By Sunday afternoon, Terese Cannon didn’t have much left to say. She’s played a lot of volleyball these last two weeks, 14 matches in two tournaments spanning two continents and a nine-hour time zone shift. She’s played 13 Olympians, recovered from two devastating losses and, because she’s Terese Cannon, has done it all with an awful big smile on her face.
“Pretty fun week right from the start,” Cannon said.
Indeed, it could be described, with a small pinch of understatement, as pretty fun to win a silver medal at an Elite16, as Cannon and Sarah Sponcil did on Sunday at the Ostrava Elite16.
They followed up a successful qualifier sweep on Wednesday by claiming the top spot in pool on Friday and continued from there, making quick work of Swiss Olympic bronze medalists Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Mader in Saturday’s quarterfinals (21-16, 21-14). On Sunday morning, they upset Canadian Olympians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson for the second straight tournament (19-21, 23-21, 15-13). In so doing, they extended a remarkable streak of American success in Elite16s, making it three consecutive events in which an American pair contended for gold.
In the end, that gold would go to Brazilians and world No. 1 Ana Patricia and Duda (21-17, 14-21, 12-15).
But the silver medal itself is only one measurement of success when it comes to the Olympic race, which will end a year from this week, likely concluding in Ostrava of 2024. Beyond that — and the $20,000 Cannon and Sponcil will split for their silver — is the 1,100 points that came with the finish, which are critical for entry points moving forward in the upcoming Challenge in Jurmala, Latvia and an Elite16 in Gstaad, Switzerland.
Cannon and Sponcil gained 340 points on Olympic leaders Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, and No. 2 Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, both of whom finished fifth and split $8,000 per team. Cannon and Sponcil are now No. 5 in the Olympic race, behind the aforementioned Americans, Duda and Ana Patricia, and Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, who finished ninth in Ostrava, knocked out by Nuss and Kloth in the first round.
“Feels like we’re finding our stride and to go from the quali to the finals was the cherry on top,” Cannon said.
In the last two weeks, Cannon and Sponcil are 10-4, with a third in Huntington Beach and a silver medal in Ostrava. It’s their second medal of the season and first in an Elite16 since a fall event in Cape Town, South Africa, where they finished second behind Brazil’s Talita Antunes and Thamela Coradelli.
So yes, one could say — if the person in question is, say, a modest 27-year-old from upstate New York — that it has been a “pretty fun” week or two for Cannon and Sponcil.
Miles Partain, Andy Benesh win first American Elite16 medal
The success of the American women at the highest levels of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour has been well-documented. Three straight Elite16 finals has included an American team, and a testament to the depth of talent in the USA is the fact that each of those finals has featured a different pair — -ChenHughes, Nuss-Kloth, Sponcil-Cannon.
Conversely, an Elite16 podium had never once had an American male pair standing on it. Until Sunday.
Miles Partain and Andy Benesh continued their scintillating beginning to their partnership, sweeping the Czech Republic’s David Schweiner and Ondrej Perusic in the bronze medal match of the Ostrava Elite16 (21-14, 21-17) to claim the first male USA medal at the sport’s highest level.
The bronze comes on the heels of a win at AVP Huntington Beach, marking their first AVP victory as a team and second in both of their individual careers. And, as it goes in an Elite16, it was no easy road to get there, either.
Benesh and Partain, after requiring a small miracle to qualify, barely snuck out of pool, leaning on Germans Nils Ehlers and Clemens Wickler to keep Chileans Marco Grimalt and Esteban Grimalt winless. The third seed earned, Benesh and Partain then stared down a murder’s row of a bracket: Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl in the first round, followed by Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig. A stunning sweep of Poland, who won a bronze medal in the Uberlandia Elite16 a month ago, presented the match the world has long anticipated, between the two teams trailblazing a jump-setting, creative style that is changing the way the game is played.
It was, unfortunately, a short-lived quarterfinal, as Hellvig’s right hand, which he broke prior to last year’s World Championships — opening the door for Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb to come off the reserve list and eventually take ninth — was reinjured after a 21-18 first set win for Benesh and Partain. Sweden was forced to forfeit, providing the USA an opportunity it has had just twice on the Beach Pro Tour: A semifinal berth in an Elite16 or World Championships.
Benesh and Partain made use of their good fortune, dropping a thrilling semifinal to Qatar’s Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan (21-18, 17-21, 9-15) but stunning Schweiner and Perusic, one of the hottest teams in the world and a pair who had made three straight finals in Ostrava.
The gold medal went to Norway’s Christian Sorum and Anders Mol, who beat the Qataris 21-15, 19-21, 15-12.
The 1,000 points gain — and $14,000 in prize money to split — puts Benesh and Partain No. 18 in the Olympic race, and, technically, third in the USA. They are now 140 points behind Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner and 180 behind Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, but their average finish (760, the equivalent of a fifth in an Elite16) is the highest among the American men. Bourne and Schalk are averaging 492, and Brunner and Crabb 484, both of which are roughly the equivalent of a 13th-place finish in an Elite16.
With the current trajectory in the first six months of the Olympic race, it is estimated that an average of 600 points per event will be the cut line to qualify for the Olympic Games.