With the elimination rounds underway at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Vienna, Austria, all eight U.S. teams were still in the running for the title and $60,000 first-place prize as of Wednesday morning.
The women’s round of 32 is ongoing, with two U.S. teams having already advanced to the quarterfinals and a third team guaranteed to join them. But with the U.S. teams of April Ross and Lauren Fendrick facing off against Emily Day and Nicole Branagh later this morning, that means the first U.S. team will be eliminated.
The men’s round of 32 begins later this afternoon, with match ups still being finalized as pool play wraps up.
Here’s a look at the prospects for the eight U.S. teams going into this weekend’s medal rounds.
Summer Ross & Brooke Sweat
Their Story: Although this is the duo’s first season playing together on the FIVB World Tour, they started off strong with a second-place finish in Moscow in June, just their second tournament together. They entered the world championships with a No. 5 seed and No. 8 world tour ranking, the highest of any of the U.S. teams. Sweat is competing in her third consecutive world championships, having placed fifth with then-partner Lauren Fendrick in 2015. That pair also placed 19th in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Their Worlds: Ross and Sweat started the world championships with 2-0 wins over teams from Austria and Kazakhstan before falling to a Ukrainian team in three sets. That set up a tough round of 32 match this morning against Xinxin Wang and Chen Xue of China, but the Americans came out 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals later today against Kristyna Kolocova and Michala Kvapilova of the Czech Republic.
Sara Hughes & Kelly Claes
Their Story: Hughes and Claes entered the tournament with a No. 16 seed and No. 15 world ranking and are appearing in their first world championships. They’re no strangers to one another, however. After being paired by USA Volleyball for the first time at 16, Hughes and Claes became the most dominant team in college beach volleyball, winning their second consecutive title with USC this past spring. The recent grads at one point had a string of 103 consecutive wins.
Their Worlds: The Americans opened the world championships with wins over teams from Canada and Rwanda, the first men’s or women’s team from their country ever to compete in the tournament, but ended pool play with a three-set loss to a Brazilian team. That was enough to make the elimination round, however, and they opened with a two-set win over Spain’s Elsa McMillan and Amaranta Navarro. They’ll compete in the quarterfinals this afternoon.
April Ross & Lauren Fendrick
Their Story: Ross and Fendrick teamed up at the beginning of the season after Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings parted ways nine months after winning bronze at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. In June they won the AVP New York City Open, but Ross suffered a broken toe that sidelined her for several weeks. In July the duo won silver at the World Series of Beach Volleyball tournament in Long Beach, California, losing to the top-ranked duo of Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca Maestrini of Brazil in the final match. The Americans are seeded 14th this week.
Their Worlds: Ross and Fendrick went through pool play undefeated, with two-set sweeps over teams from China and then two from Australia. However, one American team will have it’s run end in the round of 32, as Ross and Fendrick take on Emily Day and Nicole Branagh in their next match.
Emily Day & Nicole Branagh
Their Story: This last-minute pairing for the tournament came after Branagh’s partner of the past three months, Walsh Jennings, was forced to withdraw due to a shoulder injury. Although the two had practiced and trained together before, they’d never competed as a team before this event.
Their Worlds: Despite their inexperience together, Day and Branagh opened pool play with a 2-0 sweep over a German team before falling 2-0 to Brazil’s Larissa Franca Maestrini and Talita Antunes, the top-ranked team in the world and top seed this week. A bounce-back win over an Austrian team in the final match sent Day and Branagh on to the round of 32 against Ross and Fendrick.
Phil Dalhausser & Nick Lucena
Their Story: Dalhausser and Lucena are one of the most successful teams in men’s beach volleyball right now, with a No. 2 world ranking and a No. 3 seed coming into the world championships. Their wins this year include gold at the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, the Gstaad Major and the FIVB Moscow stop. Dalhausser, a three-time Olympian, and Lucena, who made his Olympic debut in 2016, have played together off and on over the years and finished fifth at the Rio Games.
Their Worlds: They opened the tournament with a victory over U.S. teammates Ryan Doherty and John Hyden, dropping the first set before winning the next two and the match, 2-1. They followed that up with a 2-0 win over a team from Guatemala, and closed out pool play with a 2-0 win over a Polish team this morning. The Americans open elimination play in the round of 32 later today.
Ryan Doherty & John Hyden
Their Story: Doherty and Hyden are ranked 10th in the world and are coming off a silver medal at the Olsztyn 4-Star tournament at the end of July, their first medal together on the FIVB World Tour. Hyden is the oldest player at the tournament 44 years, 9 months old, and the finish in Olsztyn was Doherty’s best since 2014, when he played with Lucena. This is the third appearance at the world championships for both of them, with Doherty’s best finish at 17th place and Hyden finishing fifth in 2015 with Tri Bourne.
Their Worlds: After dropping the first match to Dalhausser and Lucena, they swept teams from Poland and Guatemala and play No. 2 seed Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins of Latvia in the round of 32 later today.
Jacob Gibb & Taylor Crabb
Their Story: Gibb, the three-time Olympian, is making his seventh consecutive world championships appearance while Crabb is a first-timer. The duo is ranked 17th in the world and seeded 18th, and Gibb is hoping to crack the top four for the first time ever following a trio of fifth-place finishes in 2007, 2009 and 2015. Crabb has been playing on the international tour since 2015.
Their Worlds: After opening the world championships with two-set sweeps over teams from Argentina and Paraguay, they dropped a 2-1 match to the fourth-ranked team from Poland. Gibb and Crabb play Australia’s Christopher McHugh and Damien Schumann later today in the round of 32.
Theo Brunner & Casey Patterson
Their Story: Brunner and Patterson are a new team this year but came into the tournament ranked No 15 on the world tour and seeded No 17. Patterson has played in the world championships twice before, finishing 17th in 2013 and fifth in 2015, while paired with Gibb. That duo also placed 19th at the Rio Olympics. Brunner was fourth in 2015 while playing with Lucena.
Their Worlds: They started with 2-0 wins over teams from Austria and South Africa before ending pool play with a three-set loss to the No. 7-ranked team from Brazil. That sets the Americans up for a round of 32 match later today against Austria’s Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst, the No. 12 seed.