3 Nov 2023

Pacific Games 2023: Vanuatu pair up the tempo for title defence

12:53 pm on 3 November 2023
Sherysyn Toko and Majabelle Lawac are aiming for gold at the Pacific Games.

Sherysyn Toko and Majabelle Lawac are aiming for gold at the Pacific Games. Photo: Vanuatu Beach Volleyball

The Vanuatu women's beach volleyball is leaving no stone unturned as they continue their preparations to defend their gold medal at the 2023 Games in Honiara at the end of November.

Vanuatu Volleyball Federation president Debbie Masauvakalo told RNZ Pacific from Port Vila while the team missed two days of training when Cyclone Lola hit the island nation last week, the team is on track for their title defence.

The pair of Sherysyn Toko and Majabelle Lawac will compete at the Queensland State Tour in Australia on 10-11 November before flying to Thailand to be part of the International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB) Pro Tour Challenge from November 16-19.

"On Monday (6 November), our women's team will depart Port Vila and go to Brisbane and they will play next weekend in the Queensland State Tour and then our second team will join them," Masauvakalo said.

"We'll have two women's teams playing in the Queensland State tour and then the number one team will then fly on 13 November to Thailand, where they will play in the challenge event.

"They will fly back to Brisbane and then fly from Brisbane to Honiara on 22 November 22 and join Team Vanuatu for the Pacific Games in Honiara."

The Thailand tournament is a Pro Tour event and Vanuatu has qualified on the back of earning enough tour points, to compete in the Challenge level. The other levels are the Elite and the Future.

"This is actually the second level of World Tour and you have to have enough world to a world ranking points to get into the competition," Masauvakalo said.

"Vanuatu, Australia and New Zealand are the teams from the Pacific currently on World Tour as they have worked to a point. The other Pacific nations are not participating at this higher level as they don't have the same amount of points that we do."

The competition in Australia and Thailand will serve as the last warm up events for the Vanuatu beach volleyball pair of Toko and Lawac.

Tough competition

Toko heads to the Pacific Games for her second time to defend the gold she won at Samoa 2019, when she partnered Miller Pata.

The duo won bronze medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham too, but since then Pata has moved on to fulltime coaching, leaving Toko to look for a partner to carry on the legacy as the Pacific's best.

She has since teamed up with Lawac and the pair have had some top performances together in various tournaments that had competed in this year.

Masauvakalo believes the duo will be one of the favourites in Honiara.

But this time around, she feels Australia, who will be competing in the sport at the Games, and the French territories will be tough competitors.

"The women obviously they are probably one of the favourite team or country," she said.

"We actually have Australia participating so that that's good because it actually lifts the standard and level of competition in the region.

"Obviously Australia will be great. And also the French federations are always very good as well. You have Tahiti, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna, they're always very strong as well.

"The Solomon Islands are coming up as well. Their women recently went on the Queensland State tour and they did very well. So their level of competition is increasing."

The Pacific Games will officially open in Honiara on 19 November and will end on 2 December 2.

Beach volleyball will be held in the second week of the Games.

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