06.06.2019 - Hamburg, Germany
Each German player who gets to compete at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Hamburg 2019 presented by comdirect and ALDI Nord from June 28-July 7 already considers the tournament a very special one in their careers.
For some, it’s because it’s their first time among the sport’s elite, while others rejoice the rare opportunity of playing in front of their home fans for over a week in what will certainly be a packed Rothenbaum Stadium. For Leonie Körtzinger, it’s both.
The up-and-coming 22-year-old blocker and her partner, Sarah Schneider, 23, are among those who will represent hosts Germany when the best players in the world head to their hometown to compete for the titles, a pair of automatic Olympic berths and a share of the one million US dollars prize money.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play the World Championships in our backyard,” jokes Leonie. “I always dreamed about being there, but I honestly didn’t expect it to happen this year. It’s a really big honor for us and a great chance to take advantage of this experience in our young ages. I hope I have a long career, but you never know when Germany will get to host the World Championships again, so this is a really, really nice opportunity.”
Körtzinger and Schneider just became partners in 2019 and because of that they didn’t have time to accumulate enough points to secure their spots in Hamburg via the world rankings. Instead, they had to apply for a wildcard and just hope for the best.
The odds seemed to be against them since some stars of the sport, such as fellow German and Olympic and world champion Laura Ludwig, American three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brazilian two-time World Championships medalist Talita Antunes, also didn’t make the cut and were all hoping for an invitation to play in Hamburg.
“It was a mix of joy, excitement, luck, thankfulness and several other feelings when we first knew we were in,” she recalled. “We always hoped we would get the wildcard, but we didn’t really like our chances, especially when we saw who the other teams who were asking for it were. I think the fact that we were a home team helped and it was really like a dream coming true.”
Körtzinger and Schneider were drawn on Pool B, where they will have all-European battles with Czech Republic’s Marketa Slukova/Barbora Hermannova, Poland’s Kinga Wojtasik/Katarzyna Kociolek and Latvia’s Tina Graudina/Anastasija Kravcenoka to advance to the elimination round.
That’s where they hope to be able to play against some of best players of the history of the sport and really learn from their unexpected experience.’
“We’re really looking forward to have some nice battles against the best in the world,” she remarked. “That’s what we’re aiming for. We want to watch them play, challenge them and see what we’re up to. This is the only way to improve and we’re so ready to learn. I’d really love to play against Kerri, she’s such a legend.”
If the Germans don’t have the international experience on their side in most of the matches, they’ll undoubtedly benefit from the supportive atmosphere that the home fans traditionally create at the Rothenbaum.
Körtzinger doesn’t have the best memories from the venue as she had bad finishes both times she played there, in German Tour stops in 2016 and 2017. However, with the fans by their side, she’s confident it’s time to change it.
“My results there haven’t been great, but I’m keen to change it this year,” she added. “I’ve been there watching the World Tour Finals in the last two seasons and I had goosebumps when I saw Laura and Kira win it in 2017 and it was very fun to support my German friends last year. I love the center court, that old tennis stadium is so charming.”
Ludwig and Walkenhorst became more than role models for up-and-coming blocker last year when she got to play with Kira in some events of the German Tour before the Olympic champion had to retire at the start of this season.
More than the two silver medals they won together, Körtzinger recalls some little lessons she learned while sharing the daily routine of her legendary former partner.
“The biggest lesson I learned from her and coach Jürgen Wagner was that they accomplished all they did without doing anything extraordinary or having super powers or anything,” says Leonie. “I mean, they were of course a phenomenal team and two extraordinary players, but they achieved their dreams with hard work, patience and discipline. After this season with Kira I’d say I transformed my dreams into goals.”
A few others lessons are certainly coming on Körtzinger’s way by the end of the month. And she’ll be ready to take them.