Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena lead an American contingent that includes four men’s pairs and four women’s into the 11th biennial FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships that begin Friday in Vienna, Austria.
The event, which will be competed on Danube Island and runs through August 6, is a different type of competition and truly a worldwide affair.
It is far more inclusive, with a 48-team draw instead of the more typical 32-team draw, composed of the top 23 teams, two host country teams, 20 continental qualifier teams, and three wild card teams. In all, 40 countries will vie for the $1,000,000 total purse.
As a result, the field is truly representative of the world, including teams from Iran, Morocco, Republic of South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Rwanda, Kenya and Costa Rica.
And that includes American men Dalhausser and Lucena, Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson, Ryan Doherty and John Hyden and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, fresh off their victory Sunday at AVP Hermosa Beach.
The USA women would have had Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh, but Walsh Jennings had to drop out because of a shoulder injury. Branagh in turn tabbed Emily Day — who last Sunday won AVP Hermosa with Brittany Hochevar — to be her partner. They are joined in the field by Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, April Ross and Lauren Fendrick and Summer Ross and Brooke Sweat..
The top four seeds on the men’s draw are Brazil’s Alvaro Filho and Saymon Barbosa, Latvia’s Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs, Dalhausser and Lucena and Brazil’s Evandro Goncalves and Andre Loyola.
Top-seeded Filho and Barbosa have had an erratic year, earning gold at the five-star in Fort Lauderdale, bronze in Gstaad, but have stumbled recently with a 25th in Olsztyn and a ninth in the Continental Cup in Long Beach.
Filho and Barbosa have a challenging pool as well, with high-flying Cubans Sergio Gonzalez and Nivaldo Diaz, hometown Austrians Thomas Kunert and Christoph Dressler, and the first-ever representatives of Trinidad and Tobago, Daneil Williams and Marlon Phillip.
Second-seeded Latvians Smedins and Samoilovs have fallen off the map of late, with a high finish of fourth third year to add to ninths in the Hague and Porec, and 17th in Fort Lauderdale, Gstaad, and Olsztyn.
Their pool will be a dogfight, with the always dangerous Qatar pair of Jefferson Pereira and Cherif Younousse, last week’s qualifiiers-to-gold-medal-winners in Markus Bockermann and Lars Fluggen of Germany, and Carlos Rangel and Jonathan Golindano of Argentina.
Third-seeded Dalhausser and Lucena are riding a hot streak, winning gold in the exhibition Continental Cup in Long Beach, gold in the five-star Gstaad, gold in Moscow, and bronze in Fort Lauderdale. Their 2017 record is only marred by a fifth last week in Olsztyn and a ninth in Porec.
The Americans have a particularly tough pool in front of them, facing fellow Americans Ryan Doherty and John Hyden, Poles Mariusz Prudel and Kacper Kujawiak, and Guatemala’s Andy Blanco and Luis Betancourt.
Doherty and Hyden, seeded 21st, have been playing particularly well of late, evidenced by last week’s silver medal in Olsztyn.
Fourth-seeded Goncalves and Loyola are an erratic team that tends to go wiith Goncalves’ serve. When on, the 6-foot-10 Goncalves can rip untouchable serves at will. This year their best finish was silver in Fort Lauderdale and fourth in Gstaad, to go with ninths in Rio, the Hague, and Porec, and 17th in Moscow and 25th in Olsztyn.
Brunner and Patterson are seeded 17th. The pair finished fourth in both Rio and the Continental Cup, plus a fifth in Porec to add to ninths in Fort Lauderdale and Moscow, and 25ths in the Hague, Gstaad, and Olsztyn.
Gibb and Crabb are seeded 18th on the strength of fifth-place finishes in Fort Lauderdale, Rio, and Porec. They also have a ninth in Gstaad and 25th in Moscow.
The women’s draw is led by the usual suspects, Brazil’s Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca, Germany’s Chantal Laboreur and Julia Sude, Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Lisboa, and Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst, slowed by injuries this season but nonetheless the 2016 Olympic gold-medalists.
Top-seeded Larissa and Talita have gold medals from Fort Lauderdale, Moscow, Olsztyn, and Long Beach, silver in Gstaad, and remarkably have not finished lower than fifth.
Their pool features Germans Victoria Bieneck and Isabel Schneider, Day and Branagh and Austrian wild-cards Teresa Strauss and Katharina Holzer.
Second-seeded Laboreur and Sude are quietly having a nice year, with Gstaad gold, Fort Lauderdale bronze, fifths in Olsztyn, Rio, and Moscow, a ninth in Porec, and 17th in the Hague.
The Germans should top their pool routinely, with Spain’s Elsa Baquerizo and Amaranta Navarro, Cubans Lidiannis Benitez and Leila Ortega, and Colombia’s Andrea and Claudia Galindo.
Brazilians Bednarczuk, who won the 2015 World Championships with Barbara Seixas, and 18-year-old phenom Duda, top pool C. The pair have been consistent podium finishers, with gold in Rio, silver in Fort Lauderdale, bronze in Moscow, the Hague, and Olsztyn. Their lone 2017 blemish is a 17th in Porec in a loss to Claes and Hughes.
Bednarczuk and Duda will face the Netherlands’ Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel, Canada’s Julie Gordon and Camille Saxton, and Gaudencia Makokha and Naomie Too, the first team from Kenya to compete in the event.
Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst are the top seeds in pool D. The pair have both been hampered by right shoulder injuries, but finished fourth in the Continental Cup and fifth in Rio.
The drawing of lots was an unfortunate event for German women, as Ludwig Walkenhorst are joined by Karla Borger and Margareta Kozuch, and Nadja Glenzke and Julia Grossner. The pool is rounded out by Mahassine Siad and Imane Zeroual of Morocco.
Summer Ross and Sweat are seeded fifth atop pool E. Their 2017 season highlights include silver in Moscow, fourth in Fort Lauderdale, and fifths in the Hague and Olsztyn.
April Ross and Fendrick are seeded 14th and will compete in pool K. The pair finished second in the Continental Cup, adding to ninths in Moscow, Porec, and Olsztyn, and a 17th in Gstaad.
Claes and Hughes are seeded 20th on the strength of fifth-place finishes this year in Rio and Porec. They also finished ninth in Gstaad, 17th in Fort Lauderdale, Moscow, and Olsztyn. They certainly are capable of winning their pool, which consists of Brazil’s Maria Antonelli, Carolina Solberg Salgado, Canada’s Taylor Pischke and Jamie Broder, and Rwanda’s Charlotte Nzayisenga and Denise Mutatsimpundu.
Pool play kicks off at 10 a.m. local time Friday (Vienna is six hours ahead the U.S. Eastern time zone) with men’s pool F play, featuring Dries Koekelkoren and Tom Van Walle of Belgium against Edgars Tocs and Rihards Finsters of Latvia.
The field of 48 teams per gender will compete in 12 pools of four teams each, with the top two teams in each pool guaranteed spots in the single-elimination playoff rounds.
The 32-team brackets will be completed by the top four third-place teams, ranked by match points, sets ratio, and points ratio. The remaining eight third-place teams will play a single match against each other to determine the final four spots in the bracket.