COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - As the FIVB World Tour takes a two-week break, USAV U21 athletes earn gold in Australia in preview to this summer's U21 World Championships.
After three FIVB World Tour events this calendar year that the U.S. has played in, three teams in both genders stand within the provisional Olympic rankings qualifying cutoff.
A bittersweet silver medal at the Vitoria Open last weekend wasn't what April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings were hoping for, but the result still yielded positive outcomes. The pair entered the tournament as the No. 3 U.S. team, but with 450 points earned from their second-consecutive podium finish, they've jumped to the top of the American teams and now are 11th in rankings after nine events.
Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson logged their third-consecutive ninth-place finish down in Vitoria, Brazil. After 13 events played, they will keep their 12-best finishes through the rest of the qualifying season. The duo gained an edge last week as their top two competitors on the USA men's side sat out. Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena were 10th in provisional rankings but after opting out of the Vitoria Open, fall to 13th. Tri Bourne played with Mark Burik, but his points with John Hyden have stalled as the duo hasn't played since Maceio, they fall to 16th but fortunately are not far out of the mix because they have secured the 12 needed events and have 4,240 points, just 340 off of Dalhausser/Lucena.
The race on the women's side has gotten closer as well. Ross and Walsh Jennings take the lead with nine events (4,390 points) thanks to a pair of podium finishes in their first two events this month. Mixed finishes between Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat and Jennifer Kessy/Emily Day has the two teams now battling for the No. 2 U.S. spot. Fendrick and Sweat are just 60 points behind Walsh and Ross (12th) and Kessy and Day have 3,920 points, both teams are well over the 12 event mark, at 14 and 15, respectively.
The cutoff date for securing the U.S. a quota spot for the 2016 Olympic Games is June 13. With how the teams look now, every American team is in good shape to meet the 12 events needed and the top three teams in both genders are currently within the qualifying rankings. Ross/Walsh Jennings and Dalhausser/Lucena each have nine, but there are nine men's and eight women's events left on the Tour in the ranking timeline.
|11||Kerri Walsh Jennings/April Ross||9||4,390||5||Jake Gibb/Casey Patterson||13||5,060|
|12||Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat||14||4,330||13||Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena||9||4,580|
|t15||Jennifer Kessy/Emily Day||15||3,920||t16||John Hyden/Tri Bourne||12||4,240|
WORLD TOUR HITS TWO-WEEK HIATUS
The FIVB World Tour heads into a two-week break following the Vitoria Open. Next up is a men's only Open in Doha, Qatar from April 4-10, followed by a dual gender swing through China. Teams will head to the Xiamen Open, April 12-17, followed by the Fuzhou Open, April 19-24.
The last time the U.S. played in Doha, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena finished second and John Hyden and Tri Bourne earned third. In 2015, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross earned their first medal of the Olympic qualifying season at the Fuzhou Open, with bronze. In Xiamen, Dalhausser and Lucena picked up what was their third medal of the season and their first gold as a team.
Gold Medal match from Australia
U21 TEAM WINS INAUGURAL FOUR NATIONS TOURNAMENT IN AUSTRALIA
Sarah Sponcil and Torrey Van Winden went 4-0 at the Four Nations U21 tournament on Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia this past week. The pair used a three-set, 21-23, 21-19, 15-13 victory against Brazil's Victoria Tosta/Ana Ramos on Tuesday to claim the title.
The Australian Volleyfest tournament featured women's teams from Australia, Brazil and Japan. All four teams competing in the event will also play at the FIVB U21 World Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 11-16.
"We came into this not knowing what any of these teams were going to look like," said Van Widen of the teams present. "We knew that all of them were really strong countries. We jumped at the opportunity and were stoked to get a first glance at them before Switzerland."
Sponcil and Van Winden opened play on Monday with a sweep of Brazil's Tosta/Ramos 21-16, 21-14. They followed with a win that afternoon against the host country's Britt Kendall/Shelby Maher, 21-15, 21-7. On Tuesday, Sponcil and Van Widen topped Japan 21-11, 21-23, 15-7, which allowed them to win the pool 3-0 and advance to the gold medal match.
After dropping the first set 23-21, Sponcil and Van Widen got off to a slow start in the second frame, falling behind by as much as four at the 7-11 mark. After tying it at 12-all the lead teeter-tottered until the U.S. pulled ahead at 19-18 and kept the lead to close it 21-19. The third and final set saw the pair edge ahead after the 9-8 point and never let go, winning the match and the tournament on the 15-13 score.
"Everyone battled it out, it was point-for-point," Sponcil said afterward. "It was a great match for both teams."
Casey Patterson: A day in the life
WEEK IN REVIEW
FIVB Vitoria Open
- Kerri Walsh Jennings/April Ross won silver, their fourth podium finish in 2016 Olympic qualification
- Tied for ninth: Jake Gibb/Casey Patterson, Jennifer Fopma/Brittany Hochevar, Jennifer Kessy/Emily Day
- Tied for 17th: Sean Rosenthal/Theo Brunner, Tri Bourne/Mark Burik
- Tied for 25th: Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat tied for 25th
- Eliminated in qualification were: Derek Olson/Jeremy Casebeer, Summer Ross/Lane Carico
UPCOMING EVENTS | Add to your schedule
April 4-8 Doha Open (Men only)
April 12-17 Xiamen Open
April 14-17 AVP New Orleans
April 19-24 Fuzhou Open
April 26-May 1 Fortaleza Open
May 3-8 Sochi Open
May 5-8 AVP Huntington Beach Open
May 10-15 Antalya Open
May 11-16 U21 World Championships
May 17-22 Cincinnati Open
May 20-22 NVL Port St. Lucie
May 24-29 Moscow Grand Slam
June 2-5 AVP Seattle
June 7-12 Hamburg Grand Slam
June 14-19 Olsztyn Grand Slam
June 16-19 AVP New York City
June 24-26 NVL San Antonio
June 28-July 3 Porec Major
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