It was at this tournament, the season-ending FIVB event Chetumal, Mexico, stop, a little more than a year ago that the first signs of success showed in beach volleyball’s favorite, tangible form: a medal.

Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat were playing in just their second tournament as a team, an Olympic upstart where the only other finish was a 17th, at the Las Vegas four-star. One by one, they knocked teams off, dominantly, unerringly. Four straight they won, until they met the torrid duo of Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson in the semifinals, who would end the year ranked No. 1 in the world, winners of p1440’s inaugural event in San Jose, silver medalists at the NORCECA Continental Championships, and victors of the aforementioned Las Vegas four-star.

So there was no shame in dropping that semifinal, 18-21, 17-21, setting up another Canadian matchup for bronze, against UCLA’s Nicole and Megan McNamara.

That was a challenge, too, as Walsh Jennings and Sweat lost the first set, 16-21, before rallying to win the next two, 21-8, 15-10, in what has become somewhat of a signature touch, winning three-setters.

Thus, the first medal was won.

Six more would follow throughout a winding, exhausting, unbelievably long 2019 season. Here we are again, the week of Chetumal, which is again the season finale but has been promoted to a four-star, not a three. The field is, for a four-star, actually a relatively light one. Absent are world leaders Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan and the United States’ April Ross and Alix Klineman, both of whom have had such successful runs that there isn’t much need to play one more, especially considering how front-loaded the 2020 pre-Olympic schedule is. Brazil’s top teams, too, are sitting out, as the federation has already finished its Olympic race and thus has no significant incentive to travel so late in the year.

But it is still, without question, a four-star field with four-star talent, with four-star Olympic points on the line and one final shot to jump up the ranks heading into the off-season.

American teams competing

Top five international teams to watch

  • Women: Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, Australia; Barbara Seixas and Fernanda Alves, Brazil; Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, Canada; Aline Chamereau and Alex Jupiter, France; Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth, Italy.
  • Men: Andre Loyola and George Wanderley, Brazil; Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner, Czech Republic; Quincy Aye and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, France; Jose Rubio and Josue Gaxiola, Mexico; Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi, Italy.

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