Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena (USA) vs. Paolo Nicolai/Daniele Lupo (Italy) match, head over to NBCOlympics.com and check it out. It’s that good.
For those of you that have, USA volleyball split their final pool play matches Thursday as Dalhausser/Lucena outlasted Nicolai/Lupo 21-13, 17-21, 24-22. The match was characterized by high levels of sportsmanship, as both teams had obvious respect for one another, and it showed throughout a tremendous competition.
It the Americans atop pool C, with a 3-0 record. The Italians fell to 2-1 and will advance to a “Lucky Loser” match.
The other USA team in action Thursday, Brooke Sweat/Lauren Fendrick, lost their final pool play match to Ekaterina Birlova/Evgeniya Ukolova by the slimmest of margins 21-18, 24-26, 15-13, but more on that later.
Fendrick/Sweat were unable to distance themselves from Birlova/Ukolova in a match in which the lead only exceeded three points twice during the entire match.
The Russians keyed on Sweat’s short shots, and made enough digs to put the Americans away on their third match point. Birlova/Ukolova finished 1-2 in their pool and had to wait and see if they play a “Lucky Loser” match for the bottom four third-place finishers. Fendrick/Sweat finish 0-3 and did not advance.
Dalhausser/Lucena started out playing nearly flawless volleyball. Perfect passing and perfect setting led to first-ball sideouts by Lucena nearly every time. It gave Dalhausser the opportunity to be aggressive on the serve and block, and make a few plays, and that is exactly what he did. It is extremely difficult to play nearly flawless volleyball in 19 mph winds, but they did, racing off to a 21-13 win in the first set.
The Italians were far too good to simply go away. They amped up their serving in the second set, and suddenly the Italians had the upper hand, as Nicolai blocked Lucena at 3-1, 4-1, and 15-12, and threw in an ace down the American middle for 16-12, as the Americans switched to the good side.
But the American serving on the good side was harmless, with consecutive serving errors by Dalhausser and Lucena to put the Italians up 18-15. Lupo dug a Lucena spike at 19-15 that Nicolai converted to give the Italians a 20-15 game point, and more importantly, switch the Americans to the bad side. Nicolai eventually put away a ball on two after a Dalhausser/Lupo joust to even the match at one set all.
Set three had seven lead changes. At crunch time, down 12-11, Nicolai scored two critical points on huge jump serves, forcing Dalhausser to overpass one, the second a perfect ace down Dalhausser’s line to take a 13-12 lead and switch to the bad side.
At 16-16, on a tight set, Dalhausser brushed the net on the way up, but Lupo raked the net on the spike follow through. The officials called the net on Lupo, who challenged unsuccessfully.
At 20-20, Lupo dug a Dalhausser cut shot and converted it to take a 21-20 lead on the good side. Dalhausser blocked Lupo to gain a 22-21 lead. A quality four-spike rally ensued and the USA had the Italians out of position, but Lucena’s shot went wide to make it 22-22.
Finally, on the USA’s eighth match point, on the good side, Lucena gave Nicolai a relatively easy standing float serve, then dug Nicolai’s cut, and Dalhausser put it into the open court with a no-look lefty swing on the second ball to cap a dramatic 24-22 finish.
Fendrick/Sweat finished a season in which they never advanced to a semifinal round.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight. Both teams wanted it a lot,” Fendrick said.
“I’m proud of how we fought. We had our ups and downs, and that was kind of the story of our career getting to here. Unfortunately, it didn’t come out our way today, but I’m proud to stand next to her (Sweat) and fight any day.
“It’s pretty fresh. It’s pretty emotional. Definitely a lot of positives to take away. This is something I will never forget.”
Her disappointment was obvious.
“We worked so hard,” Frendrick. “We had big goals and dreams and if we would have gotten past that round we would have gone pretty far and done some damage. So that part is hard. It’s a little emotional.”
Sweat played with a rotator cuff tear all year.
“It’s really fresh. I’m proud of how we fought and how we got here,” Sweat said. “It was a battle just getting here after everything we’ve been through. It sucks.”
Thursday’s women’s matches
No. 1 Larissa Franca/Talita Antunes (Brazil) defeated No. 12 Kinga Kolosinska/Monica Brzostek (Poland) 21-16, 21-13. Franca/Antunes finished 3-0 and will earn the No. 1 seed. Kolosinska/Brzostek finished 2-1, second in their pool to advance.
No. 16 Jamie Broder/Kristna Valjas (Canada) defeated No. 21 Doaa Elghobashy/Nada Meawad (Egypt) 21-12, 21-16. Broder/Valjas are 2-1 and will likely advance in second place. Elghobashy/Meawad finished 0-3 and will not advance.
No. 17 Joana Heidrich/Nadine Zumkehr (Switzerland) defeated No. 20 Sophie van Gestel/Jantine van der Vlist (Netherlands) 17-21, 21-11, 15-8. Heidrich/Zumkehr finished 2-1 and will advance.
No. 4 Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst (Germany) defeated No. 9 Marta Menegatti/Laura Giombini (Italy) 21-18, 18-21, 15-9. Ludwig/Walkenhorst win pool D 3-0, Menegatti/Giombini finish in second place at 2-1.
No. 5 Sarah Pavan/Heather Bansley (Canada) defeated No. 8 Karla Borger/Britta Buthe (Germany) 21-19, 21-15. Pavan/Bansley win pool E 3-0, Borger/Buthe finish in third at 1-2
The four bottom third-place teams played “Lucky Loser” matches to advance:
No. 24 Ekaterina Birlova/Evgeniya Ukolova (Russia) defeated No. 23 Barbora Hermannova/Marketa Slukova (Czech Republic) 21-19, 12-21, 15-10 to make the elimination rounds, and No. 8 Karla Borger/Britta Buthe (Germany) defeated No. 19 Norisbeth Agudo/Olaya Pazo (Venezuela) 21-13, 21-8 to stay alive.
Thursday’s men’s matches
No. 21 Nivaldo Diaz/Sergio Gonzalez (Cuba) defeated No. 16 Chaim Schalk/Ben Saxton (Canada) 21-15, 21-18. Diaz/Gonzalez went 3-0 in pool play and will inherit the No. 3 seed. Schalk/Saxton finish in a three-way tie at 1-2, and will play a Lucky Loser match.
No. 17 Grzegorz Fijalek/Mariusz Prudel (Poland) defeated No. 20 Esteban/Marco Grimalt (Chile) 21-13, 16-21, 15-11. Fijalek/Prudel finished 1-2 in pool and will play a “Lucky Loser” match. The Grimalt brothers went 0-3 and are done.
No. 8 Viacheslav Krasilnikov/Konstantin Semenov (Russia) defeated No. 7 Reinder Nummerdor/Christiaan Varenhorst (Netherlands) 21-15, 14-21, 15-9. Krasilnikov/Semenov went 3-0, inheriting the No. 5 seed. Nummerdor/Varenhorst finished 2-1 and will advance to the elimination rounds.
No. 4 Pedro Salgado/Evandro Goncalves (Brazil) defeated No. 9 Alexandrs Samoilovs/Janis Smedins (Latvia) 21-16, 20-22, 15-7. Goncalves/Salgado finished 1-2 in pool, but were one of the top third place teams and will make the elmination rounds.
No. 15 Lombardo Ontiveros/Juan Virgen (Mexico) defeated No. 22 Choaib Belhaj/Mohamed Naceur (Tunisia) 21-10, 21-10. Ontiveros/Virgen finished their pool 2-1, good for second place and an elimination-round berth. Belhaj/Naceur went 0-3.
In battle of “Lucky Loser” third-place teams, Nicolai/Lupo had a long day, but they stayed alive by beating No. 11 Bartosz Losiak/Piotr Kantor (Poland) 21-12, 15-21, 15-13.
In the other “Lucky Loser” match, No. 16 Chaim Schalk/Ben Saxton (Canada) defeated No. 17 Grzegorz Fijalek/Mariusz Prudel (Poland) 21-19, 21-18.