The dichotomous emotions of Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb after the final point of their semifinal at the FIVB Chetumal four-star against Germans Alex Walkenhorst and Sven Winter on Saturday night was, in one brief snapshot, everything one would need to know about the direction of the team.
There was Crabb, putting the final ball away in a 21-18, 21-14 win, celebrating, pumping his fists, a rare show of emotion from the usually staid defender. That swing guaranteed him the first FIVB medal of his career, and the first, therefore, of his and Gibb’s partnership. The celebration, though, was brief. Gibb slapped Crabb’s hand, went to shake the hands of Walkenhorst and Winter. Happy, yes. Stoked, for sure.
But there is work yet to be done.
“This is such a special moment for us,” Crabb told the FIVB. “We had two chances to win a bronze in big tournaments before and we didn’t make it. We’re guaranteed at least a silver here and we’re obviously very happy about it, but we’re definitely not satisfied, we’re going for the gold.”
In Sunday’s gold medal match, they’ll meet the Netherlands’ Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, who spoiled a potential all-American final in beating Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, 21-15, 21-13, in the other semifinal.
They’ve played just once before, at the Vienna Major in August. Brouwer and Meeuwsen, who have been playing together since 2011 and have medaled twice this season, won in straight sets, 21-15, 21-12.
“It’s been a long and difficult season,” Brouwer said. “And it feels good to end it playing for a gold medal.”
In an odd end-of-season twist, while two American men’s teams will be competing for medals on Sunday, the American women, which are typically on the podium, have all begun their off-seasons a day early.
Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Brazilians Taiana Lima and Talita Antunes, 19-21, 19-21. Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings were also felled in the quarterfinals by Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy in a rematch of the Qinzhou semifinals 18-21, 21-16, 15-13 despite a 13-10 third game advantage.
“There’s no difference,” Walsh Jennings said when asked about the match in Mexico and the match in China. “Every time we’ve played them we’ve either beat them or let it slip away. Game three they just started winning longer rallies. Those who succeed in life are very adaptable, and I think Brooke and I could be more adaptable or adaptive to the situation at hand. I think we let off the gas a little today.
“It’s clear what we need to work on and that’s finishing. We’ve been through this a couple times this year and ideally once is enough because this is painful. We had it multiple times I feel like and we let it go. Those girls made great plays, did great things.”
Artacho and Clancy will play China’s Fan Wang and Xinyi Xia for gold, while the Netherlands’ Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink will play Lima and Antunes for bronze.
Bourne and Crabb will meet Walkenhorst and Winter for bronze. This would be the first medal for Bourne and Crabb since winning the Qinzhou three-star last October.
The matches will be live-streamed on the FIVB Youtube channel beginning at noon Eastern time.