When beach volleyball partners Kristof Schlagintweit and Jeremy Lieuwen set the goal of winning a medal at the under-18 national championships, they realized they had their work cut out for them.
The Abbotsford duo, after all, were a year younger than most of their competitors at the Canadian championships, held in Toronto last weekend.
Schlagintweit and Lieuwen came through with a series of tremendous performances, though, battling their way to bronze.
“We’re ecstatic about it,” Schlagintweit said of the podium finish. “We just went out and had some fun.”
Schlagintweit and Lieuwen have a lot in common, beyond their enviable volleyball skills.
Both are heading into their senior year of high school – Schlagintweit at Yale Secondary and Lieuwen at Mennonite Educational Institute – and both come from families with more than their share of high-profile athletes.
Schlagintweit has two older sisters currently in the midst of big-time university volleyball careers – Sofie with the NCAA’s Arizona State Sun Devils, and Rosie with the UBC Thunderbirds.
Jeremy’s older brothers are also elite athletes – Matt was a volleyball all-star at MEI and then at Douglas College, while Nathan, a hockey goalie, led the Kootenay Ice to a WHL title last season and was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in June.
“There’s an amazing amount of support,” Lieuwen said, analyzing the benefits of the sporting culture in his family. “Between games (at nationals), I was getting text messages from my brothers and my parents – to keep going hard. They know what it’s like to be there.”
“They also help you get there,” Schlagintweit chimed in with a chuckle. “My sisters used to beat volleyballs at me as hard as they could. They made me a player, they made me tough.
“I guess I liked volleyball, and they realized it, so they told me I was going to be the best volleyball player around. They would make me play every day.”
In the indoor game, Schlagintweit serves as a setter, while Lieuwen plays on the left side. On the beach, they’ve both been challenged to expand their all-around games.
“A setter and a power is kind of a good combination on a beach team, and it just worked out,” Schlagintweit noted. “That’s what makes beach so much more fun – it’s just you and your partner. You don’t have to rely on other people to pick you up or bring you down. It’s all between you and your partner.”