teams are chasing that one result and then you get that confidence, you start training with the better teams in the tournaments, you start creeping up in the qualifiers, you get a main draw or two.”

There was a shared look of recognition as the same thought dawned Fuller and O’Dea: Though they were speaking about Lithuania, who in 2024 is now firmly in the mix of main draw Challenge level teams and have landed several signature wins, they could have just as easily been speaking about themselves.


“I feel like that’s been us the last couple of tournaments,” Fuller said, laughing. “We keep losing 16-14 to top 20, top 30 teams. That’s what we’ve been observing from other teams, we’re on that precipice of a breakthrough.”

It’s an agonizing place to be, that precipice. The medals are close enough to smell, yet the results aren’t yet there, the podiums remaining elusive. In four tournaments this season, they have made just one main draw, with a high finish of 19th at the Saquarema Challenge in April. But examine the finishes further, match by match, and what you’ll find is a team who can make anyone sweat. They just haven’t put it all together for a full tournament.

Taking scalps is the phrase O’Dea uses when describing big wins. Their first came in Saquarema, sweeping a strong Estonian team whose resume boasts a fifth in World Championships and an Elite16 semifinal. But, as Fuller alluded to, they narrowly missed wins over Brazil’s Pedro and Guto, dropping 18-20 in the third set, and Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, who edged…

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