LAS VEGAS — When all was said and done, the chalk came through Sunday, and the morning line won the FIVB Las Vegas four-star event presented by P1440.
Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, the FIVB world tour’s top team, won the gold medal by defeating Poland’s Grzegorz Fijalek and Michal Bryl comfortably 21-13, 21-17.
The highest-ranked team in the tournament, No. 4 Brandie Wilkerson and Heather Bansley, defeated compatriots Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 21-17, 17-21, 15-9.
Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, the last USA team left, lost a nail-biter in the bronze-medal match to Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy 21-13, 18-21, 20-18.
Brazil’s Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado won the women’s bronze in an unfortunate manner, as Brazilians Ana Patricia Silva and Rebecca Cavalcanti were ultimately forced to forfeit when Silva hurt her left ankle at 21-19, 16-16. Silva gamely attempted to continue, but retired a few points later at 17-20.
For Bourne, it was his first four-star event after his two-year struggle with myositis. He and Crabb won the three-star Qinzhou event earlier this month.
“I’m kind of in shock, to be honest,” Bourne said. “I was kind of dreaming, and thinking of when I was going to get back to that moment, and it came really soon. I’m super grateful for that, and I can’t wait to build on top of it.”
In the first set, the Americans had difficulty negotiating the 6 foot 9 Stoyanovskiy block, and Krasilnikov finished the first set with three consecutive aces to take it 21-13. Bourne and Crabb rebounded with some serving pressure of their own to take the second set 21-18. The final set was close throughout, with the Americans nosing ahead to serve three match points, and had two transition swings, but couldn’t close. Stoyanovskiy ended the match on the Russian’s first matchpoint at 20-18 with a backhand flipper while the Americans were still scurrying back into the court.
“That’s what we train for,” Bourne said. “To be in the moment, from point to point. We train to get to those moments, so we just stay present and do what we always do.
Crabb agreed. “A big thing of ours is to try and reset after each point, especially when we lose the point. If we get into a little rut, we come together, regroup, and obviously when things are going our way, we have a lot of energy, and it helps fuel our momentum.
Bourne believed that the key to the match was bringing the energy. “The only thing was to bring our energy. It was a little low in the beginning, and like Trevor said, we’re an emotional team, we like to bring the energy, and I think the other team feels it when we do. We picked it up in the second, we adjusted our game, and it worked for the most part.”
Bourne and Crabb split $8,000 and 560 points.
Of course, the top prize of $20,000 and 800 points was taken by Mol and Sorum, who won Gstaad, Vienna, the World Tour finals in Hamburg, and the European Championships. They beat Fijalek and Bryl in the Vienna and Hamburg finals, but this final might have been their best yet.
“Today we played a really good game,” Mol said, “We didn’t play perfect, but we played a good game. We played a good game against them in the finals in Vienna and Hamburg. It’s really difficult to compare them.”
Not only did Mol and Sorum continue their dominance over Fijalek and Bryl, they also exacted revenge against Martins Plavins for their finals loss in San Jose. Plavins’ partner in San Jose was Aleksandrs Samoilovs, while he played with his regular partner Edgars Tocs in Las Vegas.
“It was a good feeling to get some revenge,” Sorum said. “We got to beat him in the second round. That was a good feeling.”
“It’s still a bit unreal, the end of the season has been great for us. Four victories, and now we had a little break, we will prepare hard and get ready for the next season.”
Bansley and Wilkerson won back-to-back gold medals in San Jose and Las Vegas. “We love this tour,”Wilkerson said, “It’s so full of energy, so full of love and positivity, everyone is just so grateful to be here, we’re treated like absolute queens, we’re proud to be champs again.”
Bansley and Wilkerson are on a roll, winning five medals in their last eight world tour events.
“I think we’re just really motivated to keep doing well as Olympic qualification starts,” Bansley said. “I think that we both work really hard and believe in each other, we think that we can keep improving, so we set the bar pretty high for ourselves and we’re so thrilled with this win, but there are still things that we can get better on and we’re looking forward to more hard work this off season.”
Both Canadian finalists were intimately familiar with each other, as Bansley and Pavan competed together in the Olympiad leading up to Rio. “I think we approached it like we would every other match,” Bansley said. “We scouted them, we knew that it would be a tough game, we tried to focus on the things we could do well, and do better on, they’re a team on the other side of the court, we came up with a game plan, and we had to read the game as it went along and changed.”
The pair will compete at the Chetumal, Mexico three-star October 24-28, then return to Canada for some well-deserved rest.
For Bansley, it means meeting her new puppy, a Pit Bull mix. “I’m pretty excited to get home and meet her, and to be home and spend some family time and be in my own bed, and some nice wine.”
Wilkerson’s off-season plans include furnishing her new apartment. “I’m going to buy some furniture, and stay in it for more than a week, so I’m pretty excited, and obviously to spend some time with my family and friends, just get re-energized by their love and the beautiful city of Toronto.”