Team USA’s top beach volleyball duos kicked off the 2015 season with the Melhores do Mundo exhibition event in Brazil, February 26 March 1. Facing their rivals on Copacabana Beach, the future site of beach volleyball in the 2016 Olympics, in the middle of the Brazilian domestic season, the Americans found themselves largely outmatched. Brazil won the team title 35-13 and took home both the men’s and women’s titles.
At the event, teams played only one game to 21, forcing players to adapt quickly to the changing conditions and each new opponent. After the first two days of competition, the finals and third-place matches were played best two out of three.
As the leading American men’s duo, John Hyden and Tri Bourne earned a spot in the final match. With a record of 3-1, they were the only American team of either gender to collect a winning record. They faced Pedro Solberg and Evandro Barbosa in the men’s final, a match which they lost 21-12, 21-14. In post-match interviews, Bourne emphasized that he and Hyden are feeling good at this early point in their season. He also credited the Brazilian fans for their enthusiastic support of the sport.
The new partnership of Jennifer Fopma and Summer Ross had the most success of all the American women, going 2-2 to earn a spot in the final versus Talita Da Rocha Antunes and Larissa Franca Maestrini. Fopma and Ross lost that match 21-12, 21-18. “We got the opportunity to compete as a team and now we’ll go back to California for two months to work on what we need to do better, said Fopma.
Though the duos of Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross and Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat each went 1-3 in the first two days of competition, Walsh Jennings and Ross took the advantage in points, and thus earned a spot in the event’s third-place match. Facing Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas de Freitas, the Americans won 18-21, 21-16, 15-7.
In the men’s third-place match the 2-2 Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson took on Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Thiago Santos Barbosa. Schmidt and Thiago claimed victory in straight sets with scores of 21-8 and 21-17.
In an interview with ESPN.com, Emily Day, who went 0-4 with her new partner Jennifer Kessy, celebrated the rare opportunity to cheer on her fellow Americans. On the world tour, we are competing for ourselves as much as we are for Team USA because were all vying for Olympic spots, she said. Here, there is no pressure with Olympic qualification; everyone is cheering for one another. That’s special, that’s not something we get all the time.
The top American beach volleyball teams will return to the states to train and pick up competition with the Fuzhou Open in China, April 21-25.