They lost the first set of the semifinals, ralled to win the second and trailed 14-12 in the third before Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh staged their comeback.

Suddenly their FIVB Olsztyn match Saturday against Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes was tied at 14-14 after a tremendous rally and big kill by Walsh Jennings. But the next play changed everything.

Walsh Jennings made a big dig, Branagh set the ball up for the big swing, but Walsh Jennings wasn’t there. Instead, she was on her knees in agony. Her five-time surgically repaired right shoulder had popped out. Play stopped, Branagh quickly waved for medical help, and the beach-volleyball world stopped.

After some help and a delay, Walsh Jennings got her shoulder to pop back, donned her visor and they served again. But she had nothing left in that right arm. Pavan made it 15-14 with a big kill. And then on the last point, Walsh Jennings passed serve, Branagh set her again, but Walsh Jennings could only pop the ball over with her left hand. Humana-Paredes ended it for the 21-13, 19-21, 16-14 victory.

Talita attacks against Agatha in Saturday’s semifinals/Adam Nurkiewicz, Getty Images for FIVB

In Sunday’s final, the Canadians will play Brazilians Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca, 21-19, 24-22 winners of fellow Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Lisboa.

In the men’s final, Americans Ryan Doherty and John Hyden, who beat Mexicans Lombardo Ontiveros and Juan Virgen 21-18, 21-15, will play Germans Markus Bockermann and Lars Fluggen. They rolled past Latvians Martins Plavins and Haralds Regza 21-14, 21-13.

Walsh Jennings said they won’t play in the bronze-medal match Saturday.

“No, I think we have bigger fish to fry in Vienna (for the FIVB World Championships),” she said. “We’re going to go this week to Hamburg and we’ll get checked out there.”

She looked at a pensive Branagh and they nodded to each other.

“That’s why you have to win in two,” Walsh Jennings said as they both smiled.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh, both 38, had their best tournament together so far in only their fourth tournament together. And it seemed by virtue of their rally they were about to win the match.

“I just went for a short dig and the surfaces in Europe are so shallow and hard so there is no give for our bodies,” Walsh Jennings told the FIVB afterwards, her right shoulder iced.

“It just came out and obviously it’s my repaired shoulder and there’s an inherent weakness there. But the pain is not that bad. It hurts more now than it did then. The physios were wonderful. It’s just one of those things.”

The FIVB reported that when asked about Vienna, Walsh Jennings said “We’ll see.  A lot depends on how I feel in the next few days.”
Walsh Jennings, who dislocated her right shoulder at the Moscow 2015 and Gstaad 2015 FIVB World Tour events, recovered from September surgery that year to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games where she and April Ross defeated Talita and Larissa for the bronze medal on Copacabana.

She and Branagh were certainly on the right track this week.

They lost their country-quota match in Porec, their first tournament together. They went to Gstaad, where they tied for ninth after winning two matches and losing three. Than last weekend at World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif., they went 1-2. So overall, they’d played just nine matches together before this week.

In this four-star event in Poland, they won their country-quota match, won their qualifier-bracket match, went 1-1 in pool play before winning three straight winners-bracket matches. The semifinals lost left them 6-2 for the tournament and 7-4 as a team.

“It hasn’t been that long since we started training,” Branagh said. “This is our third tournament together. Not too shabby, I guess. I think we kept getting better as the weeks went on and in this tournament we had a lot of great opponents and we hung in there, even when we lost the first game or were down in points. We stuck together and we had great energy. Overall we had great teamwork this whole week.

“That was a tough match against a very good Canada team and a tough battle.”

Doherty put a punctuation point on his and Hyden’s victory with three consecutive blocks to end the match.

“We let them back into a bit,” Hyden said, “but Ryan took care of business at the end.”

Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen decided not to play AVP Hermosa Beach and instead compete in the FIVB one-star event in Ulsan, Korea. It proved to be a good move, because the pair won the women’s-only event. They were the third seed and knocked off top-seeded Varapatsorn Radarong and Tanarattha Udomchavee of Thailand 21-16, 21-13.



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