The international beach volleyball season started early this year. With the Olympics looming in August, the men’s tour kicked off with the Kish Island Open in Iran, February 15-19, and the first double-gender event took place in Maceio, Brazil, February 23-28. Three consecutive events in Brazilthe Maceio Open, Rio Grand Slam, and Vitoria Openignited the beach volleyball fire in the host country of the 2016 Olympics, and Brazilian duos won seven medals.
Team USA experienced some success in the first tournaments of the year, as well. Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won the Rio Grand Slam gold medal in their first outing together since Walsh Jennings shoulder surgery last August. A week later, they once again advanced to the final but lost to the No. 1-ranked team in the world, Brazil’s Larissa Frana Maestrini and Talita Da Rocha Antunes, taking silver.
A rally from the Vitoria Open gold-medal match:
With their double-medal performance, Walsh Jennings and Ross moved to No. 11 in the Provisional Olympic Ranking, one spot ahead of Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, and are now the top-ranked American women’s team. Jen Kessy and Emily Day come in at No. 15.
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena made a statement in their first outing of the year, winning gold at the Maceio Open.
They followed up that performance with a fifth in Rio, but had to withdraw from the Vitoria Open because Dalhausser was dealing with a calf injury. These finishes, along with three silver medals and two gold medals in events late last year, have helped the duo move into the top 15 (No. 13, as of March 24) of the Provisional Olympic Ranking.
Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb, who finished ninth in Rio and Vitoria, still hold the highest Provisional Olympic Ranking of any American men’s team, clocking in at No. 5. John Hyden and Tri Bourne are 16th after being forced to withdraw from the Maceio Open when Hyden sustained a back injury. Bourne then played with Mark Burik in Rio and Vitoria, finishing 33rd and 17th.
Next up, the tour travels to Doha for the men-only Qatar Open. Hyden and Bourne, Gibb and Patterson, and Burik and Ian Satterfield have all entered that event. The women will rejoin the tour April 12-16, in Xiamen, China, an event that overlaps with the first AVP tournament of the year in New Orleans. Day and Kessy, Brittany Hochevar and Jen Fopma, Lane Carico and Summer Ross, Walsh Jennings and April Ross, and Sweat and Fendrick will all compete in the FIVB event and then remain in China for the Fuzhou Open, April 19-23. Hyden and Bourne will be the only American men to compete in Xiamen, but Burik and Satterfield, Lucena and Dalhausser, and David McKienzie and Avery Drost will rejoin the tour in Fuzhou.
Then it’s back to Brazil for the Fortaleza Open, April 27 May 1.