Aiming high

Julia Tilley in action.

Julia Tilley in action.

Above: NZ champions Shaunna Polley and Julia Tilley

When it comes to women’s beach volleyball in New Zealand, the impressive duo Julia Tilley (26) and Shaunna Polley (22) are something of a force to be reckoned with.

As well as being New Zealand’s current number one ranked women’s team, the pair have dominated the sport for the last three years – refusing to be ousted from their top spot.

Their athletic ability coupled with a seriously competitive nature has created a combination which has set many records along the way. Such as being undefeated by any other New Zealand team in a season and becoming the first New Zealand women’s team to win the international NZL Open – and winning a bronze medal on the Asian tour.

While to many the sport of beach volleyball seems something of a glamour sport, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Imagine playing in searing heat, in a sport which requires explosive power and energy, as well as technique, skill and strategy.

volley4While a quick flick through the pair’s photo album reveals a seemingly glamorous lifestyle, with stunning beach shots from around the globe – the hidden truth behind their success is endless hours of training and sacrifice.
Although they dedicate every hour they can to their sport, there is no funding in New Zealand for beach volleyball athletes.

“A lot of our time is committed to finding sources to help fund our volleyball campaign,” admits Julia.

With the goal of competing in as many international events as possible to gain the necessary experience before the Olympic Qualifiers – they may be at the top of their sport, but there’s a long hard road ahead of them.

Both athletes are Sir Edmund Hillary scholars. Julia, from Gisborne, has a Bachelor of Sport and Leisure majoring in Management Communications with Graduate Diploma in Teaching.

And Shaunna, from Hamilton, recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science majoring in chemistry.

“We teamed up three seasons ago and finished our first season together unbeaten by any other New Zealand team.”

As well as setting alight the sport as a pair, their individual skills have also been recognised, with Julia awarded best defender and best passer on the New Zealand tour and Shaunna awarded best attacker on the New Zealand tour.

Continuing to go from strength to strength, the duo are investing all they can into their dreams in a quest to put New Zealand on the international beach volleyball map.

The pair compete at the NZ Volleyball Karapiro Open on January 12-14.

Photos by Julie Fitz-Gerald |


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