Call it home court advantage or call merely having the No. 1 team on both the men’s and women’s international beach volleyball tour. However you call it, Team USA won big at the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, California, with Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal as well as Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross ending the weekend with gold around their necks and giant surfboard trophies in their hands. Americans Theo Brunner and Todd Rogers added to the U.S.’s haul taking bronze over the young German team of Alexander Walkenhorst and Stefan Windcheif.
An estimated 50,000 people flowed through the ocean-side venue over the five-day event that featured professional and amateur competitions, sponsor activations, and concerts from some of the top musical acts in the country, including MAGIC!, Bleachers, Katy Tiz, and Somekindawonderful.
In the men’s final, Dalhausser and Rosenthal faced familiar foes Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel of Poland who they battled in the final of The Hague Grand Slam only a week before. Although the Poles claimed victory in that earlier match, Dalhausser and Rosenthal took the win in Long Beach, pocketing the $70,000 top prize. The three-set thriller of a gold-medal match captivated the spectators packed into the bursting stadium; however, it was not aired live on television, though the women’s final was. Rosenthal and Dalhausser have advanced to the final of the past four international tournaments, taking gold in three.
Although Rosie’s Raiders showed up in top form, terrorizing the Polish team from behind the service line and from on top of the Bud Light bar, some Polish fans made an appearance as well, waving their red and white flags and chanting, “Polska! Polska! Polska!”
Fijalek and Prudel certainly didn’t make things easy on Rosenthal and Dalhausser. The first set bounced back and forth with Dalhausser missing a serve long to sacrifice a potential game point at 20-19 and allowing the Poles to come back and win it 24-22. The top American duo came roaring back in set two, however, winning it 21-17 and taking the match with a 15-9 smashing in set three.
In the women’s final, between Walsh Jennings and Ross and Brazilian duo Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas De Freitas, there was never any real doubt which team would finish on top. From the moment Chris “Geeter” McGee ushered the four athletes out onto stadium court until to the final point when Ross tipped a shot off the top of the block and into the back corner, Ross and Walsh Jennings had the attitude of winners and never allowed their Brazilian opponents to gain a lead. In the ultimate expression of their lethal consistency, Ross and Walsh Jennings won the match 21-17, 21-17.
The only true challenge Walsh Jennings and Ross faced in the entire tournament came from Germans Laura Ludwig and Julie Sude. Ludwig, who took a fifth in the London Olympics with former partner Sara Goller, had been playing with Kira Walkenhorst (sister of the aforementioned Alexander) for the early part of 2014 before pairing up with Sude in Gstaad, The Hague, and Long Beach. The 28-year-old Ludwig spoiled many attack attempts from Ross and Walsh Jennings with her quick feet and smart defense, thoroughly entertaining the Long Beach crowd, however she and Sude came up just short of the upset 21-18, 18-21, 17-15.
The 2013 FIVB Best Defensive Player is also a remarkably good sport. “We are a young team,” a smiling Ludwig said in an interview with Volleyball Source magazine after the match. “It’s just our third tournament together and so we also need to find our language together. We actually had nothing to lose in this game so we could play the hell out of it, and it almost worked.”
Only a couple days after the last ball hit the sand in Long Beach, the FIVB staff and players jetted off to Klagenfurt, Austria, for the next competition. Keep an eye on that action here.
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