Betsi Flint likes her stadiums on the road full — and she likes them quiet.
On Thursday morning in the opening round of pool play of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Hamburg Elite 16, against familiar Brazilian foes Talita Antunes and Rebecca Cavalcanti, Flint got half her wish: She had a quiet stadium. That, however, was due mostly to the early start, an 8 a.m. match against a South American team that isn’t going to be a huge draw for a local fanbase.
But on Friday morning? When Flint and Kelly Cheng will match up with Germans Chantal Laboureur and Sarah Schultz? It’ll be packed, no doubt. And she’d love to keep the German faithful quiet.
“Shell-shocked,” Cheng said of how Flint likes to keep opposing fans. “And quiet.”
It’s Flint’s first time in Hamburg, Germany, site of this weekend’s event. She’s seen the videos. Seen the crowd pack the 10,000 seat Rothenbaum, a tennis center annually converted into one of the most popular beach volleyball venues in the world, hauling in 72 truckloads of more than 1,000 tons of sand. Thursday marked her first match in the iconic venue, and she performed, as the two upset the second-seeded Cavalcanti and Antunes for the first time this season, 25-23, 21-13.
The only other North American team remaining in the field, either for the men or the women, is Canadian duo Brandie Wilkerson and Sophie Bukovec. They opened pool play with a narrow 21-15, 18-21, 15-7 win over Italians Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi and finished the evening with a 24-22, 21-19 win against Germans Isabel Schneider and Sandra Ittlinger. They will finish pool play on Friday against Switzerland’s Zoe Verge-Depre and Esmee Bobner, who emerged from Wednesday’s qualifier.
“It’s a great start,” Cheng said. “We’ve lost to this team the last two times we played them. We were pretty fired up. They came out strong which we expected but I loved the way we bounced back and kept the pressure on and finished it out.”
Theirs is a difficult pool, Cheng and Flint. Cavalcanti and Antunes have finished in the top five in half of their events played thus far in 2022. Meanwhile, Laboureur and Schultz will have the backing of a strong German fanbase, a match that precedes an evening bout with the Netherlands’ Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon, the former world No. 1 who has made three finals already in 2022.
“This is my first time in Hamburg so I’m really excited,” Flint said. “I love the venue. I love during the qualifier there were people there in the stands. I’m super excited to play an afternoon match when people are here.”
Oh, yes, people will be there, all right — save for any other Americans. The only other American team in the field, Zana Muno and Lauren Fendrick, fell in the opening round of Wednesday’s qualifier to Spain’s Sofia Gonzalez and Paula Soria, 21-16, 21-6. It makes Hamburg a huge opportunity for Cheng and Flint to pick up a big finish and jump up the world rankings, where they have fallen to No. 46 after opening the year as the top-ranked team in the United States.
“We love getting out here and competing,” Cheng said. “Traveling internationally is so fun and competing against the best, that’s why we do it.”
“I love it,” Flint said of being the only Americans remaining. “We’ve got our team doctors just for us now. The four amigos.”
Another noteworthy results from the Hamburg Elite 16 was the nearly all-NCAA clash between Spain’s Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno, and Latvia’s Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka. Alvarez and Moreno, standouts for TCU, stunned the Latvians 17-21, 21-19, 15-5, in the second round of pool play. Graudina, of course, won an NCAA Championship this season playing court one for USC, and recently won the AVP Fort Lauderdale Pro Series alongside Hailey Harward.