The American late bloomers

19.06.2019 - Hamburg, Germany

Veterans Billy Allen and Stafford Slick are pumped for their World Championships debut

The FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Hamburg 2019 presented by comdirect and ALDI Nord will feature a strong line-up of players who are set to make their debuts at the prestigious event at the Rothenbaum Stadium.

Most of them are in their low twenties, such as Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sørum, Brazilian George Wanderley, Dutch Joy Stubbe and Canadian twins Megan and Nicole McNamara.

But there’s also Americans Billy Allen, 37, and Stafford Slick, 34.

The veterans had to go through stiff competition against their fellow Americans, but managed to be selected to take the country’s spot earned at the NORCECA qualification process and will represent the United States in Hamburg and compete at the World Championships for the first time in their careers.

“It’s the biggest tournament I’ve played at and I expect it to feel a bit like the Olympics,” Billy says. “We may be older on the World Tour but we’re young for Americans. We don’t get to start international play right away like other countries because we have a lot of competition and the AVP. Since John Hyden and Jake Gibb are still playing into their mid-forties, we still have plenty of time left.”

Billy is right when he says they first entered the international scene considerably later than most of the opponents they will try to take down in Germany. He first competed on the World Tour in 2015, in a tournament held in American soil, and it took him another year to fly out of the country and play overseas at the 2016 Hamburg Major, when he was 34. Stafford got started a couple of years earlier, in 2013, when he was 28.

In 2017, their first season together, they had some success in the American AVP, registering five podium appearances in eight events, but failed to translate those performances to the international level as they didn’t go beyond 17th place in any of the four World Tour events they played at in that year.

Because of that, they decided to split and try to find that elusive international success with other partners. Billy paired with Ryan Doherty while Stafford joined forces with Casey Patterson. The season didn’t go well for both of them and here they are, back together.

“I’m glad to be back with Stafford,” Billy added. “Our skillsets complement each other and we have the same work ethic and approach to training and learning. Breakups are pretty common in our sport, especially in the USA where you have lots of partner options. We both got the chance to play with partners with more international experience last year and we learned a lot about how to approach travel and the demands of these tournaments. We wouldn’t be the same team we are today if we hadn’t split, so no regrets.”

Shortly after their reunion in March, Billy and Stafford claimed their first World Tour medal as a team, a bronze in a three-star event in Sydney, Australia. It was an important step forward for the team, but they know they will need a lot more when they face the best players on the planet in Hamburg.

They will be challenged since the start of the tournament at the Rothenbaum as they were draw in Pool E, where they will be tested against Russia’s Konstantin Semenov/Ilya Leshukov, Brazil’s Alison Cerutti/Alvaro Filho and Qatar’s Tamer Abdelrasoul/Assam Mahmoud.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to compete with the best teams in the world and to represent the USA,” Stafford remarked. “We’ve been placed in a pool with multiple Olympians and we’re looking forward to the challenge. In a full round-robin pool format, every point matters so we intend on approaching each match with the same degree of intensity and focus. It doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the net, our primary goal is to control our side and bring our A-game to every match we play.”

As any American team, they’re expected to perform well and be in position to fight for medals, if their seed (29) indicates it could be a hard task to accomplish. In that regard, their experience comes handy as their only goal entering the tournament is exactly not setting one.

“I’ve learned not to worry about realistic goals, otherwise I wouldn’t be traveling the world playing volleyball,” Billy reflected. “So I think we could have our best international finish yet.”