Branagh, Youngs in Driver's Seat

July 04, 2008, 8:07 p.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. ( July 4, 2008) - A pair of elimination bracket wins Friday at the US$600,000 Moscow 2008 Grand Slam for the U.S. beach volleyball team of Nicole Branagh/Elaine Youngs improved its chances of locking up a berth for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Top-seeded Branagh (Orinda, Calif.) and Youngs' (El Toro, Calif.) two wins Friday gave them a 160-point edge over compatriots Jen Boss (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) and April Ross (Costa Mesa, Calif.) for the second American berth in Beijing with two more opportunities Saturday to improve their 4,380 total by 80, 160 or 240 points.

When Branagh and Youngs play Brazil's fourth-seeded Talita Antunesa and Renata Ribeiro in the women's semifinal match on Saturday, the winner could also cement the fifth seed at next month's Beijing Summer Games. With 160 points at stake in the semifinal match, Talita and Renata have 4,400 points for their best eight SWATCH FIVB World Tour placements since May 2007 while Branagh and Youngs have totaled 4,380.

Branagh and Youngs opened play Friday with a 21-11, 21-13 victory over 22nd-seeded Kathrine Maaseide and Susanne Glesnes of Norway before ousting eighth-seeded compatriots (Fort Myers Beach, Fla.) and Rachel Wacholder (Laguna Beach, Calif.) 18-21, 21-16, 15-10 in 53 minutes.

Turner and Wacholder's loss to Branagh and Youngs ended their Olympic hopes.

Boss and Ross have not yet been mathematically eliminated from the second U.S. berth in Beijing, but are currently 160 points behind Branagh and Youngs with 4,220 points. They will place ninth in Moscow after being upset by Brazil's 17th-seeded Maria Antonelli and Vanilda dos Santos Leão, 21-15, 22-20 in 39 minutes on Friday.

The teams of Jia Tian/Jie Wang of China (5,420 points), Misty May-Treanor (Costa Mesa, Calif.)/Kerri Walsh (Santa Clara, Calif.) of the United States (6,440), Juliana Felisberta Silva/Larissa Franca of Brazil (5,280) and Chen Xue/Xi Zhang of China (4,460) are projected as the top four seeds when the Olympic pools are announced July 26 in Gstaad, Switzerland.  If the host country tandem finishes among the top six teams in the Olympic rankings, the team will assume the No. 1 seed.

The women’s medal matches will be played Saturday afternoon with the gold medal winners sharing the $43,500 first-place prize. 

In the men’s bracket, top-seeded Phil Dalhausser (Ormond Beach, Fla.) and Todd Rogers (Santa Barbara, Calif.) extended their SWATCH FIVB World Tour winning streak to 17 with a pool-play victory Friday morning win over 16th-seeded Riccardo Lione and Matteo Varnier of Italy, 21-12, 21-14, in 41 minutes.

Saturday’s first men’s match will feature a meeting between the past two SWATCH-FIVB world champions as 2007 winners Dalhausser and Rogers face 2005 gold medalists Marcio Araujo and Fabio Magalhaes of Brazil. 

Joining Dalhausser and Rogers as U.S. pool winners were eighth-seeded Matt Fuerbringer (Costa Mesa, Calif.) and Casey Jennings (Las Vegas, Nev.).  After a 21-18, 21-17 pool win over ninth-seeded Russians Igor Kolodinsky and Dmitri Barsouk, Fuerbringer and Jennings will play third-seeded and 2007 SWATCH-FIVB world champions Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos of Brazil on Saturday.

Eleventh-seeded Jake Gibb (Bountiful, Utah) and Sean Rosenthal (Redondo Beach, Calif.) were eliminated in the first round by 25th-seeded Martins Plavins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs of Latvia, 25-27, 14-21.

Complete results, photos and more information are available on the FIVB beach Web site at