Years of experience as partners paid off for Canadians Jamie Lynn Broder and Kristina Valjas when the two 20-somethings knocked off No. 1 American duo Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross and the German team of Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude on their way to the top of the Fuzhou Open podium. The win marked the first women’s FIVB medal for Canada and the first final-four finish for both Canadian athletes.
Broder, 29 years old and 5-foot-9, and Valjas, 27 and 6-foot-2, first partnered up in 2010 and have been steady partners since 2012. After going undefeated in pool play and battling through two three-set matches in the single-elimination rounds, including an all-Canada fight against Melissa Humana-Paredes and Taylor Pischke in the third round, the duo met Walsh Jennings and Ross in the semis. The marathon 28-26, 14-21, 15-13 bout banished the Americans to the bronze-medal match where they faced Chinese team Fan Wang and Yuan Yue. Broder and Valjas then took out the Germans 21-17, 23-21 in the final to take home the $11,000 first-place prize and 500 points toward Olympic qualification.
In the bronze-medal match, the Chinese duo came out swinging, using the momentum of the home crowd to soar to a 21-13 first-set victory over Walsh Jennings and Ross. However, the Americans regained their footing in set two, winning 21-13 and following up with a 15-11 victory in the third.
Walsh Jennings and Ross had trained against the Chinese team in preseason, so they knew to expect tough competition. Walsh Jennings said she felt she and Ross let the semifinal match slip through their fingers, but she was happy they were able to come back and win the bronze.
Ross emphasized that their goal as a team is Olympic qualification. And not only do they want to qualify, they want to be the top seed.
Four other American women’s duos made the Fuzhou main draw. Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, Jennifer Fopma and Summer Ross, and Kim DiCello and Lane Carico each broke from their respective pools but all three teams were eliminated in the second round.
The newly-formed team of Brittany Hochevar and Heather McGuire (ne Hughes) entered the tournament through the qualifier, but their 1-2 performance in pool play wasnt enough to break into the elimination rounds.
Playing in their first FIVB tournament as a team, Germany’s Markus Bckermann and Lars Flggen took gold in the men’s tournament with a win over the Netherlands Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen in the final. The 21-19, 21-19 victory solidified the highest-ever international finish for both German athletes.
In the third-place match, another new American duo, Stafford Slick and Todd Rogers, took on Youssef Krou and Edouard Rowlandson of France. Though the Americans managed to clinch the first set, the French ultimately took the upper hand and put away the match in three, 19-21, 21-17, 15-9.
The fourth-place finish is a career-high for Slick, who played in seven FIVB tournaments last yearsome with Will Montgomery and others with Derek Olson. On his Facebook page Slick wrote, Positive strides were made but far from satisfied.
Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner were the only other American men’s team to make the main draw. They went undefeated in pool play and got a bye into the second round of the tournament; however, the eventual silver medalists from the Netherlands eliminated them in round three. Lucena and Brunner played together in 2013 before playing the 2014 season with other people and then reuniting for the 2015 season.
Two American teams, Kevin McColloch and Marty Lorenz and Will Montgomery and Jeremy Casebeer, made the trip to China to play in the qualifier, but neither duos made it to the main draw.
Other top American men’s teams were absent from Fuzhou, including Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson, Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal, and Tri Bourne and John Hyden. As an Open-level tournament, the prize money was not as high as a Grand Slam, and therefore may not have been worth the long journey for them. Instead, they got a few more weeks of training before kicking off the season with the AVP New Orleans event over Memorial Day weekend and the Moscow Grand Slam, May 26-31.