When the beach volleyball season begins, nobody can really say for sure. The same goes for the end, too.
Is it over now, with the final Major of the season decided?
Or does it not end until the calendar year is over, after the conclusion of a three-Star in China, a four-Star in Mexico, and the NORCECA continental championships?
Does anybody know?
Whether official or not, we consider Rome to be the final event of the 2019 FIVB season, since the FIVB calendar does, as do most of the players. The aforementioned events in China and Mexico are, technically speaking, 2020 events, since that’s where they’re listed on the FIVB calendar.
And with the end of the season comes our final 2019 FIVB Power Rankings.
1. Anders Mol, Christian Sorum, Norway: What a terrible end to the year for these guys. They got a *covers eyes and gasps* bronze medal! Talk about a slump. Geez. Mol only won four of his last five tournaments — he played a one-star in Oslo without Sorum. Get your act together, guys. That’s how good Mol and Sorum are. A bronze medal legitimately feels as if something terribly wrong happened, even when their only loss came in three sets to Russia’s Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, the World Champs and eventual World Tour Finals winners. Even though the Russians won two of the biggest tournaments of the year, the world is in the hands of Mol and Sorum, and everyone knows it.
2. Viacheslav Krasilnikov, Oleg Stoyanovskiy, Russia: When Mol began to assert himself on the world tour, immediate comparisons were to Phil Dalhausser. While, in spirit, yes, Mol is similar to Dalhausser in that he’s an athletic marvel with tremendous hands, he’s a few inches shorter, so the comparison is a bit off. Stoyanovskiy may actually be a more apt comparison. Like Dalhausser, he’s 6-foot-9. Like Dalhausser, he’s goofy-footed. Like Dalhausser, you’d be insane to serve him. Like Dalhausser, he sets sauce and blocks a ton of balls. Like Dalhausser, he’s being backed by one of the best defenders on the planet in Krasilnikov. The craziest part is that Stoyanovskiy is just 22 and relatively new to the beach game. His upside, and therefore the upside of this team, isn’t even close to being tapped, and they’re already World Champs.
3. Julius Thole, Clemens Wickler, Germany: For how deep the world is, there really is a massive gap between Norway, Russia and the rest of the field. The Germans are, I think, as close as anybody, though, given that they made the finals in two of the most important tournaments of the year: World Champs and World Tour Finals. They were one of the few teams all season to prove they can beat Mol and Sorum, and with Thole beginning to settle into the beach game at this level, they have tremendous upside heading into the 2020 season. Wickler is always going to be good. There’s never a question there. But when Thole is also on, this team is in the discussion with Norway and Russia as a podium favorite come Tokyo.
4. Alison Cerutti, Alvaro Filho, Brazil: Earlier this year, at a hotel lobby in Italy, I talked for an hour with Marcio Araujo, who took silver in the Beijing Olympics to Dalhausser and Todd Rogers. The Brazilian gave a comprehensive analysis of Brazil’s federation, though one of his points caught me by surprise: Alvaro Filho, he said, was the best player in the country. Hands down. Not Evandro or Andre. Not Alison or Bruno. Not Pedro or George Wanderley or whoever else. It was Alvaro. I didn’t believe him, truth be told. And then Alvaro had a career season. He and Alison won four medals, which is as many as Alvaro has won in the past four seasons combined. Two of them were gold, two silver, with one of those second-place finishes coming at the Vienna Major, proving that, yes, they are consistent enough to place that high at a big event. It’s been good to see Alison moving well again as well. After a few years of struggling post-Olympic gold in 2016, he’s getting back to the Mammoth he once was.
5. Michael Bryl, Grzegorz Fijalek, Poland Maybe fifth is a little high for the Polish here. But I can’t get their 2018 season out of my mind, when they were in the finals of virtually all the biggest events, losing only to Mol and Sorum. The beginning of the 2019 season was much the same, with four straight top-fives. Then came a string of uncharacteristic ninths, which preceded a bronze at the Vienna Major, before an uninspiring finish to the year, a 25th at the World Tour Finals. Still, with the exception of that final event, they’ve been remarkably consistent, rarely having a complete dud of a tournament. I’d expect them to be podium regulars again come 2020.
6. Evandro Goncalves, Bruno Oscar Schmidt, Brazil: This may be the most accomplished team on the beach, even including Mol and Sorum, who looks as if they’re having the least fun playing. Bruno will sometimes just flat out give up on a ball, or get a dig and then, dissatisfied with his dig, slap it away despite Evandro being there to set it. It’s such a weird thing to watch. But, that aside, they are good. Really good, ending the year with five top-fives in six events. Maybe when they realize just how good they are, and how good they could be, they’ll start having some fun. Until then, they’re at least fun to watch.
7. Alex Brouwer, Robert Meeuwsen, Netherlands: What an up-and-down year for the Bash Brothers. They went on a stretch of three 17ths in five events, which preceded a phenomenal run of a silver medal in Gstaad, bronze in Tokyo, and three more top-10s to close out the season. It wasn’t the dominant year of 2018 for them, but to gain some positive momentum to close out the year is huge heading into a critical beginning to the 2020 season.
8. Martins Plavins, Edgars Tocs, Latvia: I don’t know how many people would have predicted, at the beginning of the year, that Plavins and Tocs would be the top Latvian team, and Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins would be … in the qualifiers, relegated to playing Three-Stars. Young talent is abounding everywhere, though, and Latvia is no exception. Plavins and Tocs never really had a great finish at a marquee event, their best being a bronze at the Espinho Four-Star, but they were consistently in the top-10, which puts them firmly in the Olympic race and near the top of the world rankings.
9. Jake Gibb, Taylor Crabb, USA: There is, admittedly, a lot of recency bias in this selection. I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for Gibb and Crabb to make their breakthrough on the World Tour, and it just hasn’t come quite yet. They’ve been nothing shy of phenomenal at home, cleaning up the AVPs, but once they break out the passports, it’s been middling finishes, relative to them. But the past three events have been a bit different, Rome especially. In Rome, they beat four excellent teams and only lost to Mol and Sorum and Clemens and Wickler, and in the latter they really should have wrapped up the first set. They’re on the up.
10. Adrian Gavira, Pablo Herrera, Spain: Death, taxes, and consistency from Gavira and Herrera. I don’t think anybody watching Gavira and Herrera will ever be incredibly wowed by what they’re doing, but it just gets the job done. In 12 events, they finished in the top-10 nine times, took a silver and a bronze, and recently finished fifth at the World Tour Finals in Rome. It seems their ceiling is capped, but they have a high floor, making for the type of season that is rarely spectacular but never terrible, hence them almost always residing in the top 15 in the world but hardly ever the top three.