Sure, you likely had Americans April Ross and Alix Klineman going all the way.
But how many of you had the fifth-seeded Australians, Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, playing the 16th-seeded Latvian pair of Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka in one of the Tokyo Olympics beach volleyballl semifinals?
And so they are, while Ross and Klineman, the No. 2 seed, will play 12th-seeded Joana Heidrich and Anouk Vérgé-Depre of Switzerland in the other semifinal on Thursday.
Conversely, it was a tough Tuesday for Canada. Not only did our northern neighbors lose in the men’s volleyball quarterfinals, but both their beach teams were sent packing.
In order at Shiokaze Park on Tuesday:
Ross and Klineman opened play with a 21-19, 21-19 victory over Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Maggie Kozuch.
Heidrich and Vérgé-Depre then upset fourth-seeded Brazilians Rebecca Cavalcanti and Ana Patricia Silva 21-19, 18-21, 15-12.
After a 10-hour break, the Latvians ousted the 10th-seeded Canadian pair of Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson 21-13, 18-21, 15-11.
And then the Australians beat the other Canadians, the top-seeded pair of Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan 21-15, 19-21, 15-12.
Wednesday the men take over the sand with their quarterfinals:
— Ilya Leshukov and Konstantin Semenov of Russia vs. Anders Mol and Christian Sorum of Norway
— Martins Plavins and Edgar Tocs of Latvia vs. Alison Cerutti and Alvaro Filho of Brazil
— Julius Thole and Clemens Wicker of Germany vs. Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of ROC
— Cheriff Samba and Ahmed Tijan of Qater vs. Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo of Italy
OLYMPIC BEACH WOMEN
Ross continued her quest to play for a third Olympics medal in row. She won silver in 2012 in London with Jen Kessy and bronze in 2016 in Rio with Kerri Walsh Jennings. Klineman is a first-time Olympian.
“The field is so strong and there have been a lot of upsets,” Ross said. “We just go into every match ready to battle. I think you have to earn it every step of the way. It’s not like, ‘Oh I have a medal, I know how to do it,’ we have to fight really hard.
“The competition is so high. We are stoked to still be in, being in the semis is amazing.”
Ludwig won gold in Rio with Kira Walkenhorst.
“It’s a little bit disappointing, but when we sleep (on it), we can be proud,” Ludwig said. “There was a lot of ups and downs but we had a lot of nice rallies. Americans are a really good team, they serve good they have a good block defense. All in all I think we made it tough for them. They made also more mistakes than they normally do, or we definitely put them under pressure as well.
“I’m proud of how we played here as a team. We had a lot of ups and downs. It was a lot of fun playing.”
Of the four winners, few got more excited and celebrated with more glee than the Swiss pair, their country’s first semifinalists.
“Amazing. It’s crazy. I don’t know, I don’t find the right words for it, but the feeling is amazing,” Heidrich said. “it’s crazy.”
They have played the A Team just once before. Ross and Klineman won in two at the FIVB Gstaad Major in 2018. They were supposed to play this past June in Ostrava, but Ross and Klineman dropped out of the tournament with an injury that they never disclosed.
“We just look forward to play for the medals,” Vérgé-Depre said. “First, enjoy this moment of qualifying for semifinals, then back to focus.”
What a run this has been for Graudina. She and Kravcenoka qualified early for the Olympics, then she won the NCAA championship in May with USC. Now she and Kravcenoka are in the semifinals.
Latvia is a strong team,” Bansley said. “They didn’t make a lot of mistakes, we weren’t getting a lot of points on defense so we really needed to just be steady on our side out and we didn’t have that today.”
When asked if they were a “Cinderella” story, Graudina was having none of it.
“No, because we’re a great team,” Graudina said. “We will see what happens, but we just like to play volleyball and be on the court.”
The Latvians have never won a medal on the FIVB Tour.
“We started playing really well at the end of 2019, and we would have a medal if corona didn’t happen,” Graudina said. “So now we are just continuing from where we left off in 2019.”
Canada had two teams in the quarterfinals for the first time, but he Australians made sure there would be no semifinalists.
“It was unreal,” Artacho said. “We have been working so hard for this moment.
“It was disappointing we went up against the (Canadians) in such an early stage of the tournament. We have such a great relationship with the girls. We knew it was going to be a gold-medal type of match, and we had to come out strong and stay really aggressive. And I am just happy we pulled it out.”
Obviously it was an upset.
“They kept us under a lot of service pressure the whole match, and we didn’t do the same,” said Pavan, the former Nebraska star. “We allowed them to run their offense the way they wanted and we were always kind of playing catch up, whereas they were on the offensive from the service line and kept us back. I think that was the big difference.
“We got off to a really slow start, I think that was clear. We’re playing catch up the whole time. We’ve been in a position before, maybe not in this tournament and I think we’re really good at just moving on and taking everything one point at a time. We were able to turn it around in set two and unfortunately just kind of lost our footing a bit in set three.”
While Pavan went to Rio with Bansley, this was the first Olympics for Humana-Paredes.
“I’m very grateful for the experience and I’m really happy that we were still able to compete here, represent Canada and still play,” Humana-Paredes said. “We definitely fell short of our goal but I think we’ve learned a lot together over the years. We’ve experienced incredible things and this is a part of the journey.
“There’s more after this. Yeah, there’s more.”
The Australian and Latvian pairs have played four times and split. Most recently, Graudina and Kravcenoka won a month ago in pool play at FIVB Gstaad and the 21-17, 17-21, 15-12 outcome promises a tough semifinal.