In three matches over the span of two days, Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk played 290 total points of beach volleyball. They won 142 of those points.
They had no idea how valuable that 142nd point was. How valuable Bourne’s line swing around the block of Jonatan Hellvig would prove to be. It seemed innocuous enough at the time. Schalk and Bourne were down, 16-19, in the second set to Sweden’s Hellvig and David Ahman, having already dropped the first, 18-21. And, as far as the match itself would go, the point was of little consequence, as Ahman ripped an angle swing on the ensuing play and Bourne sprayed an angle wide after that, losing the second, 17-21.
But had that line swing not gone in? Had Bourne and Schalk not scored that 17th point? Their tournament, which began in Wednesday’s qualifier, could have been over, an upset win over Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen wasted. Yet Bourne’s line swing had gone in, he and Schalk had scored that point, and over on center court, Meeuwsen and Brouwer fended off half a dozen set points against Brazil’s Pedro Solberg and Guto Carvalhaes to provide Bourne and Schalk the slimmest of margins they needed to win the tiebreak.
Yes, Pool B was quite the mess at the Uberlandia Elite 16. Entering Friday, all four teams — Bourne and Schalk, Brouwer and Meeuwsen, Pedro and Guto, Ahman and Hellvig — were 1-1. All but one match had gone the full three sets. The winners of the Netherlands vs. Brazil and Sweden vs. the U.S. would move on, while the losers would white-knuckle it over a tiebreak that comes down to a set and point differential ratio. Bourne and Schalk played 290 total points and had a .959 ratio. Guto and Pedro played 312 points and finished with a .937 ratio.
By the strawberry hairs on Bourne’s chinny chin chin did the Americans move on.
“I was like ‘Every point matters, bro! Let’s go!’” Schalk said weeks ago, after the Tepic Elite 16. In Mexico, Bourne and Schalk went 0-3 but very nearly went 3-0. He’s a numbers cruncher, Schalk. Knows the entry points inside and out just as he does point ratios to advance from pool.
“I got a thinker now,” Bourne said then, laughing. “I hired a thinker.”
Not that they would have played any different. The goal is always to win, and, when losing, to lose by as little as possible. But when a tiebreak comes down to a point differential, those swings at 19-16 suddenly present new value, both monetary and literal.
“You need one good side out, one good play,” Schalk said. “That helps build anything.”
And now their tournament continues to build, advancing from a messy Pool B and into the playoffs, the first American men’s team to advance into the elimination rounds of an Elite 16 yet this season.
“Win ugly,” Bourne said on Friday afternoon. “We get to play more main draw volleyball, that’s all that matters. I was a wreck watching that Brazil-Netherlands match. Pedro shanked match point over for a direct deposit for it and I thought for sure the Brazilian volleyball gods were gonna give them the win because of that. I haven’t been that nervous watching sports since my Vikings were in the playoffs.”
For Bourne’s sake, it is best to hope he and Schalk fare better than his Vikings did in the first round of the NFL playoffs. Minnesota was felled, 31-24, by the Giants on Wild Card weekend. Bourne and Schalk will play Brazil’s Andre and George, a pair who has won four consecutive gold medals in Brazil, at 8 a.m. Pacific.
The three U.S. women’s teams who advanced needed no such numbers crunching, although Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil did require the help of their countrywomen, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes. With a victory over Brazil’s Taina Silva and Victoria Lopes in the morning, Sponcil and Cannon were in a win-and-in scenario in the afternoon, where they’d match up with Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka. A 15-21, 17-21 loss to the Latvians, however, put Sponcil and Cannon in a scenario where they had a rooting interest in Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes beating Lopes and Silva, which would assure them the third spot in Pool C.
Cheng and Hughes did what they’ve done since partnering up last fall, making quick work of Lopes and Silva, 21-17, 21-14, earning a first-round bye and a straight shot into the quarterfinals while guaranteeing a playoff berth for Sponcil and Cannon.
Up in Pool A, meanwhile, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth were in control of their own destiny. With a 1-1 record on day one, Nuss and Kloth needed a win over Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles to advance. They left no doubt, winning 21-13, 21-12 to move into the elimination rounds, knocking out Flint and Scoles.
Their reward for knocking out their fellow Americans? Another all-American battle with Cannon and Sponcil at 5 a.m. Pacific, where the winner will feed into Brazil’s Carol Salgado and Barbara Seixas. Cheng and Flint await the winner of Switzerland’s Nina Brunner and Tanja Huberli and German qualifiers Karla Borger and Sandra Ittlinger.