ITAPEMA, Brazil — It is the end. It is the beginning.
This week’s four-star FIVB in Itapema, Brazil, is the end of the FIVB’s star system, which made its debut after the Rio Olympics and is being replaced by the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour in 2022. It is the end of a bizarre quad that featured a year off due to a pandemic, a postponed Olympic Games, and venues devoid of fans and, in some cases, fun.
It is the end of many partnerships, including that of Brazilians Agatha and Duda, who made one of the most impressive runs these past four years, winning nearly as many medals during the Tokyo quad as April Ross and Alix Klineman and Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan — combined.
And yet, as it goes with all ends, Itapema also marks numerous promising beginnings.
It is the much-anticipated beginning of Taylor Sander’s beach career. The two-time Olympian is making his switch to the beach, debuting with Taylor Crabb in Itapema, just days after the birth of his second child, Isla.
New beginnings, indeed.
It is also the debut of myriad new partnerships on both sides. Brazilians Evandro and Alvaro, early medal favorites for the Paris Olympics, are playing their first FIVB together, after winning a silver in last week’s Banco de Brazil stop. Alison and Guto, too, will be pairing up for the first time on the World Tour.
The Brazilian women have likewise turned their federation inside out. While it is the final tournament for Agatha and Duda — Agatha will be moving forward with Olympian Ana Patricia Silva — it is the first for Ana Patricia’s former partner, Rebecca Cavalcanti, and Talita Antunes. It is also the first for Fernanda Alves and Maria Antonelli, who had her new baby in tow on Tuesday afternoon.
Brazil’s Olympians aren’t the only ones switching. Italians Daniele Lupo and Alex Ranghieri, with four Olympics between them, are playing in their first event together. Japan’s Miki Ishii, longtime partner of Megumi Murakami, is now with Sayaka Mizoe.
It is the first automatic main draw into a four-star for Terese Cannon, who is playing with Sara Hughes, a former teammate at USC, and beginning to find her footing as a professional. It is the first four star at all for young Tim Brewster — my partner — and Troy Field, who is playing with Chase Budinger. Megan Kraft, playing with Kim Hildreth after a successful country-quota victory, is also climbing the ladder, playing hooky out of USC practices to play in her first four-star.
Some things end. Many others begin.
The qualifier started on Wednesday at 9 a.m. local time — 7 a.m. Eastern, 4 a.m. Pacific — and is scheduled to be streamed on the Volleyball World YouTube Channel.
Competing for the United States on Wednesday are Field and Budinger, Brewster and me, and Hildreth and Kraft. Sander and Crabb are directly into the main draw, as are Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, Emily Day and Betsi Flint, Hughes and Cannon, and Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn.