ITAPEMA, Brazil — It was a little after 6 p.m. on Thursday when it was, unsurprisingly but still somewhat astonishingly, another Brazilian team who would grab the top seed in their pool at the FIVB Itapema 4-star pro beach volleyball tournament.
Alison Cerutti and Guto Carvalhaes provided another victory in a day of almost exclusive success for the hometown crowd, beating Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, 21-15, 21-17, in front of a pleased center court crowd to grab the top spot in Pool B.
The collective beach volleyball world has long understood that Brazil is one of the world’s superpowers in the sport. But the display on Thursday?
After securing at least one win on Thursday, 13 of 14 Brazilian teams in Itapema are assured to break pool. With two victories, 10 Brazilian teams claimed the top spot in their pool and a coveted bye when the elimination rounds begin on Friday afternoon.
And it was Brazil who proved to be the biggest foe to the Americans on Thursday.
Four of the six American teams remaining in Itapema were felled by a Brazilian team. Emily Day and Betsi Flint were the first, meeting qualifiers Hegeile Almeida and Taiana Lima, falling 21-13, 19-21, 14-16.
Next up was Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, who drew veteran and 2016 Olympian Pedro Solberg and his young partner, Arthur Mariano. They, too, would go three, falling 26-24, 19-21, 15-9.
One hour later, it was Sara Hughes’ and Terese Cannon’s try at the host country, though theirs at least was in the second round of pool. A smooth win over France’s Lezana Placette and Alexia Richard, 21-18, 21-16, guaranteed them to break pool. A matchup with Olympian Rebecca Cavalcanti and Talita Antunes was for the top spot in pool and a first round bye. They challenged them, pushed them, nearly beat them — but it was Brazil who again prevailed, winning 21-18, 24-22.
Alas, Crabb and Sander, in their first tournament together, were the final American shot at downing a Brazilian team. It wasn’t to be, as Alison and Guto’s collective beach experience proved to be the sustaining factor in a convincing victory for the second-seeded Brazilians.
It was, all in all, a positive debut for Sander, a two-time Olympian who showed shades of enormous talent — his jump serve will be one of the best in the United States — and flashes of expected inexperience. Such is the point of playing a tournament like this, directly before the onset of the off-season: Grab points, and identify what needs to be cleaned up prior to 2022.
Thursday was a useful, if not promising, barometer of where he is and how far he can go, and after beginning the day with a win over up-and-coming Danes Kristoffer Abell and Jacob Brinck, 21-18, 18-21, 15-12, they are moving onto Friday’s elimination rounds.
But simply moving on is not what Brazil had in mind on Thursday.
Dominating every facet of the day was.
In the match preceding Crabb and Sander’s, Brazilians Agatha and Duda swept Ukraine’s Valentyna Davidova and Diana Lunina, 21-15, 21-13, making their win margin for the day — earlier, they defeated Germans Sofia Bisgaard and Clara Windeleff 21-12, 21-15 — 29 points.
In the match coinciding Agatha and Duda’s on court two, Evandro and Alvaro eviscerated Russia’s Maksim Hudyakov and Aleksandr Kramarenko, 21-13, 21-11 to win their pool. Not that there was much the young Russians could have done about it. When Evandro, the five-time consecutive FIVB Server of the Year, is rolling, there is little that will stop him, and nothing the Russians did, from doing jumping jacks during his toss to clapping in any attempt to distract him, worked in the least.
And yet, decisive as that victory was, when compared to fellow Brazilians Barbara Seixas and Carolina Salgado, that seemed nail-bitingly close. Seixas and Salgado won both of their matches on Thursday by a combined 37 points, claiming the top spot for Pool D.
Meanwhile, Pool E was taken by Brazilian qualifiers Victoria Lopes and Taina Silva, who upset the Netherlands’ Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam for the top spot.
Pool F? Yes. That went to Brazil too, as Thamela Coradelli and Elize Maia beat France’s Aline Chamereau and Clemence Vieira.
Even the Czech Republic’s Barbora Hermannova couldn’t stop the all-Brazil show, as Hermannova and her new partner, Marie-Sara Stochlova, fell to Andressa Cavalcanti and Vitoria De Souza.
As for the few Americans who didn’t meet a Brazilian team? Chase Budinger and Troy Field lost in a three-setter to Germans Lukas Pfretzschner and Robin Sowa, 25-27, 21-13, 15-10. Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn lost their first round of pool to Hermannova and Stochlova.
But the good news?
Brazil is, for now, out of the way. All six Brazilian men’s teams are moving on, as are seven of the eight — eight! — women’s teams in the field. Schalk and Brunner will play Uruguay’s Marco Cairus and Hans Hannibal in a must-win scenario; Field and Budinger will meet Germany’s Sven Winter and Philipp Huster; Quiggle and Schermerhorn will play Italy’s Margherita Bianchin and Claudia Scampoli; and Day and Flint will see Slovenia’s Tjasa Kotnik and Tajda Lovsin.