Lausanne, Switzerland, September 22, 2020 – Neither of them had won any medals on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour before they teamed up for the start of the 2016 season. But Nina Betschart and Tanja Huberli found the right partner in each other and with the new partnership came success. The Swiss pair are Volleyball World's Team of the Week.
Nina Betschart’s pre-Huberli career
The younger player of the duo, 24-year-old Nina Betschart, had a lot of success at the junior level. At the early age of 15, she won the 2011 FIVB U21 Beach Volleyball World Championship title together with Joana Heidrich and did the same again a year later, this time with Anouk Verge-Depre.
Young Betschart (left) and Heidrich show off their U21 World Championship gold medals at Halifax 2011.
In 2013, Betschart won her first continental title, at the CEV U20 European Championship with her regular partner Nicole Eiholzer. Just a week later, together with Verge-Depre, she triumphed with the first of three consecutive crowns at the U22 European Championships, the next two came with Eiholzer.
Nina Betschart’s first major success at the senior level came in 2015, when she and Eiholzer celebrated with the gold medals at the first edition of the European Games in Baku.
Tanja Huberli’s pre-Betschart career
Tanja Huberli was playing indoor volleyball for Swiss standout Volero Zurich when she switched to professional beach volleyball, having already had her first international experience on the sand, at the 2010 FIVB U19 World Championship.
Before the start of the 2013 season, Huberli teamed up with Tanja Goricanec and the following year the pair achieved the best result of their cooperation, a silver at the 2014 CEV European Championship. However, the “two Tanjas” never managed to make the podium of a World Tour event.
Emotional Tanja Huberli after the EuroBeachVolley 2014 semifinal victory over Laura Ludwig & Kira Walkenhorst.
Teaming up in 2016
After Goricanec put an end to her playing career in 2015 and Betschart and Eiholzer decided to discontinue their eight-year long cooperation, Nina and Tanja joined forces to mark the beginning of a successful partnership.
They made their first World Tour appearance together at the Xiamen Open in April 2016. Some three months later, they claimed their first medal, which was bronze at the prestigious Klagenfurt Major.
"I really appreciate Nina as a person. We laugh a lot together and I can talk to her about something personal. But if we share a room, chaos reigns within minutes. However, we both feel good. Of course, there are also difficult moments, for example when things don't go as planned. In such cases, for Nina and me it is important to communicate openly and honestly and to discuss the situation, almost like in a relationship," 1.90m-tall blocker Huberli said with a smile in an interview for volleyball.ch
Consistency and growth
Betschart and Huberli’s next three World Tour medals were also bronzes. The Swiss duo made the podium at the 2017 Porec 5-star. In 2018, they did so at the Hague and the Moscow 4-star events.
Also in 2018, and also in the Hague, Nina and Tanja went one better – a EuroBeachVolley silver.
“Recently we've been playing more and more consistently, and that's the key on the way to the top," Huberli commented.
"If you get a medal at these levels, you've already done a lot right. But I think it's important not just to measure yourself against medals. It is the small successes (or failures) that trigger a lot and lead to the big ones!" 1.75m-tall defender Betschart told volleyball.ch
Two prestigious semis in 2019
The Swiss pair failed to win any international medals in 2019, yet it was clearly a successful season for them. At the year’s highlight event, the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Hamburg, they reached the semifinals before losing to champions-to-be Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada and finished fourth as the highest-placed European pair.
Just a week later, inspired by the home crowd at the Gstaad 5-star, Betschart and Huberli did it again – a fourth-place result as the best team from the European continent.
"Gstaad 2019 was my highlight! We had a great run at the World Champs in Hamburg, so we and the Swiss fans were all really excited. And we enjoyed that week so much. To play at home right after the World Champs and to make it into the semis again - that was a crazy week! In no other tournament in the world would we have been in the semifinals again after this crazy week in Hamburg!" 28-year-old Huberli told fivb.com
"Gstaad is my absolute favourite tournament - the scenery, the mountains, the nature! In addition, the organizers put so much heart and soul into it."
Way to come back from the lockdown
If the pulmonary embolism which Huberli was diagnosed for but quickly recovered from in late 2019 and early 2020 did not hinder the team’s plans for the upcoming season, the coronavirus pandemic certainly did. Betschart and Huberli who were placed eighth in the FIVB World Ranking, took advantage of the unexpected time off to progress with their academic studies, but kept training individually to be ready for a comeback.
And what a comeback it was! At their very first World Tour event after the lockdown, they emerged with their very first World Tour gold, topping the podium at the Baden 1-star in August, which attracted many top-level teams.
Nina (left) and Tanja on the top step of the podium in Baden.
“We are happy with how we performed. We played some very good games in the process, including those where we had to fight our way through; we mastered that quite well as a team,” Huberli told cev.eu
“It was cool and great to finally play an international tournament with other top players again,” Betschart added.
Olympic dreams alive
Before the lockdown, Betschart and Huberli were well on the way to qualifying for their first Olympics. They found the one-year postponement of Tokyo 2020 shocking at first, but quickly came to terms with it. They not only look forward to the Games next year, but also have Paris 2024 ‘for sure on their map’.
“I found out about the postponement, got up and opened the shutters. The weather was terrible, so I went back to bed. At that moment, I didn't feel like training. But then I realized it wouldn't have been OK to hold the Olympics if you had barely been able to prepare for them," Huberli said in an interview for Bluewin
"It’s hard. As an athlete you think about whether you will qualify for the Games and hope that you will stay free of injuries. But you never think about the big Olympics not taking place. Our entire timeline was always geared towards Tokyo 2020 and, fortunately, the Games were only postponed and not cancelled. My goal, of course, is to play at Tokyo and it is a dream of mine to play for Olympic medals," Betschart commented.
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