Two weeks ago, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans, advising them not to travel to Mexico for the nearly month-long celebration that is the college spring break. It’s a rather good thing that none of the American beach volleyball teams heeded the advice. For two straight weeks, nine American women’s teams were either competing in Volleyball World’s La Paz Challenge, or the Tepic Elite 16, or, in the case of six pairs, both.

A week after an all-American final in La Paz, won by Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, another team, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, will be returning home from Mexico with a gold medal.

Cheng and Hughes capped a perfect weekend — and a perfect two-week stretch for USA Volleyball — in Tepic with a 21-14, 15-21, 15-10 finals victory over world No. 1 Ana Patricia Silva and Duda Lisboa of Brazil. It marks Cheng and Hughes’ second gold medal of the 2023 calendar year, beginning with the Beach Pro Tour Finals in January, where they also met Duda and Ana Patricia in the finals, winning that one 21-18, 21-16.

“It’s been amazing,” Hughes said afterwards. “I’m so happy to be playing with Kelly and just working with our entire team. We’re putting together the right strategies and working as hard as we can. We have all the support back home and that’s what makes a good team.”

The earned $30,000 for the victory. Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil and Kloth and Nuss, who tied for ninth, took home $6,000 per pair. Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles tied for 13th and made $5K.

Sunday was just the latest in a remarkable run for Cheng and Hughes since reuniting in the fall of 2022. In the seven events they’ve played since partnering in November, they’ve won five, including two Elite 16s and the Beach Pro Tour Finals. Sunday’s victory extended Hughes’ unbeaten streak in Beach Pro Tour gold medal matches to 8-0, dating back to her debut win with Summer Ross in Moscow in 2018. Cheng, too, has been dominant in gold medal matches, winning seven straight, her last silver coming in 2018 in Xiamen with Brittany Hochevar.

The men, on the other hand, featured quite the reversal of gold medal trends. Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum are as sure a bet as one can find in sports, particularly in gold medal matches. In the 23 Beach Pro Tour finals they had made prior to Sunday’s matchup with Sweden’s Jonatan Hellvig and David Ahman, they had lost only two. Twice, in fact, they had beaten Hellvig and Ahman in finals, in Cape Town last fall and Doha earlier this year. All it took to flip that script was a virtually flawless performance from Sweden to stun Mol and Sorum, 21-15, 21-16.

“We knew we couldn’t make mistakes,” the 21-year-old Ahman said.

And so, well, they didn’t.

David Ahman-Jonatan Hellvig-Tepic Elite 16
David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig celebrate at the Tepic Elite 16/Volleyball World photo

It hadn’t been their cleanest tournament in the lead-up to Sunday’s finals. It began, actually, with an uncharacteristically sloppy loss to Germans Nils Ehlers and Clemens Wickler and required a three-set victory over Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk to break pool, the first of four straight matches that would go the full three sets before Sunday’s pristine finals against Mol and Sorum.

“We knew that we had been close when we played them before, so we knew it was possible” Ahman said. “We were super focused and just gave it our all.”

The win puts both Cheng and Hughes, and Ahman and Hellvig atop the provisional Olympic rankings. Nuss and Kloth are No. 2 after their win in La Paz and ninth-place finish in Tepic. Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, who added yet another bronze medal to their growing collection with their victory over Italians Valentina Gottardi and Marta Menegatti, are in third.

The bronze medalists for the men, Clemens Wickler and Nils Ehlers, who swept Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot, moved up to fourth in the Olympic rankings, behind Sweden, Mol and Sorum, and Italians Adrian Carambula and Alex Ranghieri.

Click here for for full results of Volleyball World’s Tepic Elite 16. 
Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes win in Tepic/Volleyball World photo


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