Chris Austin, Earl Schultz: ‘You’ve done this before. Do it again.’

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FIVB Cook Islands-medalists-Chris Austin-Earl Schultz-Sam O'Dea-Griffin Muller-Travis Mewhirter-Adam Roberts
FIVB Cook Islands medalists Chris Austin-Earl Schultz, Sam O'Dea-Griffin Muller, Travis Mewhirter-Adam Roberts

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands – Chris Austin said it, over and over and over again, his own little meditative mantra.

“You’ve done this before. Do it again.”

The position he found himself in, on Thursday at the Cook Islands one-star, was not an enviable one. He and Earl Schultz were down 12-14 in the third set to Japan’s Masato Kurasaka and Kensuke Shoji, the tournament’s two seed. When the volunteer flipped the ball to Austin, he caught it, recited that mantra, and bombed away.

The first caused a collective holding of breath from everyone watching as the ball clipped the top of the tape, rolled to the right, rolled some more, then landed just barely on Japan’s side.

13-14.

“You’ve done this before. Do it again.”

Another bomb at the tape, this one clipping it and sending the ball zigging in the other direction. It caused enough of a mess for a pass off the net, taking the hitter’s vision away, which became immediately apparent when he decided to swing directly into Schultz’s block.

14-14.

“You’ve done this before. Do it again.”

Another bomb, another out of system pass, another point for Austin and Schultz, who wouldn’t relinquish the lead, winning 21-17, 20-22, 19-17. That come-from-behind quarterfinal win paved the way to a semifinal win over Japan’s Hitoshi Murakami and Takashi Tsuchiya, 21-15, 21-19.

No longer, though, could Austin’s mantra work, for he had never been in an FIVB final. The only other FIVB he had played came two months prior, in Doha, when he and Schultz were bounced in the first round of the qualifier.

At dinner prior to the tournament starting, Austin said that his goal was to improve each tournament this season. Simply by showing up, where he and Schultz were directly into the main draw, he achieved that goal. But goals change, particularly as tournaments progress, and suddenly Austin and Schultz had the opportunity to completely reverse what they had done in Doha.

They could make their first FIVB medal a golden one.

The chances looked slim. After a 14-21 loss to New Zealand’s Sam O’Dea and Griffin Muller, who beat Adam Roberts and I in a wild semifinal, Austin and Schultz found themselves down 18-20.

“You’ve done this before. Do it again.”

And so Austin did, as he ripped off three big serves and he and Schultz pushed four straight points to extend the match to a third set. The same magic couldn’t be summoned in the third. A 6-2 deficit out of the gates proved too much to come back from, though the fact that they were in the finals at all was impressive enough.

Now Austin and Schultz have been in a final. They’ve won an FIVB medal. And they plan on playing a good deal more tournaments together. Any time they find themselves in a bind, they can turn to what they now know: They’ve done it before. They can do it again.

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