Against American Kerri Walsh (centre), Liesbeth Mouha (right) hits at the net as partner Liesbet Van Breedam watches
Sydney, Australia, The “taste” of success the past two years has brought Liesbeth Mouha and Liesbet Van Breedam back to their “blood, sweat and tears” routine for another season of Beach Volleyball competition on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour.
Starting with limited Beach Volleyball experience during the qualifying process for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Mouha and Van Breedam began to develop their skills during their first full season of international competition in 2007 where the Belgium pair finished the campaign as the 34th-ranked team on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour.
Six top-nine finishes in their last nine Olympic qualifying events in 2008 earned Mouha and Van Breedam a spot in the Beijing Summer Games where they won two matches over teams from Switzerland and Georgia to earn a bracket berth and an elimination match against Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the United States.
Mouha and Van Breedam served for set point several times in the first game with the defending Olympic and three-time world champions before losing 24-22 before May-Treanor and Walsh scored a 21-10 victory in the second set to take the first-round match.
“The Olympics was a great experience and it was an honor playing Kerri and Misty, even though we still regret not winning the first set,” said the 26-year old Mouha. “Once you've felt what it's like in the Olympics, you can't get enough. It also gave us a feeling that we can't stop playing because we haven't reached our top level yet.”
The Belgium pair is currently training in Australia with their new coach Kerri Pottharst, a three-time Beach Volleyball Olympian. Pottharst captured the bronze medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games with Natalie Cook, with the Aussie tandem claiming the 2000 Summer Games gold on Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
“We're learning a lot from Kerri and are having a great time working hard in Sydney,” Mouha added. “Kerri was an inspiring athlete; winning two medals at the Olympics herself. As a coach, she can teach us a lot, technically as well as mentally. She did a great job with Rachel (Wacholder) and Tyra (Turner) last year, and we're sure she can help us reach higher levels in our game. She helps us push our limits.”
In preparing for the 2009 season, Mouha feels her team must perform at a “constant high level and do better than last year of course. We want to win all the tight games now! Just think if we had won that first set from Misty and Kerri. The Beijing podium might have had a different look.”
With June’s SWATCH FIVB World Championships presented by ConocoPhillips highlighting the 2009 international calendar, Mouha hopes that her team will “peak” at the event in Stavanger, Norway. “We’ll need to perform at our best,” Mouha added. “As I said, we want to win the tight games this year, so if we get to do it there, I'm sure we can get very far.”
In their first world championships appearance in 2007 at Gstaad, Switzerland, Mouha and Van Breedam won one of three pool play matches to place 33rd. The lone victory was a 21-19 and 21-14 win over Benelux rivals Sanne Keizer and Marrit Leenstra of the Netherlands.
“The Gstaad event was still too early for us, but now we'll be ready,” Mouha added. “All three matches were against teams that qualified for 2008 Olympic Games. We lost our first match to the Beijing silver medal winners from China (Jia Tian and Jie Wang) as we dropped the second set 29-27.”
As for another Olympic bid for the London 2012 Games, Mouha and the 30-year old Van Breedam are planning on it. “If things work out with Kerri this season, we'll definitely work with her for another three years. She's worked towards an Olympic medal, so she knows what it is like.”
After returning from Beijing, Mouha realized “how many people followed the Olympics, not only in Belgium, but in the whole world. To many people, we've been an inspiration because of our enthusiasm and because of what we have achieved in so little time. We basically put Beach Volleyball on the map in Belgium and lots of young children want to start playing now. We want to keep going and working hard, to show everybody enthusiasm works and dreams do come true!”
Mouha and Van Breedam were the first team from Belgium to compete in the Olympic Beach Volleyball competition. Van Breedam’s FIVB Beach Volleyball career started in 2001 as she played in 15 SWATCH events with three different partners for three seasons before dropping off the tour for the 2004 and 2005 season.
After playing in one SWATCH stop in 2005 with Kristien Van Lierop, Mouha teamed with Van Breedam to compete in seven FIVB tournaments in 2006 before committing to a full schedule in 2007. In 33 FIVB events together, Mouha and Van Breedam have earned US$107,800 to rank 74th all-time since the start of the women’s international circuit in 1992.
Mouha and Van Breedam’s best SWATCH finishes have been sevenths at a 2007 stop in Norway (Kristiansand) and a 2008 event in France (Marseille). At the Kristiansand event, Mouha and Van Breedam posted wins over two teams from Brazil, including two-time Olympic silver medal winners Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar.
With the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour season beginning next month in Brazil, Mouha and her partner are in the midst of a seven-week training stay in Sydney with a goal to better last year’s 20th ranking on the international point’s list.
“It will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to reach our goal to be one of the top teams in the world,” Mouha stated. “But, we are willing to do all of that!”