ITAPEMA, Brazil — Troy Field and Chase Budinger were done. Worse than done: They were never in the match Wednesday, the second round of qualifying at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour 4-star in Itapema, at all.
But they made into the main draw that begins Thursday, with fellow Americans Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, Emily Day and Betsi Flint, Sara Hughes and Terese Cannon, and Sarah Schermerhorn and Corinne Quiggle.
There were many good draws in this field, which is arguably the lightest four-star field since the inception of the star system in 2017. For Field and Budinger, this was no such good draw. On the other side of the net was a Polish team, Pawel Lewandowski and Jakub Zdybek, who was seeded 18 — they have played just three FIVBs this season — but was one of the biggest sleepers in the qualifier. Any evidence you’d need was their recent victory at the Polish National Championships, where they stunned Olympians Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl in the finals.
In the first set, they showed as much, jumping out to an 8-2 lead on the backs of a pair of wicked jump serves on a gusty afternoon in Itapema.
They’d win that set, 21-10, making two of the most impressive jumpers in the United States look awfully mortal. The second featured much of the same, as Poland again leapt out to a lead, 12-9 at the technical timeout, then 15-14. Even then, as they clawed and grinded back, they couldn’t catch a break. Lewandowski’s swing went into the bottom of the net, which should have tied the match with momentum swinging in the Americans’ direction.
Only the ref whistled Budinger for a net that was, according to the fully-biased American contingent watching the match, not a net.
Folding from there would have been the easy thing to do. All match, they hadn’t gotten so much as a single break — and then, when they needed one most, when Poland alas made a mistake, they had that break taken from them.
Fold they did not. They rebounded, with Field making a number of tremendous digs in just his second tournament as a defender. Slowly, surely, momentum began to drift their way, capped by a trickle ace from Budinger to win, 28-26, forcing the most improbable of third sets.
Late in the third, they found themselves down once more, 13-11 and siding out. Three straight points they scored, against a Polish team that had played an almost perfect match of volleyball. Of course, it wouldn’t end so quickly, so smoothly. Poland would rebound, scrap, keep plays alive that the laws of physics would argue shouldn’t have been possible to keep alive. Budinger and Field scrapped back, Budinger slapping an option left-handed, Field making scramble digs, keeping, as beach players like to say, the balloon off the floor.
The balloon was kept off the floor until it alas found it one final time, with Field and Budinger winning, 19-17, in the third set, as unlikely a comeback as you’ll see in this tournament. Good thing, too, for Field and Budinger were the only of three American teams in the qualifier to make the main draw on Wednesday.
Tim Brewster and I fell first, to the Ukrainian national champs, Sergiy Popov and Eduard Reznik, 15-21, 21-17, 13-15. Popov has been Ukraine’s top defender for some time now, knocking off names such as Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan, Lombardo Ontiveros and Juan Virgen as recently as 2020. Itapema marked the 7-foot Reznik’s first FIVB, though he would show little of his inexperience on the sand, as the Ukrainians would go on to upset top-seeded Brazilians Arthur da Silva and Adrielson Dos Santos, 21-16, 21-17 to make the main draw.
Kim Hildreth and USC’s Megan Kraft, too, fell in a three-setter, theirs in the final round of the qualifier. Matched up with France’s top blocker, Aline Chamereau, and up-and-coming 21-year-old defender Clemence Vieira in the windiest portion of the day, it was a streaky match. Both teams would make runs of three or four points at a time. No lead was ever truly safe. In the end, it would be France who would go on the final run, winning 21-18, 14-21, 15-10.