With last week’s drawing of the lots, the field for the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship has been set. Eight USA teams will be making the trip to Tlaxcala, Mexico this October 6-15 to compete for the biggest non-Olympic title in the sport — and a share of the $1 million purse.
Before we begin breaking down the pools, a little primer on the format: 48 teams per gender are split into 12 pools of four, which will operate in a round robin format in which everyone plays everyone in their pool.
The top two teams in each pool and the best four third-place teams will move directly to the round of 32. The remaining eight third-place teams will play in a lucky loser round to fill the last four spots in the elimination rounds. It remains single-elimination through the finals, which were won by Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, and Brazil’s Duda Lisboa and Ana Patricia Silva in 2022.
What’s on the line?
The total purse for the event is $1 million, a sizable bounty that’ll motivate anyone. More important — to some, anyway — are the points available for the taking. With the Olympic race more than halfway over, the cutoff date being June 9, 2024, there is no single event with as many points on the line as the World Championship. The winners will rake in 1,600, 400 more than a gold medal at an Elite16 will get you. Anything in the top 10 will be a useful finish for an Olympic hopeful.
A bad finish won’t necessarily break any teams, but it can certainly separate several from the peloton. The winner of the event also earns a berth into the 2024 Paris Olympic Games for their federation.
Yes, you read that correct: The bid goes to the federation, not the team. If, for example, Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles win the World Championship, the bid is not given to them. It’s given to USA Volleyball, which does not guarantee that bid to Flint and Scoles. They would still need to beat out their countrywomen — Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, Kristen Nuss Taryn Kloth, Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon, Alix Klineman and Hailey Harward — for the spot.
While winning a World Championship and not qualifying on points is roughly the equivalent of catching the golden snitch and not winning in quidditch, it’s still a possible scenario, especially in the USA women’s race. The exact scenario mentioned above is really the only one I can imagine in which that could happen.
Which men’s teams need a good finish?
It should go without saying that everyone wants a good finish at the World Championships. If Miles Partain and Andy Benesh finish in the top five, you can safely view the USA men’s race as a battle for second — most already do — between Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, and Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner. If both Bourne and Schalk, and Brunner and Crabb have disappointing finishes — this would be anything outside of the top-10 — that leaves the door open for Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, and Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, to potentially catch them down the road. Partain and Benesh have such a substantial lead at this point that, should they have a fluky finish, they’re still fine. But the teams who need a big one in the USA are Bourne and Schalk, and Crabb and Brunner. Sitting at home, Budinger and Evans, and Taylor Crabb and Sander, can do nothing more than hope their rivals have a quick trip to Mexico.
Internationally, the men’s pairs most in need of a top-10 in Mexico are those battling for the bottom three or four spots in the Olympic rankings, and those looking to push into the discussion. Those fitting that description would be Chile’s Marco Grimalt and Esteban Grimalt, Italy’s Daniele Lupo and Enrico Rossi, France’s Youssef Krou and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, Ukraine’s Sergiy Popov and Eduard Reznik, Austria’s Julian Horl and Alex Horst, Poland’s Piotr Kantor and Jakub Zdybek, Brazil’s Pedro and Guto, the Netherlands’ Steven Van de Velde and Matthew Immers, Canada’s Sam Schachter and Dan Dearing, and all three Australian pairs.
Which women’s teams need a good finish?
Again, the disclaimer: Every team needs a good finish. If you have a lead, this is the time to cement yourself as the leader. If you’re behind, this is the time to make up some ground. But some pairs need this more than others, and no team needs it more than Hailey Harward and Alix Klineman. Their partnership is about as late as possible while still having an outside shot at qualifying for the Olympics. When Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena teamed up in 2015, it was deemed remarkably late, and even they had five events as a team at the point in the race where Klineman and Harward will begin. Had they not gotten a wild card into World Championships, they’d have no chance, but they received that wild card, and things could get interesting.
Klineman’s made a World Championship final before, in 2019 with April Ross. She’s won an Olympic gold medal. These are the stages on which she shines. Sure, she just had a kid two months ago, and this quick of a turnaround is wild and also awesome she’s feeling this good to take a crack at it. But one does not simply bet against Alix Klineman, and I won’t do so here.
A good finish in Mexico could potentially vault them directly into Elite16 main draws — they are currently No. 3 in the qualifier for the Paris Elite16 at the end of September — which is all you need to give yourself a chance at making a comeback in this Olympic race. But a poor finish in Mexico, especially with an unknown number of events prior to the June 9 cutoff next year, could very well make this race a short-lived one. But a good finish? Anything fifth and better?
Get your popcorn ready.
Flint and Scoles, too, could use a boost. Their wacky and wonderful silver medal out of the qualifier at the Montreal Elite16 put them firmly into the Olympic discussion, leaping Sponcil and Cannon for the third American spot. Another top-five in Mexico would make this an awfully close race, similar to the late run made by Cheng and Sponcil in 2021 prior to Tokyo, in which they punched their ticket in the final event of the qualification period.
Beyond the USA women, other duos who could use a boost include: France’s Lezana Placette and Alexia Richard, Finland’s Taru Lahti and Niina Ahtiainen, the Czech Republic’s Barbora Hermannova and Marie-Sara Stochlova, Poland’s Jagoda Gruszczynska and Aleksandra Wachowicz, Spain’s Lili Fernandez and Paula Soria and Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno, Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Louisa Lippmann, Switzerland’s Zoe Verge-Depre and Esmee Bobner and Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Mader, Canada’s Molly McBain and Sarah Pavan, Austria’s Dorina and Ronja Klinger, and every Brazilian team not named Barbara and Carol or Duda and Ana Patricia.
Who is in the men’s Pool of Death?
Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk have the most difficult pool by a long shot. Granted, Bourne was due for a tough draw after getting a cakewalk through last year’s pool play in Rome with Trevor Crabb. But to have Germany’s Nils Ehlers and Clemens Wickler, Kantor and Zdybek, and Chile’s youngsters, Noe Aravena and Vicente Droguett, is as tough as it gets in Mexico.
It’s notable that this has been a down year for Aravena and Droguett. They made a quick rise in 2022 after their silver medal in the Tlaxcala Challenge to open the season, but they’ve struggled mightily in 2023, qualifying just once. Still, they’re uber-talented and are, to me, a threat to beat virtually any team in the world. Pool K is the only other one that comes close on the men’s side, packed with Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl, the Grimalts, Argentina’s Nico and Tomas Capogrosso, and French wild cards Julien Lyneel and Remi Bassereau.
How about the women’s Pool of Death?
It’s a bit of a bummer that Alix Klineman’s second tournament back from pregnancy — the Paris Elite16 will be her first — will feature the gauntlet that is Pool K. Seeded third in pool, Klineman and Harward will have Germans Svenja Muller and Cinja Tillman, Brazil’s Taina Silva and Victoria Lopes, and China’s Jie Dong and Fan Wang. Similar to the Chilean youngsters in Bourne and Schalk’s pool, Dong and Wang have not had a brilliant 2023, but they’re good enough to compete with and beat mostly anyone. Silva and Lopes, a mercurial team with a pair of medals this season, are currently fifth in the Olympic rankings, and Muller and Tillman are a medal favorite in any tournament they enter.
Pool H comes somewhat close but doesn’t cross the unofficial Pool of Death threshold. It includes the Netherlands’ Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon, Zoe Verge-Depre and Esmee Bobner, Pavan and McBain, and Puerto Rico’s Allanis Navas and Maria Gonzalez. If you haven’t yet heard of the Puerto Ricans, you can be forgiven: Like many teams punching their ticket to World Champs via the continental route, Navas and Gonzalez haven’t played many events outside of the NORCECA circuit, competing in a pair of Futures in Belgium and Warsaw and a Challenge in Edmonton. But when they have competed in NORCECAs, they’ve done well, winning in the Cayman Islands and the Dominican Republic and finishing fifth in Cuba.
Note: The original version of this story listed Navas and Gonzalez as from Cuba, not Puerto Rico.
How did Molly McBain and Sarah Pavan qualify?
There has been quite a bit of social media uproar on the Canadian women’s NORCECA berth into World Championships. When Sophie Bukovec and Shanice Marcelle made it to the semifinals of the NORCECA World Championships qualifier earlier this summer, they earned a bid into the World Championships — with one stipulation. However, as outlined in rule 3d of the FIVB World Championships rulebook, in order to compete in the World Championships, both players need to be ranked in the top 250 in the world. Marcelle, who has played three point-accruing events this season — a Futures in New Zealand, a NORCECA in Mexico, a Challenge in Edmonton — is ranked 276, 38 points shy of breaking into the top 250. Had she won her first round of the Edmonton qualifier, she’d have been in the top 250 and into the World Championships with Bukovec. That’s how close the cut line was.
But the spot was still earned for the Canadian Federation by Bukovec and Marcelle, and Canada is sending its second-ranked team in McBain and Pavan in their stead. Bukovec has since pivoted, switched back to blocking, and is making a late run with Olympian and three-time Best Defensive Player Heather Bansley.