Saran O’Connor doesn’t know if she’ll make it as an elite beach volleyballer, but she certainly won’t be left wondering.
To give herself the best opportunity the ambitious 19-year-old has uprooted her life in Bendigo to move to Melbourne, while also deferring her health science and paramedic studies at La Trobe University to focus on the sport.
It’s a big commitment, but the early signs are promising. Last month, O’Connor and team-mate Maddy McCrum won a Victorian state series pre-season tournament, only dropping one set in five matches.
“It was really good to get off to a cracking start. We got bumped down from the top grade but we proved to them we should’ve been up,” O’Connor said. “A 16 and a 19-year-old trumped a whole heap of oldies, so it was very exciting.”
O’Connor is aiming high in her first full beach season after recently finishing third in an under-23s tournament.
“I’m playing under-23s and AA and hoping to make some AAA finals this year as well.
“Under-23s is for Australia Junior Nationals, which I’m trying to qualify for at the moment – I’ve got the last tournament this weekend.”
O’Connor has shown rapid improvement in her first year in the sport, which is vastly different to indoor.
Her determination to learn the subtleties on the beach led to her contacting the Victorian Beach Volleyball Academy about a tryout earlier this year.
“I didn’t get into the under-19s squad, but really, really enjoyed it and decided I wanted to give it a crack.
“So I just googled ‘beach volleyball Melbourne’ and saw that they had an under-19s academy. I emailed ‘Chiko’ (coach Peter Jones), went along, tried out, got in and didn’t look back.
“Ultimately, I want to represent Australia... hopefully at an Olympics.”
One of O’Connor’s short-term goals is to compete on the national tour this season. “Last year when it was in St. Kilda I went and watched Natalie Cook and Tamsin Hinchley play and they played at the Olympics.
“It’ll definitely be exciting and we’ll probably be a bit starstruck on the court, but it’s all experience and court play.”
O’Connor is seeking sponsorship to help fund her travel and accommodation costs for the tour. Potential sponsors can contact the Bendigo Advertiser.