Wednesday was a momentous day for beach volleyball. There was beach volleyball being played and there is plenty of beach volleyball to be played.
On the same day that the FIVB released its confirmed schedule for the 2021 season, which is fuller than even the most optimistic of individuals could have hoped, five of the six American teams competing in the four-star even in Doha, Qatar, stayed alive.
Only one American pair — Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat — has been eliminated before Thursday’s quarterfinal rounds. And it took another American team to knock them out.
Walsh Jennings and Sweat, after losing a pool-play thriller to April Ross and Alix Klineman on Tuesday (17-21, 22-20, 10-15), fought through another close one with young Germans Leonie Kortzinger and Sarah Schneider (21-15, 14-21, 19-17). That set up a meeting with Emily Stockman and Kelley Kolinske in the round of 16 in the first Olympic qualification event in exactly one year.
As far as the American Olympic race goes, it was arguably the most important match of the entire tournament. Kolinske and Stockman are fourth in the chase, nearly 900 points down from second-ranked Walsh Jennings and Sweat. A loss would have been doubly devastating, both in terms of a whiffed opportunity to gain in the Olympic-qualification standings and for a boost in FIVB entry points (they are not the same system; it’s unnecessarily complicated).
They wouldn’t whiff.
Stockman and Kolinske won 21-11, 24-26, 17-15, making matters all the more exciting when their 14-11 lead wilted into a 14-14 tie. But they pulled it out, advancing to Thursday’s quarterfinals, where they’ll meet a talented young Russian team, Daria Rudykh and Ksenia Dabizha, who upset European Champions Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich of Switzerland.
Stockman’s and Kolinske’s win wasn’t good only for them, it was a huge ancillary victory for Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, too. Like Stockman and Kolinske, Sponcil and Claes are fighting to catch Walsh Jennings and Sweat. Like Stockman and Kolinske, they needed no small amount of grit to move on.
Sponcil and Claes, the youngest American team in the Olympic race, matched up with the new but veteran Brazilian team of Barbara Seixas (a silver medalist in the 2016 Olympics) and Carolina Salgado. They bounced back from a 21-15 loss in the second set to win 15-12, with Claes sealing up a huge late block to push the lead to three.
April Ross and Alix Klineman, meanwhile, needed no such fireworks. They proved, yet again, why they are arguably the No. 1 team in the world, sweeping Spain’s Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez — who are already qualified for Tokyo via the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Haiyang, China — 21-14, 21-18.
“It was great to be back on the court and get some of those jitters out,” Klineman said in the FIVB mixed zone where players are interviewed. “It wasn’t perfect but we played as a team and it was nice. We’re grateful to be here after not playing for a long time.”
Perhaps it was jitters for Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena on day one in Doha. Or perhaps it was just a typical 20-plus mile-per-hour day of wind, and weird things happen. In any event, Dalhausser and Lucena opened Doha with a puzzling and wild pool-play loss to France’s Quincy Aye and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat (17-21, 24-22, 23-25).
It put them on a single elimination route for the remainder of the tournament. They’ve been just fine with that. They recovered with a win over Austria’s Alex Huber and Chris Dressler, setting up a difficult bout with up-and-coming Swiss team in Mirco Gerson and Adrian Heidrich, gold medalists at the Qinzhou three-star in October of 2019. They’d prevail, 21-18, 24-22, sending the Swiss packing with two losses to American teams (Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb beat them for the top spot in pool).
Dalhausser and Lucena, then, had an enormous matchup with German wunderkinds Julius Thole and Clemens Wickler, the second seed in this tournament who took silver at the 2019 World Championships and World Tour Finals.
Dalhausser and Lucena resumed their 2020 summer form, winning 21-19, 21-17, controlling the entirety of the match.
Gibb and Crabb, meanwhile, have controlled the entirety of their 2021 season-opening tournament. They have yet to drop a set in this event, no small task given the level of their competition. They’ve beaten the aforementioned Swiss team of Gerson and Heidrich, cruised past a decent Turkish team who emerged from the qualifier, and, on Wednesday, knocked off the finally healthy Polish team of Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak. Their 21-17, 21-16 victory pits them in the quarterfinals against top-seeded Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, who won both the World Championships and World Tour Finals.
Here’s a look at the Americans’ schedule for Thursday:
April Ross-Alix Klineman vs. Rebecca Cavalcanti-Ana Patricia Silva, Brazil
Emily Stockman-Kelley Kolinske vs. Ksenia Dabizha-Daria Rudykh, Russia
Kelly Claes-Sarah Sponcil vs. Agatha Bednarczuk-Eduarda Lisboa Duda, Brazil
Jake Gibb-Taylor Crabb vs. Viacheslav Krasilnikov-Oleg Stoyanovskiy, Russia
Phil Dalhausser-Nick Lucena vs. Steven van de Velde-Christiaan Varenhorst, Netherlands
Live Stream links, as always, can be found on VolleyballMag.com’s TV and Streaming listings.