Brazilians send Dalhausser/Lucena packing, Kerri/April ready for semis

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Brazilian Alison Bruno stuffs Phil Dalhausser/FIVB photo

Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena are out. The American men just couldn’t keep pace with Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Oscar Bruno Schmidt before a raucous mid-day crowd in the very windy Olympic beach volleyball stadium on Copacabana Beach.

The wind, officially listed at 52 mph, wasn’t nearly that windy inside the venue, but it disrupted the American setting far more than the Brazilians’ as the home team came away with an impressive 21-14, 12-21, 15-9 victory.

“I felt we didn’t play great in the first set and I didn’t play great. Second we picked it up and third they just did a really good with the wind,” Dalhausser said.

“Just when we were done with the warm-ups ended this wind came out of nowhere. It was dead calm and then it started blowing. They handled the wind better than us.”

On the other side of that bracket, the Dutch won — actually they had to — and Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen will face Cerutti and Schmidt in the semifinals after beating countrymen Reinder Nummerdor and Christiaan Varenhorst.

“We were having our pre-match talk and suddenly the tent was shaking,” Brouwer said. “It was the wind that picked up and it made the game a little crazy.”

In the later quarterfinals, two Russian teams split.

In the first match, Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai moved on and will face the winners of the second match, Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Konstantin Semenov, who won a three-set thriller.

Before getting to the men, the women, first a look at Tuesday’s women’s semifinals that include Americans Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, who don’t hit the sand until midnight Rio time,11 p.m. Eastern.

After 50 matches over eight days, just four women’s teams remain and with all the talk about depth and parity, not just any four. These are the four teams that have dominated the world during the Olympic qualification period, winning a combined 22 gold, nine silver, and seven bronze medals.

Larissa and Talita/FIVB photo
Larissa and Talita/FIVB photo

No. 1 Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca (Brazil) vs. No. 4 Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst (Germany), 3 p.m. Eastern

Larissa and Talita are the class of the field. The top-ranked Brazilians have won nine gold, two silver, and one bronze medal in 18 events in 2015-16. Larissa is the best right-side player in the world and her individual FIVB awards read like an encyclopedia: Best setter (2006-12, 2014), best defensive player (2009, 2012), 2014), best offensive player 2015, most outstanding (2006, 2015).

Talita is one of the world’s elite blockers at a relatively diminutive 5-foot-11. Talita seals the net as well as any blocker and any hitter that attempts to challenge her low and sharp will likely be disappointed. She is also the most skilled blocker and her pulling defense is the best in the world.

The Brazilians were only tested once in the Olympics, surviving a 21-23, 27-25, 15-13 win over Switzerland’s Joana Heidrich/Nadine Zumkehr. Larissa’s one weakness is that in previous years she has brought negative energy to the team, in harshly criticizing her partner. During the match with the Swiss she was admirably positive, which is bad news for the rest of the field.

Ludwig and Walkenhorst have won three gold medals, one bronze and a fourth in their last five tournaments. Their medal count for 2015-16 is six gold and two bronze. Ludwig is the most dynamic athlete in the group, with the highest speed around the court and a quick jump. Walkenhorst has improved her vertical this year and is a force at the net.

Ludwig likes to go over on one, she would be well advised to refrain when Talita is attacking, as Larissa is likely to run it down.

This will be one of the best matches of the year. Ludwig/Walkenhorst lead 3-1 head to head over 2015-16, winning their most recent meeting in Olstzyn, Poland, 21-18, 15-21, 15-10. Two of the four matches went three sets. On neutral sand, one might favor the Germans, but you have to pick Brazil in Brazil.

No. 2 Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas (Brazil) vs. No. 3 April Ross/Kerri Walsh-Jennings (USA), 11 p.m. Eastern

Bednarczuk/Seixas, the 2015 world champions, had a stellar 2015 with three gold medals and three silver medals. Although their star has dimmed a little this year with only a silver and a bronze, they are one of the most skilled teams in the field.

Bednarczuk is an undersized but solid 6-foot blocker with a heavy arms wing. Seixas is a quick defender with a deceptive left-handed spike.

Bednarczuk/Seixas like to feed off their defensive energy and go on runs. When they begin their huge celebrations that would be considered over the top here, that’s when they play their best and can snap off quick runs of points.

Walsh Jennings is back in the Olympics for her fifth time, at age 38 (her birthday was Monday) the oldest in the field. Her three Olympic gold medals attest to the simple fact that she knows how to win. She is still the best blocker in the world, although the rest of the world is beginning to catch up.

Ross is the best left-side player in the world, is the best server, one of the best spikers, and her defense is vastly improved.

The two pairs have only met once during the qualification period, with Ross/Walsh Jennings winning in Gstaad in 2015 21-17, 23-21.

Bednarczuk/Seixas’ game plan is simple: Serve Walsh Jennings. Sure, it’s a tough choice serving a legend, but she is significantly easier to read on the right than Ross is on the left. Brazil needs to move the ball around on offense and force Ross’ defense to beat them rather than Walsh’s block.

Ross/Walsh Jenning’s plan is simple as well: Take advantage of the height differential they have on Bednarczuk and bomb spikes at Seixas all night. If the Americans can do that they will win.

USA's Phil Dalhausser makes a big save as Nick Lucena gets ready to play it/FIVB photo
USA’s Phil Dalhausser makes a big save as Nick Lucena gets ready to play it/FIVB photo

Monday’s men’s quarterfinals

Cerutti/Schmidt 2, Lucena/Dalhausser 1

The first set was all about Brazil’s defense as Alison blocked balls at 10-6, 14-10, 20-14, and 21-14, while Bruno successfully dug the USA at 7-5, 8-5, and 10-6.

In the second set, the USA took control behind Lucena digs for 16-11, 19-12, and 20-12, while Dalhausser contributed a block to score 15-11 and a serve net trickle ace for 18-12.

The deciding set was a combination of USA errors and Brazil defense. Lucena’s cut fell into the net to give Brazil 8-5. On the next point, both Alison and Bruno were sprinting off the court to make saves, culminating in a perfect set by Bruno from 30 feet off the court that was pounded by Alison unopposed to reach 9-5. Lucena mishandled a Bruno topspin serve into the wind for 10-5, followed by a Lucena set that drifted over the net to Alison to score 12-6.

Dalhausser cut the lead to 12-8 on a lefty over on two, but Alison hung and swatted a Dalhausser line shot for 14-8. Brazil sided out for 15-9 and the match.

“It was really tough conditions today and I’m really impressed with how they did,” Dalhausser said. “In California the wind picks up around 10 o’clock every day and that is when we train. This was extreme though.”

Alison finished with six blocks to Dalhausser’s two, while Bruno had four aces to Dalhausser’s two. Both Bruno and Lucena came up with nine digs each.

“Alison kept the crowd with us,” Bruno said. “I also have a good relationship with them and was celebrating and getting energy from them at excellent points. Today it was a good battle.” 

Certainly the Americans hoped to go farther but Dalhausser kept it in perspective.

“We started playing together a year ago and no-one gave us the chance to qualify,” Dalhausser said. “We were playing with the house’s money because we weren’t supposed to be here.

“I’ve enjoyed the journey and enjoyed the week and a half. I couldn’t have done it without him and wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else.”

Brouwer/Meeuwsen 2,  Nummerdor/Varenhorst 0

Brouwer/Meeuwsen handled the wind better than their compatriots in a 25-23, 21-17 win.

“Everything is on course and the goal is a medal,” Brouwer said.

The first set was a taut affair, with the Dutch teams staying within a point of each other beginning at 16-16. Finally Nummerdor’s hitting error gave Brouwer/Meeuwsen a game point a 23-22. The teams exchanged side-outs until a Meeuwsen short serve caught the tape, and rather than dropping straight down, surprised Nummerdor and popped 5 feet into the court. Nummerdor was unable to pass the serve, giving the first set to Brouwer/Meeuwsen 25-23.

In the second set, no team was able to gain more than a two-point advantage until Nummerdor’s cut shot fell short into the net for a 14-11 Brouwer/Meeuwsen advantage. A Meeuwsen block of Nummerdor gave them a 15-11 advantage.

Nummerdor, the second eldest in the Olympic field at 39 after the USA’s 40-year-old Jake Gibb, was asked about the match and whether he would retire:

“I think the first set was crucial and we had chances to win that one and we didn’t take them. After that they were just better than we were and handled the wind very well,” he said. 

“The chances are very high that I will quit completely, but I am emotional now after the match, so I don’t know yet.”

Paolo Nicolai/Daniele Lupo 2, Dmitri Barsuk/Nikita Liamin 1

“For us every game was a final and now it is the same, a real final,” Nicolai said. “We will continue to go game by game. We definitely have two more matches and will be here till the end of the competition. Now is our moment, we are here, we have to play and we have to do our best.”

Accordingly, the Italians came out playing with confidence and aggression in their 21-18, 20-22, 15-11 victory.

Nicolai’s block was imposing and Lupo was seeing the court well, keeping the Russians guessing. But in set two, neither team could outdistance the other until Barsuk dug a Lupo cut to end it.

“We were down in the (second) set, but we were so close to them,” Nicolai said. “They played amazing, especially Barsuk on defense.”

In the third set, Nicolai refused to lose. Nicolai blocked for 6-5 and 7-5, served aces for 9-6 and 10-6, soft-blocked a ball and subsequently put it down for 13-10, and fittingly enough, stuff blocked Barsuk on a joust to complete the Italian win 15-11.

“Not everything we planned to do worked,” Barsuk said. “I think we performed pretty well and better than usual. They took some risks on the serve and they played off.”

Krasilnikov/Semenov 2, Diaz/Gonzales 1

Viacheslav Krasilnikov’s serve hit the top of the net, fell to the sand, and he and teammate Konstantin Semenov moved on with a 22-20, 22-24, 18-16 victory over Cuba’s Nivaldo Diaz and Sergio Gonzalez that left the two Russians gasping for air as it ended.

“It was a really tough game. It really pushed our emotions to the limit, but we are glad we won and through to the semifinals,” Semenov said.

“It feels like a miracle. We haven’t come down yet after we struggled through match ball after match ball.”

The match was played at a very high level, with a high percentage of first ball side-outs. In the first set, the score stayed close until Krasilnikov dug a Gonzalez high line shot and returned his own high line to put the first game away.

Gonzalez eventually took control of set two, blocking Krasilnikov for 23-22, and blocking Semenov, although Krasilnikov covered it, only to be blocked by Gonzalez to end set two.

The third set was again a tight battle. Russia maintained the lead, but could not finish the Cubans until Lady Luck smiled on the Russians in the form of that trickler net serve to send the Russians to the semifinals.

 

 

 

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