Americans April Ross and Alix Klineman and Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena brought home bronze medals to conclude the third of three 4-star tournaments at the FIVB Cancun Hub.

The gold medals went to Australia’s Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho and Qatar’s Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan.

FIVB Cancun Hub 5/3/2021-Alix Klineman
Alix Klineman runs down a dig/FIVB photo

Ross and Klineman defeated Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 21-16, 21-15. The bronze medal is their second during their three-weeks stay in Cancun, adding to their gold at the earlier FIVB 4-star event in Doha.

The Americans’ victory added to their head-to-head record over the Canadians to 9-5, in what has become a significant medal rivalry.

“We just used a different strategy,” Klineman said, “We wanted to try something new for this match and it worked, I don’t think they were totally ready for it.

“These three weeks have been such a grind, the amount of fatigue everyone is feeling is next level. I am really proud of the way we fought through it, we wanted to win so bad, we stuck together and April played amazing.”

With Cancun temperatures nearing the 90-degree mark, Ross compared the conditions to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, only 81 days away.

“We came in knowing that the conditions here could be similar to Tokyo, so we really wanted to fight through it and mentally we never gave up,” Ross said.

“We knew we needed to figure it out and I feel like we learned so much while we were here that we can take forward with us and use in Tokyo. The competition was amazing, to play Canada in the bronze medal match was really tough and we’re so glad that we get to go home with two medals, it’s so exciting.”

FIVB Cancun Hub 5/3/2021-Phil Dalhausser
Phil Dalhausser jousts with Enrico Rossi/FIVB photo

Dalhausser and Lucena defeated Italy’s Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi 21-19, 21-15. Previously this year the Americans finished ninth twice in Cancun and fourth in Doha.

The 640-point bronze medal extends Dalhausser and Lucena’s lead over Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb by 320 points, replacing their 320-point Warsaw finish. For an update on Olympic standings after Cancun Hub, see below.

Dalhausser and Lucena are very familiar with Carambula, a former AVP standout and Floridian known for his skyball serve, but that didn’t make it any less challenging in the Cancun winds, Dalhausser said.

“I think we handled the skyball better in the second set than we did in the first,” Dalhausser said. “It’s such a game-changer, especially in this wind. The ball moves probably five meters from where it starts and it’s a really tough pass.”

With a relatively comfortable 440-point lead over Bourne and Trevor Crabb and only two events remaining, Dalhausser and Lucena can breathe a bit easier and focus on peaking for the Olympics. Their lead is not out of reach, as a gold and a fifth place finish by Bourne and Crabb with no improvement by Dalhausser and Lucena would send Bourne and Trevor Crabb to the Olympics.

“We put ourselves in a better position,” Lucena said. “But our goal is just to continue to get better and hopefully when we get to Tokyo we’re playing at our best. We’re so grateful to be here in Mexico and have these events. We had such a great time and the promoter was so great.”

FIVB Cancun Hub 5/3/2021-Mariafe Artacho
Australia’s Mariafe Artacho digs/FIVB photo

The women’s gold went to Australia’s Clancy and Artacho, who denied Brazil’s Bednarczuk and Lisboa a Cancun three-peat in a taut 19-21, 22-20, 16-14, 61-minute match. Previously the Australians finished fifth and ninth at Cancun.

The Australians have partnered together since 2018, with the opportunity to build a strong base of teamwork.

“It always comes down to our side of the net and our good teamwork,” Clancy said. “We did a great job in coming back, taking a moment and just committing to our game. I’m so proud of Mariafe for the great fight she put up with me at the end.”

Artacho celebrated the duo’s first four-star medal since Hamburg 2019.

“We’ll have great memories of these events. We came here with a goal and even though it didn’t go our way in the first two events, we kept strong, stayed focused and here we are. I’m so happy.”

FIVB Cancun Hub 5/3/2021-Ahmed Tijan
Ahmed Tijan hits against Konstantin Semenov/FIV photo

For men’s gold medalists Samba and Tijan, the third time was a charm. The gold medal came at the expense of Russians Konstantin Semenov and Ilya Leshukov, 21-15, 21-12.

The Qataris finished with silver in the first two Cancun events to Norwegian’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, who opted not to play the third Cancun Hub to train for the upcoming Continental Cup.

Samba and Tijan have built one of the strongest resumes in 2021, with a gold, two silvers, and a fifth in four-star events, and a gold in a one-star event.

“It’s great that we finally managed to reach our goal, but we weren’t rushing anything”, Samba explained. “We trust the process and we know it’s a long-term process. We just remained patient and tried to play better than the tournaments before, we weren’t even thinking about the gold, but we are really thankful that we won it. We are physically and mentally exhausted now, but we kept our focus as strong as we could and that made the difference.”

Olympic update
There are only two Olympic qualifying events left on the calendar: Sochi, Russia, May 26-30, and Ostrava, Czech Republic, June 2-6.

Here’s what happened at the third Cancun event:

Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb’s ninth failed to improve their Olympic ranking, needing a fifth or better.

Dalhausser and Lucena improved by 320 points, replacing a 320-point Warsaw finish with 640 points.

Bourne and Trevor Crabb improved by 120 points, replacing a 360-point Rome with 480 points.

Ross and Alix Klineman improved by 160 points, replacing a 480-point Warsaw with 640 points.

Neither Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, nor Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes, nor Emily Stockman and Kelley Kolinske changed their status.

Here’s where they stand now with two Olympics spots available on each side:

1.(tie) Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb: 7,040 points
1. (tie) Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, 7,040 points
3. Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, 6,600 points

1. Ross and Klineman: 9,400 points
2. Walsh Jennings and Sweat: 6,960 points
3. Sponcil and Claes: 6,800 points
4. Stockman and Kolinske: 6,360 points

What it means
With only two Olympic events remaining, both 4-stars, making up ground will likely be difficult. Events in Europe tend to have more complete and challenging fields than those in, say, China or Brazil. With a dearth of events in general due to the pandemic, even the top qualified teams are likely to play rather than train. This will make the tournaments and qualifiers tough, tough, tough.

On the men’s side, all three teams’ lowest finish is currently 400 points, so they all need at least a fifth place to add to their totals. Bourne and Trevor Crabb are 440 points behind rivals Gibb and Taylor Crabb and Dalhausser and Lucena.

Here’s where the permutations can get confusing.

With 80 points separating each level in a four-star, i.e., from 17th to ninth, or ninth to fifth, etc., Bourne and Trevor Crabb need to surpass their rivals by six levels.

So barring fourth-place finishes or better by Gibb and Taylor Crabb or Dalhausser and Lucena, a pair of bronze medals would put Bourne and Crabb into first place. Or a gold medal and a fifth. Or a silver and a fourth.

Conversely, Gibb and Taylor Crabb or Dalhausser and Lucena need to surpass 7,400 (an improvement of 360 points) to mathematically eliminate Bourne and Trevor Crabb. They can do that with a single gold, a silver and a fourth, or a pair of bronze medals.

For the women, Ross and Klineman are done. Even if Walsh Jennings and Sweat won both of the remaining four-stars, they would still be a full 1,800 points behind.

Ross and Klineman are now playing for training, Olympic seeding, and well, the money.

The intriguing matchup is Walsh Jennings and Sweat and Claes and Sponcil vying for Olympic berth No. 2, separated by only 160 points after the longest Olympic qualifying period ever.

Claes and Sponcil are only 160 points behind, or two finish levels in a four-star. So a single gold or silver would give them the lead, or a bronze would tie. Two fourth-place finishes would also tie. Fifth or lower won’t help.

If they tie on rankings points? The tiebreakers are 1. The total number of Olympic qualification tournaments a team participated in, and 2. The best finishes as a team in the Olympic qualification tournaments. Currently Walsh Jennings and Sweat lead in the tournaments participated tiebreaker (22), having played a full FIVB schedule without competing in any AVP events. Claes and Sponcil have participated in 18 events.

Oh, and don’t count Stockman and Kolinske out just yet. Although they are 600 points behind Walsh Jennings and Sweat, a gold and a bronze, or a pair of silver medals will vault them into the lead (again, presuming no response by Walsh Jennings and Sweat or Claes and Sponcil).

However, if Kolinske and Stockman don’t medal in Sochi, they will be mathematically eliminated.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat can mathematically eliminate Kolinske and Stockman with a silver medal, or two silver medals. Claes and Sponcil can eliminate them with a gold and a fifth, or a silver and a bronze medal.

Stay tuned for the next installment in Sochi on May 26.

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