As the sun came up Saturday morning in Rio de Janeiro, USA beach volleyball fans were optimistic. All three American teams got out of pool play and into round 3 of playoffs, which determine the medal rounds.
Of the eight teams left, homestanding Brazil had two while Italy, Poland and the Netherlands had one each.
And when they got to the semifinals of the men’s and final for the women, there were no Americans left. That included Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, who lost to Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Brazilian youth phenom Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa.
Accordingly, here are Sunday’s match-ups:
For the men, Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak of Poland play Olympic gold-medalists Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil on their home turf. Before that, Americans Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson take on Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai of Italy for the bronze.
In the women’s draw, Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan of Canada play Bednarczuk and Lisboa of Brazil for gold, while Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova of the Czech Republic face Fernanda Alves and Barbara Seixas of Brazil for bronze.
Ninth-seeded Nicolai and Lupo of Italy seized the first medal-round berth in a 20-22, 21-16, 15-11 battle with top-seeded Saymon Barbosa and Alvaro Filho of Brazil. Kantor and Losiak, seeded sixth, beat No. 16 Ryan Doherty and John Hyden of the USA 22-20, 21-18.
Brunner and Patterson, seeded 13th, booked their berth in the medals rounds in a dramatic upset of No. 4 Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands 18-21, 28-26, 15-13.
“This was another battle that essentially came down to a coin flip in the third set,” Brunner said. “This time we were fortunate enough to win it.”
Second-seeded Cerutti and Schmidt of Brazil finally gave the home fans something to cheer about in their win over Americans Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb, the 11th seed, 21-19, 21-15.
Alison and Schmidt controlled the tempo of the match throughout in a 21-16, 21-14 win over Brunner and Patterson.
“Their play was amazing, and we played poorly,” Brunner said. “Bruno’s serve in particular was world class tonight.”
Poland’s Losiak and Kantor edged silver medalists Nicolai and Lupo 21-19, 21-19, and are guaranteed at least silver on Sunday.
USC alums Hughes and Claes, in the absence of FIVB stalwarts Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross (Walsh Jennings is not playing yet this season, while Ross was at AVP Austin) were left for the Americans. But the No. 22 seeds lost to the Brazilians 21-19, 21-17. However, they earned $6,000, a generous graduation present.
“It’s been such a great experience, Hughes said. “We had fun and played to the best of our ability. It’s a big transition from the collegiate game but we are ready for the challenge. We’re excited to get home and keep working to get better. Can’t wait for the next tournament, which is most likely Moscow.”
German gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst, the second seed, are not quite fully recovered from Ludwig’s shoulder surgery, as No. 11 Humana-Paredes and Pavan upset them 21-17, 21-13.
No. 7 Hermannova and Slukova of the Czech Republic pulled off their own upset in a 21-16, 19-21, 15-9 defeat of No. 3 Chantal Laboreur and Julia Sude of Germany. No. 5 Alves and Seixas stayed on the upset train in defeating countrywomen and No. 1 seeds Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca 21-19, 13-21, 15-12.
In the semifinals, No. 11 Pavan and Humana-Paredes earned a chance for gold with a 21-19, 21-19 win over Hermannova and Slukova. In their second consecutive all-Brazil playoff, No. 5 Alves and Seixas succumbed to No. 4 Bednarczuk and Lisboa in another three-setter, 21-23, 21-15, 15-7.
Sunday’s gold and bronze matches for both men and women will be streamed live on the FIVB’s YouTube channel.