By Phil Collin for VolleyballMag.com
LONG BEACH, Calif. – They’ve had to deal with question after question about the Olympics for the week since the Games ended, and two American teams were patient enough to answer.
But the best responses that Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross had were on the stadium court on Alamitos Beach. Now they have a golden chance for one final statement.
Both USA teams came through when they needed to Saturday and reached the gold-medal match of the World Series of Beach Volleyball FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam and now have the opportunity to end their international regular season with another victory.
Dalhausser and Lucena won twice on Saturday, using an 11-0 run in the third set of the semifinals against Italians Alex Ranghieri and Marco Caminati, to reach Sunday’s final. They’ll face Brazil’s Pedro Solberg and Evandro Goncalves, hoping to capture their fourth gold of 2016.
Walsh Jennings and Ross had only one match to play Saturday and they stopped Germany’s Chantal Laboreur and Julia Sude, 21-17, 21-16, to reach their seventh final on the FIVB World Tour in 2016. They’ll take aim for their fifth title when they meet fellow Olympians Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez of Spain in the final.
Walsh Jennings and Ross, the bronze-medal winners in Rio de Janeiro, have been the most consistent team on the FIVB World Tour in 2016.
“We’ve been in every final four this year and that’s almost unheard of,” Walsh Jennings said. “It makes me so proud of us. We want to finish the year high. We’ve been getting better and better.’’
It certainly helps to be home. The American duo are playing in their third consecutive final in Long Beach, having won in 2014 and placing second behind Brazil’s Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca.
The hard-packed sand is tailor-made for Ross, the top server in the world. She rocked the Germans time and again and kept them on their heels. Ross had four aces, but many more serves that stymied the attack from Sude and Laboreur.
“I have really good memories of last year and the year before and I love jump-serving at this tournament,” Ross said. “The conditions are kind of perfect for it. It’s just fun throwing it up and going after it.
“We don’t live and die by my serves. If I feel like I need to take something off it to keep it in, then that’s what I’m going to do. Sometimes I get suckered in when I hear people cheering ‘Harder, harder’ and I know I have to stay with what feels right for my serve.”
Elsa and Liliana, the seventh seeds, are undefeated in six matches in Long Beach with four of the wins coming over Olympians. They reached the final with a 24-22, 16-21, 15-12 win over Germans Ilke Semmler and Katrin Holtwick.
“I think we’ve been working pretty hard this week thanks to our coach because we were kind of depressed after the Olympics,” Elsa said. “But he had a new goal for and he was clear that he thought we deserved to finish the season with a good result. We came here and fought every single game and we’re very proud of ourselves.”
After a 21-16, 21-19 win over Spanish Olympians Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera in the quarterfinals, Lucena and Dalhausser captured a seesaw match over Ranghieri and Caminati, who were playing in only their second tournament together.
Their 21-15, 17-21, 15-6 victory was punctuated by that 11-0 run that wiped out an early 4-3 deficit in the third set.
“With Phil we go on a lot of runs,” Lucena said. “That’s probably his 11 th 11-0 run. It makes siding out easier, so I like it. But that’s tough to do.”
It also turned the tables after the second set, in which Dalhausser and Lucena held a 10-6 lead before giving up seven consecutive points.
Ranghieri, who will reunite with Olympic partner Adrian Carambula for next month’s World Tour Finals in Toronto, was not surprised with the run he made with the 23-year-old Caminati. After all, in the only other event they played together, they captured the 2015 Lucerne (Switzerland) Open.
“I’m really happy to be playing with him,” Ranghieri said. “I was taking it as it comes so every single match we played calm and relaxed and we rocked the tournament. Now I’ll be able to focus on what I’ve done all season, but this is one of the brightest moments of the season.”
Third-seeded Olympians Pedro and Evandro advanced to the championship match with a 14-21, 21-14, 15-11 victory over Latvia Olympians Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs. Both teams shed some post-Olympic depression to reach the medal rounds.
“It was tough to come here, I wasn’t sure if I would come because I was so disappointed, but this is sports,” Pedro said. “You don’t see all our work in one week like last week. We have to keep it up, keep working hard. We have a nice history together and we want to do well here. It’s important for us.”