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2018-02-27 11:05:00 CET

Belgian medal hopes for the #FTLMajor

After steady progress since 2015, van Walle and Koekelkoren are confident the podium waits for them

Tom van Walle and Dries Koekelkoren finished ninth on last year's World Championships (Photocredit: FIVB)Tom van Walle and Dries Koekelkoren finished ninth on last year's World Championships (Photocredit: FIVB)

The careers of Belgians Tom van Walle and Dries Koekelkoren in the beach volleyball World Tour could be fairly represented by a curve trending upwards. Since they joined forces, in 2015, the Europeans have progressed year after year and now they are ready for the next step: winning a medal.

The duo will have a new opportunity to accomplish its goal this week in the Fort Lauderdale Major, the first event of the Beach Major Series in 2018, which will also be their 30th tournament together in the international tour.

“Last year we were coming close to medals, but we didn’t succeed,” Koekelkoren told us. “In the last tournament of 2017, in China, we finished fourth and we hated it, it was not funny. This year really will be a gold for us to win a medal in a big tournament.”

The Belgians are the 16th-seeded team in Fort Lauderdale, meaning they will start competing on Wednesday, in the main draw. Besides of the challenges of going up against the best teams in the world, van Walle and Koekelkoren will also need to get themselves used to play outdoors again, something they last did in October.

“We have not trained outside before this tournament,” van Walle added. “It’s windy here and we have to adjust to it. But just being here is not enough for us anymore, we are here to get a good result.”

Good ball-practice with USA today! 🇧🇪 🇺🇸 #BelgianBeachBoys

122 Likes, 4 Comments - Dries Koekelkoren (@d_koekelkoren) on Instagram: "Good ball-practice with USA today! 🇧🇪 🇺🇸 #BelgianBeachBoys"

But the Belgians have showed over the last few years that they are not scared by challenges. In 2015, their first season together, they played in only three tournaments, reaching the main draw just once. In the next year, the Europeans came stronger and competed in 14 different international locations, recording five top-10 finishes.

In 2017, yet another leap, with ninth-placements in the two most important tournaments of the year, the World Championships, in Vienna, where they eliminated world champions Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands, and the Gstaad Major, where they defeated Russian World Championships bronze medalists Nikita Liamin and Viacheslav Krasilnikov.

The frustration for the absence of a medal, though, partially muffled their successful season.

“On paper it looks really good, but in reality it means we missed opportunities and we gave our momentum away”, van Walle explained. “It has happened quite often that we had the momentum but didn’t quite succeed on closing games. That’s a working point for us this year and if we manage that we’ll be structured for a medal or hopefully more medals in the future.”

The team’s progress in 2017 was connected to the support provided by Dutch head coach Michiel van der Kuip, who took over the team and helped it to reach another level in the World Tour.

“We made a really big step last year because before we didn’t get that far,” Koekelkoren analyzed. “Last year we had a full-time coach who is very experienced and that made a big difference. Our game looked much better, we are more relaxed and more precise. There’s already room for progress and we’ll keep working on it.”

You can watch van Walle’s and Koekelkoren’s quest for their first World Tour medal in the Fort Lauderdale Major live on BeachStream (click here to register).

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