Kolaric and Basta hope to help boost beach volleyball in Serbia

 

Lazar Kolaric (left) and Stefan Basta

Espinho, Portugal, July 6, 2018 – Serbian pair Lazar Kolaric and Stefan Basta are riding on an unexpected wave of success on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour this year and what they are really hoping for is that this will help further boost the development of beach volleyball in their country.


When they reunited as a team a few weeks ago, Kolaric and Basta were planning to just play in some tournaments this year to maintain points and focus mainly on practicing for the next season with an eye on the Olympic berths. But surprising even themselves, they quickly started climbing the ladder of success from the very first World Tour events they participated in.

They began with a fifth place at the Mersin three-star in early May. In their second tournament, the Lucerne three-star in mid-May, they reached the final. The following week, at the Aydin one-star, they made it all the way to the top, winning the first ever World Tour gold for their country. At all these tournaments, they had to walk the whole path from the qualifications.


“We are really happy about Aydin. In terms of points, the second place in Lucerne was a bigger success for us, but the first place in Aydin has a special meaning. It is the first trophy for Serbia. It was the first time to hear and sing the national anthem from the top of the podium. Everybody back at home was happy because of it, and it is really helping beach volleyball in Serbia proceed further,” Lazar Kolaric said.


“After such a huge start of the season, we decided to try to play main draws at three-star events, try to qualify for some four-star events and completely skip the five-star tournaments. As we were preparing for Espinho, we skipped Ostrava and Warsaw, but we went to the Mediterranean Games last week in Spain, where we also wanted to win a medal for our country, but unfortunately we finished fifth. The windy conditions there are something we are not used to in Serbia, but helped us prepare for the windy conditions in Portugal,” Stefan Basta added.

At the four-star stop in Espinho this week, the Serbian pair once again had to start from qualifications and their main goal was to just make the main draw. They not only achieved it quickly with two straight-set wins on Thursday, but already advanced to the elimination rounds in the main draw, after winning their first pool play match on Friday.

“Luckily, we are in good form for this tournament here and we qualified for the main draw, which was our goal initially,” Lazar continued. “In the first qualification round we didn’t have a great game, but we still managed to win. In the second match we showed the best game that we could. We are really happy to qualify for the main draw at a four-star tournament for the first time. A lot of ‘first times’ for us this year... We will be more relaxed, we will enjoy it more, without any pressure, and it will be much easier. This is a beautiful tournament...”

Lazar and Stefan greet each other during their first main draw match at Espinho

They both started with indoor volleyball, and both at the same club – Vojvodina Novi Sad. Stefan was playing opposite or outside hitter and Lazar was playing libero.

“We were both on different under-age national teams,” Lazar told their story. “Stefan quit indoor to play beach two or three years before me, while I was only playing on the sand for fun. When our federation sent us to play beach volleyball at under-age European Championships and we saw how the sport is organized in Europe, we totally fell in love with it and decided to make the switch.”

They formed a pair in 2015, appearing at some continental events. In 2016 they gave the World Tour a try, but without much success.

“We played for two years, but because of financial problems I went back to indoor to earn a living and Lazar had to play with a different partner,” Stefan revealed. “But a year later, he and I made a deal to collect money whatever way we can just to play on the World Tour again, and give our best to try to qualify for the Olympics to live our dream. We didn’t actually expect to earn some money and some good points at the beginning of this season, so now these give us a real boost to continue playing the sport professionally. We have been searching for sponsors in Serbia. It is difficult, but I think with success, the support will also come.”


Currently, Kolaric and Basta do not receive financial support from their national federation, but they believe there is a good reason for it.

“We received some support from the national federation earlier, but now they have a different strategy. They are investing a lot into our National Tour,” Lazar explained. “And I think this year we are having the best National Tour in recent years – with a 50% increase in the prize money, more tournaments, more participants and higher level of organization. I think it is a good way of investing into the sport. I am really happy that we are on top of it and we can see that it is really growing.”

“At the same time, we are really happy that we are the ones pulling Serbian beach volleyball internationally now and we can already see the results,” Stefan added. “More and more Serbian teams sign up for FIVB events. One of our men’s teams are currently playing in Porec. One of our women’s pairs played at the Mediterranean Games and also registered for some FIVB tournaments. It has never happened before that we have three or four teams trying to play internationally. With our international results, we are just trying to help pull Serbian beach volleyball forward, to share the feeling of what it is like being on the World Tour.”


28-year-old Basta and 23-year-old Kolaric are hoping that this wave of success will help them ride all the way to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but prefer to plan shorter term for now.

“Next for us is the European Championship. Serbia will compete there for the first time (one more ‘first time’) and we are really excited about it. Our main goal is to pass our pool successfully, which we think is possible,” Lazar pointed out. “After that we are back on the World Tour for the Tokyo three-star, where we are already in the main draw, then maybe Moscow, and we will be preparing for the two tournaments in China in the fall, with which the Olympic qualification cycle will get underway.”