By Phil Collin for VolleyballMag.com
LONG BEACH, Calif. – When in Long Beach, opponents should be wary of April Ross. The hard-packed, dusty sand on Alamitos Beach might not be too popular with most of the players, but guess who likes it?
With some extra lift and the never-ending will of Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings, the Olympic bronze medalists scored a 21-16, 21-16 victory over Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez of Spain to capture the World Series of Beach Volleyball FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam on Sunday.
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, meanwhile, had a tougher time, losing to Brazilian Olympians Pedro Solberg and Evandro Goncalves, who scored a 21-19, 17-21, 15-9 victory in the gold medal match to capture their second title of 2016.
Ross and Walsh Jennings, who will split a $57,000 paycheck from the FIVB World Tour’s final event of 2016, used some trickle-down economics to get going and they never looked back. With Ross, the serving whiz, leading the way, Ross and Walsh Jennings recorded five aces in the first set, with the first three coming on tricklers off the net.
Ross had four aces and Walsh Jennings had two aces for the match.
“I don’t mind playing in deep sand. We practice in Manhattan Beach every day and I love deep sand, it’s great on the body and I feel like we’re good in deep sand, but I enjoy hard-packed sand, too,” said Ross, whose victory was the 53rd of her career.
“I feel like I can really get up on my jump serve, I can get up on my attacking. I like the hard-packed and I might be the only player here who says that.”
The Spaniards, who traveled from Rio de Janeiro after their second consecutive Olympic appearance, had an early 5-4 lead but saw that evaporate quickly as the Americans’ serves kept hitting the tape but falling in for points.
“Half of me is ‘Ugh, it hurts my heart that I’m doing that and I’m accepting these points,’ but at the same time it happens to us all the time,” said Walsh Jennings, who celebrated her 133rd career title. “It for sure helps. It gave us breathing room, then it kind of got close again but something like that happens, so you have to take it when you get it.”
The Americans never trailed in the second set, which was tied nine times. But at 11-11, Ross and Walsh Jennings ran off three quick points. The Spaniards called timeout but couldn’t close the gap to closer than two points the rest of the way.
It was the fifth title of the year for Ross and Walsh Jennings, who rebounded from a semifinal loss in the Olympics to capture the bronze with a win over rivals Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes of Brazil.
“I haven’t thought about it all yet but to come home at our homecoming. It’s like a thank-you to everybody,” Ross said. “We want to come home and play hard and win in front of (them). But it’s also like not vindication, but proof that we’re here to win, that we are one of the best teams in the world.”
So are Dalhausser and Lucena, who were coming off their own Olympic disappointment. They were further dismayed when they let a 17-14 lead in the first set slip away.
It was the 6-foot-11 Evandro’s blocking and serving that did them in. Evandro had two of his eight blocks during a 5-0 run that gave them a 19-17 lead and control of the opening set.
The teams were tied at 16-16 in the second, but Dalhausser’s block of Pedro gave the Americans a two-point cushion and they finished it out on a 5-1 run.
In the third set, the Brazilians never trailed and Dalhausser/Lucena, who rattled off an 11-0 run Saturday in the third set of their semifinal win, never scored consecutive points.
“They stole that first set from us, which is kind of disappointing because then maybe we win the match,” Dalhausser said. “We were up 17-14 and they grabbed it from us. They earned it. They played great. Evandro played great today and Pedro sided out really well whenever he had the opportunity.”
Latvian Olympians Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins captured the bronze medal with a 21-18, 21-19 win over Italians Alex Ranghieri and Marco Caminati. The victory enabled them to accumulate enough FIVB World Tour points to capture the 2016 points championship …
Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude captured the women’s bronze medal with a 21-16, 21-17 over fellow Germans Katrin Holtwick and Ilke Semmler. It ended an outstanding year for the German federation, which sent gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst to the Olympics along with Karla Borger and Britta Buthe. In any other year, both Laboureur/Sude and Holtwick/Semmler would have qualified for the Olympics. Laboureur/Sude will join Ludwig Walkenhorst in the World Tour Final …
Dalhausser and Lucena will play the AVP Chicago Open next weekend. Walsh Jennings and Ross said they are hopeful of playing in Chicago but have not made a definitive decision yet …Shaquille O’Neal was a guest of WSOBV chairman Leonard Armato, who was O’Neal’s first agent when he left LSU and later signed his groundbreaking deal with the Los Angeles Lakers 20 years ago.