It was, in the hilarious wording of Kerri Walsh Jennings, “a mind eff.” All season long, since the Sydney three-star in February, she and Brooke Sweat have seen Australians Becchara Palmer and Nicole Laird. In fact, she had just seen them last week in Manhattan Beach for the p1440 Pro Challenge.
So it was a bit of “a mind eff,” she said when, prior to their ninth-place match at the FIVB Chetumal four-star on Friday, Walsh Jennings noticed that Palmer wasn’t feeling all that great.
“You smell blood in the water and you want to attack,” said Walsh Jennings, who had won both pool play matches in Mexico prior to the elimination round against Australia. “But Becchara is such a champion and we didn’t want to change our game plan just because of that and we attacked [Nicole].”
Mind eff or not, it worked well enough, a 21-11 first set win that caused the Australians to resort to something few teams have this season: serving Walsh Jennings. Which was a mind eff in and of itself, if not a fun one.
“Brooke and I, people play us differently and challenge us differently and I feel like we’re getting better,” Walsh Jennings said. “We got ourselves in a hole, came back and it was awesome. It was a good win.”
They moved on to the quarterfinals with a 21-11, 26-24 win, putting themselves into the quarterfinals with yet another familiar foe from the Outback: Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy. It was only a little more than two weeks ago that they played in the semifinals in the Qinzhou three-star, with Walsh Jennings and Sweat winning in three.
“We want to win,” Walsh Jennings said. “They’re one of the best teams in the world and they challenge us every single time.”
One American team continuing to survive challenges of every kind is the young duo of Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil. All three matches they’ve played have gone three sets, the final of which, against Betsi Flint and Emily Day, went 16-14 in the final set.
But they’ve survived and advanced. They survived against Spain after losing the first set, 11-21. They survived against China, despite losing a tough second set, 24-26. And they survived against Flint and Day, despite a 12-21 drubbing in the second. And now they’ll have another opportunity to do so in the quarterfinals against Brazilians Talita Antunes and Taiana Lima.
Two American men’s teams have also advanced to the quarterfinals, the first time multiple American men will finish in the top five since the Tokyo four-star in July. Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb beat the Netherlands’ Steven van de Velde and Christiaan Varenhorst 21-19, 26-24 to claim the top spot in pool and then knocked out Canadians Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow, 21-19, 21-14.
Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, on the opposite side of the bracket, needed to win two in the elimination rounds, beginning with a 21-17, 21-13 victory over Italians Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi. That preceded an enormous win over Poland’s top team of Michal Bryl Grzegorz Fijalek, 17-21, 21-12, 15-12.
Gibb and Crabb will see Austrians Martin Ermacora and Moritz Pristauz-Telsnigg, who won silver in the Qinzhou three-star a few weeks ago.