QINZHOU, China – If Brooke Sweat is being completely honest, she would much prefer every match to be as smooth as the first three she and Kerri Walsh Jennings played here at the FIVB Qinzhou three-star. Their opponents never got to 17 points in any of those matches.
So when Spain’s Angela Lobato and Amaranta Navarro won the first set Saturday, it was just nice prep for the nervous system before Sunday’s semifinals and finals.
“I would rather us not get tested, just be in rhythm,” Sweat said after she and Walsh Jennings beat Spain in the quarterfinals, 19-21, 21-13, 15-9. “But if it’s not going to be that way that we could get a little test and figure it out. It was good that we could realize that and figure out exactly what it was.”
Here she was candid again when pointing out the issues that caused the aforementioned lack of rhythm and errors in that first set. Lobato and Navarro were serving her high and deep, making it difficult for her to put Walsh Jennings up for an option.
“I was just kind of making a call for Kerri to go on two and I wasn’t getting prepared to hit so it just threw me all off and I made a ton of errors and made it easy for them,” Sweat said. “Once we realized that, we made that switch, the second and third set was pretty smooth from there.”
Such has been the modus operandi of Sweat and Walsh Jennings of late. They’ve now won five consecutive three-set matches, beginning with the FIVB Moscow four-star in mid-August, which proved to be the difference between them and the other three American teams on Saturday in Qinzhou.
They very nearly, against all odds, closed it in two. Down 20-14 in the second set, Claes and Sponcil battled all the way back to 20-20, even earning a few match points before succumbing to China’s uncanny ability to earn trickle aces.
Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman also fell in three, to Australia’s Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, 15-21, 21-17, 12-15. The game, it must be said, is better with the Aussies back in it. After a torrid start to the season, with four medals in six events, Artacho and Clancy haven’t competed since World Championships in July as they recovered from a knee injury suffered in the bronze medal match, which they won.
On the men’s side, the lone Americans remaining, Ryan Doherty and Miles Evans, lost in the quarterfinals to Russians Valeriy Samoday and Igor Velichko 21-16, 21-14.
It is those very Australians whom Walsh Jennings and Sweat will meet in the semifinals on Sunday. The other semifinal pits Wang and Wen against Germany’s Karla Borger and Julia Sude.
“We’ve been playing pretty smooth ball,” Sweat said. “That was the first time we’ve had a little hiccup. Overall, I like our serving so far this tournament. It’s been pretty aggressive, getting teams out of system and making defensive plays. If we can serve tough and side out, it’s an easy game, right?