The FIVB beach world tour is hyper-competitive, right? A whole bunch of teams are capable of winning on any given day, right? And when they’re playing in 80-plus degree temperatures and dealing with 10-plus mph winds, that should equalize the field, right?
Usually that’s right, but Monday, as the second of the three 4-star tournaments at the FIVB Cancun Hub wrapped up, it was wrong.
The top-seeded teams on both sides – Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum and Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa — demonstrated exactly why they’re seeded first and winning gold.
The men’s silver medalists — Qataris Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan and Russia’s Svetlana Kholomina and Nadezda Makroguzova — and the fourth-place finishers, Italy’s Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi, the Netherlands’ Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink, — reaffirmed that they are teams to be reckoned with.
With the second of the three tournaments now completed, we also break down the USA race for the Olympics. There are two men’s spots and two women’s, although Ross and Klineman clinching the top women’s spot is a foregone conclusion.
Ross and Klineman regrouped from Sunday’s semifinal loss to sweep the Netherlands’ Keizer and Meppelink 21-17, 21-17. They never trailed, winning on their second match point when Keizer was unable to retrieve a Ross spike off the block.
The A-team has generated five medals in its last 10 events, two gold, two silver and Cancun bronze.
In the first Hub event Ross and Klineman finished a disappointing ninth with a second-round loss to Australians Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho.
Klineman acknowledged the difficulty of playing an extremely experienced and skilled team in Meppelink and Keizer as well as the conditions.
“Mostly we just stayed tough and stayed together. It’s really hard to play in this heat, let alone against a really good team like that,” Klineman said. “We just did the best we could.”
Ross agreed that the conditions were extremely challenging.
“This medal was a really, really hard medal to win. In this atmosphere, with the wind and the heat, this is a really good finish,” Ross said. “We’re looking to improve next week, but I’m very happy with this performance.”
It’s no secret that Mol and Sorum have been a dominant force on the world tour. The Norwegians have won an astonishing eight of their last 10 tournaments, taking bronze medals in Hamburg and in Rome. The field could only hope that Mol’s hip injury might slow him down just a smidge, so that the world could catch up.
The last two Cancun events make a clear message to the beach volleyball world that they are still the best.
Mol sank to his knees in relief and exhaustion after sealing the gold medal with a crosscourt swing that Qatar’s Tijan couldn’t control.
“We couldn’t be more excited. It’s been a perfect two weeks here,” Mol said. “Of course, we’re really tired after 12 games. We’ve had some really, really tough battles against so many strong teams, and I can’t believe we’re standing here today with two gold medals after beating all these great teams.”
An exhausted Sorum agreed.
“It’s amazing to win again. Anders played some really good volleyball. I was so tired. He played against four players, Qatar, me, and the heat, I wouldn’t have won the gold without him.”
They’ve now beaten the Qataris twice in the finals in Cancun. Luckily for Samba and Tijan, the Norwegians will not compete in the third Cancun Hub, opting instead to train in Tenerife, Spain, in preparation for the Continental Cup in Madrid.
“It’s an amazing feeling, but big respect for Qatar, for making it to the final twice, but we won’t make it easy for them to win the title,” Mol said. We really want it, and today we fought like real warriors, and I’m super-proud of my partner.”
The bronze medal match pitted Cerutti and Alvaro Filho, who faced Italy’s Carambula and Rossi.
Cerutti is one of the greats of the game. He owns a silver medal from London 2012 as well as gold with Bruno Oscar Schmidt in Rio 2016. In 2019, Cerutti partnered with Filho, a 6-1 lefty with a whip of a swing. Together they have generated two gold and two silver medals in 16 events in 2019.
In the first Cancun Hub, they were eliminated by the USA’s Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, but rebounded in the second Hub for a medal finish.
Monday they beat a tough Italian team 21-17, 21-17, despite that Carambula, one of the most skilled players on the tour, possesses a game that is tailor-made for that kind of wind, including a backhanded skyball that has a great deal of movement.
Carambula, a transplanted Floridian born in Uruguay, used the skyball to great effect throughout the tournament. They finished fifth in the first Hub event.
On the women’s side, Bednarczuk and Duda are perhaps the tour’s most complete team. They both have the size to terminate and possess the all-around skills required international success. They have no weaknesses. Bednarczuk doesn’t have the size of a Sarah Pavan or Klineman, but with their serve and pass, size isn’t as much of a factor.
In their last 10 tournaments, the Brazilians have earned two gold, one silver, and three bronze medals.
They took down the Russians 21-15, 21-19 when a tough Bednarczuk serve down Kholomina’s line forced an easy free ball that Bednarczuk tapped over the block for their sixth gold together.
The previous week, Brazil finished with Cancun bronze. Lisboa said one of the things that their team worked on this week was first-ball side-out.
“Today, Agatha played very well,” Lisboa said. “She was very aggressive on first side out.”
Bednarczuk was very happy, exhausted, and ready to recover for the third Cancun Hub.
“I feel amazing, it’s an amazing feeling,” she said. Now we are happy but we need a little recovery, no practice, just in the bed.”
After two Cancun Hub events, this is how things stand for the Americans, competing for two Olympic berths, ending June 13, 2021.
Gibb and Taylor Crabb added 40 points, replacing their 360-point Sydney finish with a 400-point Cancun Hub 1 finish.
Dalhausser and Lucena added 240 points, replacing their Xiamen and Espinho 240-point finishes with 400-point Cancun Hub 1 and 2 finishes.
Bourne and Trevor Crabb added 120 points, replacing a 320-point Warsaw finish with a 400-point Cancun Hub 1 finish, and their 360-point Gstaad finish with a 400-point Cancun Hub 2 finish.
Ross and Klineman added 160 points, replacing their 480-point Ostrava finish with the 640-point Cancun Hub 2 bronze medal.
Walsh Jennings and Sweat were unable to improve, needing at least a fourth-place finish to add to their totals.
Sponcil and Claes added 80 points to their total, replacing a 400-point Las Vegas finish with the 480-point Cancun Hub 2 finish.
Stockman and Kolinske added 40 points to their totals, replacing a 360-point Qinzhou finish with a 400-point Cancun Hub 1 finish.
What it means
There are only three remaining Olympic qualifying events: Cancun Hub 3, Sochi (May 26-30), Ostrava (June 2-6). They are all four-star events, meaning that there are no high-value tournaments like Vienna 5-stars or World Championships, where ground can be made up quickly.
The points awarded for four-star events are: 1st: 800 points, 2nd: 720 points, 3rd: 640 points, 4th: 560 points, 5th: 480 points, 9th: 400 points, 17th: 320 points, and 25th: 240 points.
At the top, Ross and Klineman have mathematically clinched. If Walsh Jennings and Sweat won the three remaining events, they would still be 1,120 points shy of the A-team, so the A-team can sip ice teas in the shade while perusing the schedule to determine which events suit coach Angie Akers’ training schedule to best to focus on the Olympics in July.
Gibb and Taylor Crabb are also safe, although it is possible that they could end up in the second USA slot if Dalhausser and Lucena win two gold or silver medals in the last three events without a significant improvement themselves.
For the men, Dalhausser and Lucena have the lowest finish to replace at 320 (need a ninth or better to improve), while Bourne and Trevor Crabb stand at 400 (need a fourth or better to improve), so Dalhausser and Lucena will make up more points for equivalent finishes.
On the women’s side, Kolinske and Stockman have the lowest finish to replace at 400 (need a fifth or better to improve), with Walsh Jennings and Sweat, Sponcil and Claes tied at 480 (need a fourth or better to improve), so Kolinske and Stockman will make up ground faster.
Stockman and Kolinske trail Sponcil and Claes by 400 points. Three semifinal finishes without opponents’ improvements would turn around a 400-point lead. Or, a single gold medal finish for Stockman and Kolinske would make up 400 points.
The tightest races are for the second berth, with Walsh Jennings and Sweat leading Sponcil and Claes by 240 points, Dalhausser and Lucena leading Bourne and Trevor Crabb by 240 points. Three fourth-place finishes, or a first and a fourth would make up the deficit in the absence of a fourth or better by the leaders.
The bottom line is this: With only three events remaining, and no 5-star events available, time is running out for the teams that are behind, and fourth place or better is what’s needed.