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Cheng and Hughes last Americans left in Volleyball World Tepic Elite 16

It was a stressful day for virtually every USA team at the Tepic Elite 16, save for one: Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes.

All told, there were eight American matches played on Friday in Mexico (one, for clarity’s sake, was double-counted, as it was an all-American matchup between Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil and Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles). Half would go the full three sets. By day’s end, just one of the six Americans in the field remained standing, which was, fittingly, the team who made life easiest on itself.

Cheng and Hughes have been perfect thus far in Tepic, winning three straight pool matches in six straight sets, closing out a flawless performance with an expected sweep over Mexico’s Abril Flores and Atenas Gutierrez (21-11, 21-16) on Friday afternoon. That win earned Cheng and Hughes a bye into Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinals, where they awaited the winner of Brazil’s Carol Salgado and Barbara Seixas and France’s Lezana Placette and Alexia Richard.

Sara Hughes-Tepic Elite 16
Sara Hughes passes a ball at the Tepic Elite 16/Volleyball World photo

The latter two names may ring a bell as the duo that nearly ended Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth’s run in the La Paz quarterfinals, only to be stumped in three sets. Again, France was stumped in three, having a match point attempt blocked by Salgado at 14-13. Brazil finished from there, winning 21-9, 18-21, 16-14, setting up the second meeting between Salgado and Seixas and Cheng and Hughes. The first came in the opening round of pool play in the Beach Pro Tour Finals; Brazil won, 21-18, 20-22, 16-14, although Cheng and Hughes left Doha the real winners, a gold medal and $150,000 in hand by tournament’s end. 

That match will be the first on the day in Tepic, held on court two while Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson match up with Italians Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi on center.

All of North America, then, will be competing at 1 p.m. Pacific. The rest of the North American teams have likely already packed their bags and are either headed to California or straight to Brazil for the upcoming month-long stretch in Itapema, Saquarema, and Uberlandia.

Flint and Scoles were done in by the all-American match against Sponcil and Canon to close out pool play, which Sponcil and Cannon won, 15-12 in the third. It’s the first tournament Flint and Scoles have played together and not made a final. In the three previous events they’ve played, they have won a silver in an Elite 16, a gold at the NORCECA Continental Championships, and finished second at AVP Miami.

Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk’s run had come to an end an hour earlier, when yet another three-set match went the other way, this time to Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, who won 21-16, 14-21, 15-11. Bourne and Schalk finished in thirteenth place and 0-3 in the main draw in their second event as a team. Of the 12 total matches that went three sets involving an American team, the Americans won just four (not counting a three-setter that featured two American teams).

Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner had a better, if not bitter, end to their Elite 16. They won a thriller over Robert Meeuwsen and Alex Brouwer of the Netherlands, 16-21, 21-18, 17-15, which left them in a tie for third in pool. The set and point differential, however, went to Brouwer and Meeuwsen, who advanced to the playoffs and subsequently knocked out Italians Enrico Rossi and Daniele Lupo.

Like Bourne and Schalk, they’ll leave Mexico with a thirteenth place finish.

Theo Brunner-Robert Meeuwsen-Tepic Elite 16
Theo Brunner hits around the block of Robert Meeuwsen/Volleyball World photo

Top-10 finishes were earned by Cannon and Sponcil, who fell to Gottardi and Menegatti for ninth. Nuss and Kloth, following up their gold medal in La Paz, also finished ninth after dropping a three-setter to world No. 1 Ana Patricia Silva and Duda Lisboa of Brazil (24-22, 22-24, 15-10).

It’s only Cheng and Hughes remaining, then, as they continue their run of tournaments finishing fifth or better. In seven tournaments as a team, they have won three and finished fifth in two.

For full results and schedule of the Tepic Elite 16, head to Volleyball World