When it comes to glamour sports, the location of white sandy beaches around the globe hint at a highly enviable lifestyle for those involved in beach volleyball. However the reality behind those admirable athlete physiques is hours of training and perseverance, sweat and agony, and relentless training – from physical fitness to extreme mental toughness.
So for Waikato’s Shaunna Polley and Kelsie Wills, being selected to represent New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games is a dream they barely hoped for. It is also a landmark for the sport, which is included for the first time in the Commonwealth Games.
The pair already boast a bronze medal performance at the 2017 Ulsan 1 Star World Tour Event (Korea) and are keen to help build awareness around beach volleyball in New Zealand.
“It’s still definitely a minority sport here,” says Shaunna, “but worldwide it’s in the top five most played sports.”
Having spent time in California, it was something of an adjustment for Shaunna to return home to Hamilton and face driving three time as week to Mount Manganui for training sessions.
“There are amazing courts everywhere in California, sometimes hundreds of courts scattered along a beach.”
Having been involved in an impressive list of sports between them, Kelsie and Shaunna have faced many hurdles in their pursuit of such a poorly recognised sport in New Zealand. However their love of the sport has seen them persevere – with the ultimate reward of representing their country.
INSPO Fitness Journal finds out more?
Currently living? Mount Maunganui
How did you get involved in the sport? I began playing in third form at Matamata College. My brother Beau was a year ahead of me and played. I thought it looked like a bit of fun so gave it a go, and here I am.
What do you enjoyed most about it? Well, you can’t look past the locations we get to play and train at on a daily basis. Specifically in relation to beach volleyball I love the fact that you can determine your own intensity, there is no reliance on an entire team to get the job done, it is just you and your partner. I also love the social side to the sport, so many people love to get out there and give beach volleyball a try – if only it was slightly more accessible to the general public in New Zealand.
Greatest challenge of the sport in the early days? Well I had just sprouted up as a 13 year old and had a bit of trouble getting used to my long limbs, so that was quite a challenge.
List of achievements to date?
– Completing a four year volleyball
scholarship in the USA (2011-2015)
– Playing a year of professional volleyball in Paris (2015-2016)
– Medalling at a FIVB world tour event (2017)
– Qualifying for the 2018 Commonwealth Games
One of your most memorable moments? Being officially announced in the Commonwealth Games team.
Goals for 2018? My ultimate goal this year is to medal at the Commonwealth Games. This will involve having a successful build-up.
Other sports you have played? Tennis, basketball, netball, athletics, swimming
What’s involved in maintaining your fitness? Weight/agility/cardio sessions 4-5 times per week
How do you relax? I love going to the Mount hot pools for a soak and to chill-out, it does wonders for those tight muscles.
How do you treat/pamper yourself? I love to go out to eat every now and then, for sure brekkie is my fave meal.
Has there been a turning point for you in your commitment to the sport? I actually came back to New Zealand to work and live a bit of a normal life, then the Commonwealth Games opportunity came up. I couldn’t say no to giving that a go, so here we are.
The team around you? I have a solid support crew who have helped me through the past year and Commonwealth Games qualification process hugely. In terms of volleyball, our coach Mike Watson and physical trainer Tim Wilson have been great. The support and understanding of my family and partner in everyday life has been amazing, I am stoked they have the opportunity to support us at the Gold Coast.
How do you fund/support yourself in this sport? Volleyball New Zealand has been great helping us out here and there with funds, but ultimately the past year has been self-funded through working full-time as an auditor at KPMG in Tauranga (who have been very accommodating of my absence for tournaments during the qualification process the past year).
Currently living? Hamilton
How you got involved in the sport? I started playing beach volleyball when a good friend of mine, Holly Sprosen, asked me to play in a tournament with her in Mount Maunganui. We ended up doing really well for our first time and subsequently made the NZ U17 team which kickstarted my career playing beach volleyball internationally.
What do you enjoy most about it? I love how it is such a physical game. You are running in sand, jumping, diving, hitting, exploding – so many complex athletic movements all while trying to keep the ball alive. I also like that there is only two of you on the team – you are held more accountable for your performance and there’s also so much more emphasis on the mental side of the game.
List of achievements to date? 1st place NZ National Championships 2018, 3rd place Daegu, Korea FIVB 1 star World Tour event, 3rd place Vietnam Asian Volleyball Tour
One of your most memorable moments? Going to three sets against a top Brazil team in Monaco earlier this year – although we lost it was definitely a memorable match and I was super proud of our performance.
Three things you’d like everyone to know about beach volleyball? 1. Sand gets everywhere. 2. Beach volleyball players will jump around 300 times in one match. 3. Different beaches have different depths of sand which can make playing harder or easier.. For example, the Gold Coast sand for Commonwealth Games is too deep, so they are shipping in regulation sand to make it a little easier to play on.
Goals for 2018? Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Other sports you have played? I used to play hockey for Waikato and Midlands. One year however, I had to choose between competing in the USA for volleyball or being coached by my mum for the Waikato team in Wellington.. I picked the USA and my mum has never forgiven me.
What’s involved in maintaining your fitness? Lots of strength and conditioning training as well as maximising time on the sand.
Has there been a turning point for you in your commitment to the sport? At the end of 2016 I moved to the US with my partner Trent and we lived in California for 10 months. I originally moved there to have a break from beach volleyball as I was confused as to whether it was something I really wanted to be doing. However, I ended up playing beach volleyball almost every day I was there and realised that it was definitely something I loved and wanted to continue pursuing.
The team around you? My family are the best support crew you could ask for. My parents have been heavily involved in my sporting career as coaches and managers.
How you fund/support yourself in this sport? I work seasonally for the Weetbix Kids Tryathlon and do odd jobs here and there and I am fortunate enough to still be able to live with my parents while I train full-time. I have well-developed frugal living skills.We train and work really hard to be able to commit to the sport, so we’re hoping the exposure of the Commonwealth Games may help us secure a major sponsor, so we can make a serious campaign for upcoming pro tours and perhaps the 2020 Olympic Games.
Career path? I have a Bachelor in Science majoring in chemistry but am unsure if I will use it now. I would love to start my own business eventually.