April Ross in action during the FIVB World Tour 2019 on May 19, 2019 in Itapema, Brazil.
The quest not only for a world title but also entry into the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is heating up at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Hamburg, Germany, and seven teams from the U.S. are in the thick of the hunt.
Five women’s teams and four men’s teams started the tournament hoping to become the first American team to win a world title since April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in 2009.
All five U.S. women’s teams advanced from pool play to the Round of 32, which began Wednesday.
Among them were Ross and current partner Alix Klineman, who is making her world championship debut this year. They are the highest-ranked U.S. duo at No. 5 and finished second in their pool with a 2-1 record. They advance to the Round of 16 after defeating Brazil’s Maria Antonelli and Carolina Solberg Salgado, 21-15, 13-21, 15-11. Next up is Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka of Latvia.
Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, USA Volleyball’s Female Beach Player of the Year in 2018, also took care of business in their first match of the elimination round, dominating Germany’s Laura Ludwig, the reigning Olympic and world champion, and Margareta Kozuch, 21-15, 21-12. They face Marleen Van Iersel and Joy Stubbe of the Netherlands in the next round.
Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes also advanced after eliminating Sandra Ittlinger and Chantal Laboureur of Germany in three sets. Sponcil and Claes were second in their pool with a 2-1 record and dropped the first set before coming back to win the second and the tiebreaker, 19-21, 21-19, 15-10. They’ll face Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth of Italy in the Round of 16.
Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman finished third in their pool with a 2-1 record and faced Norway’s Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink. Although the U.S. duo fought back from a first set loss to even things at 1-1, Norway took the deciding set to win, 21-17, 13-21, 15-13.
One of the most intriguing matches of the day featured five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings and partner Brooke Sweat, who faced off against the top-ranked team in the world right now, Agatha Bednarczuk, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa of Brazil. Walsh Jennings and Sweat entered the tournament on a wild card and finished third in their pool with a 2-1 record, although their lone victory was a blowout the likes of which had never been seen before at the world championships. They beat a team from Mauritius, 21-2, 21-2, on Sunday, breaking the record for the largest margin of victory ever at the tournament.
They’d played Agatha and Duda twice this year before Wednesday, both times in the semifinals of FIVB World Tour matches, with each winning once, but Brazil took Wednesday’s matchup, 21-18, 21-16, to end Jennings and Sweat’s run.
Walsh Jennings made her world championship debut in 2001. She won three titles with longtime partner Misty May Treanor in 2003, 2005 and 2007. She was injured in 2017 and last played with April Ross in 2015. They finished ninth.
Three of the men’s teams advanced directly into the Round of 32 beginning Thursday, finishing second in their respective pools with 2-1 records.
Jake Gibb, a three-time Olympian who was named USA Volleyball Male Beach Player of the Year in 2018, and partner Taylor Crabb tied for 17th at the world championships in 2017. Seeded No. 7, their first test of the elimination rounds will be against Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira, of Spain. Gibb and Crabb are the highest-ranked U.S. men’s team in the world at No. 14.
Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb will face Germany’s Nils Ehlers and Lars Fluggen. Bourne has played full-time this season for the first time since 2016 because of his battle with a chronic inflammatory muscle disease called myositis. They’re ranked No. 21 in the world.
Billy Allen and Stafford Slick will match up against Brazilians Evandro Goncalves Oliveira Jr., the 2017 world champion, and Bruno Oscar Schmidt, the 2016 Olympic champion.
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who reached the quarterfinals together at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, are ranked 18th in the world but due to their third-place group finish had to play in a “lucky loser” match on Wednesday to determine their fate. They wasted no time dispatching Mexico’s Lombardo Ontiveros and Juan Virgen, 21-15, 21-17, to advance.
Dalhausser won the 2007 world championship as well as an Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008 and is trying to qualify for his fourth Olympic Games.
The world championships end with the women’s final Saturday and the men’s final on Sunday. Both the men’s and women’s winners will receive $60,000 plus earn a spot for their countries at the 2020 Games.