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Laird and Palmer defy the odds to claim Volleyfest gold

11 March 2019

BEACH VOLLEYBALL: London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympians Becchara Palmer and Nicole Laird have defied all odds, with the pair who only started playing together 12 weeks ago claiming FIVB World Tour gold on home soil in Manly on Sunday afternoon.

In a close-fought three set final against Americans Betsi Flint and Emily Day, the Australians sealed their first title as a pair 21-19, 16-21, 15-13.

As such a newly formed team, Palmer and Laird weren't ranked high enough to gain automatic qualification, needing to fight their way through the qualifying rounds before they made it to the main tournament.

"We are so stoked and overwhelmed," Palmer said

"Over the 10 days of Volleyfest we played 15 matches over eight days and one of our 'days off' we trained.

"We've definitely gone the long way around, we played the qualifier and every game we've played has been hard-fought and high quality. I'm just so proud of us for actually being here, let alone winning the entire tournament."

The victory is even more remarkable given Palmer had given up the sport two years ago and Laird struggled with injury and form since Rio 2016.

"I'd been circling the drain for a long time," Laird shared.

"Post-Rio, I'd really been struggling to get out, get myself back on the world tour and stamp any kind of authority. I just realised I needed to rewrite my story, and this has been a great first chapter!"

For Palmer, pairing with Laird completely reignited her love of the sport, with their partnership born out of fortuity just 12 weeks ago.

"When I left the sport a few years ago I was feeling a bit unhappy and not satisfied," Palmer said.

"I played a season of the AFLW with the Crows in Adelaide and then I came back to Sydney and started working full time with no plans to pursue beach volleyball.

"Our pairing was such a happy accident, in November Nikki and I had a mutual friend who was getting married and we both happened to be here at Manly at her hens party. We were catching up and just chatting volleyball as we hadn't seen each other for a while.

"There was this weird moment where everything just clicked and we realised that playing together was the solution we had both been looking for.

"It's like this lightbulb just went off and I thought, we're going to do this! I got goose bumps then and there and ever since it has literally just been one step after another," the Adelaidian continued.

"We were actually reminiscing, because the hen's party was at the same hotel we're staying at now in Manly and we said, 'Can you believe it was three and half months ago we had this conversation, and now we're here?'"

Punters may be surprised to know, that despite their on-court chemistry the duo live almost 1,500 kms apart.

"We may live in different states but I feel like what we are doing, is definitely working and we are proof that long distance can be done well," Palmer said.

"It's all about good communication, a lot of sacrifice and a lot of trust. We're committed to our individual quality and the chemistry is so natural, it's just not necessary for us to be in the same state."

The chemistry between the pair and pure enjoyment of being back on the court was evident throughout the whole tournament, belying their relatively new partnership.

"We're both at a point in our lives where we are actually genuinely happy, and that is irrespective of the volleyball, which is a really powerful place to be," Palmer said.

"We don’t have to go out and win to be happy with our lives or ourselves - winning is just a happy by-product of where we're at. We're committed to the enjoyment and that's unwavering, win or lose.

The pair put down their close bond to great communication and some lucky timing.

"Nikki and I have always really liked each other," Palmer said.

"We'd never had the opportunity to play together in the past, we did try to team up a couple of years ago but it turned out that Nikki was pulled away to play with someone else, so it's very serendipitous that we've come together now and clicked so well. Maybe a couple of years ago just wasn't the right time.

"Between us, we've been through so much and I think we needed that time to focus on ourselves because it's helped us to grow so much as individuals."

As for their goals for the future, the team are just taking it a day at a time.

"Our goals have never been outcome-focused and I think that's why we made it to where we are," Laird said.

"If we came into the tournament thinking we had to win it, we might have felt a bit too heavy to actually do it, so we've just been focussing on the process and playing very much one point at a time, and that won't ever change for us."

Liana Buratti

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