Sunday turned out to be perhaps the worst single day in USA Volleyball’s Olympic history.
It started with Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil losing in the beach volleyball round of 16.
Then Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena were eliminated.
Finally, in literally the last live event Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics, the error-plagued USA men were swept by Argentina and failed to get out of their pool.
That leaves two beach teams and the USA women from the American contingent that started the Games.
Sunday also marked the end of the line for Dalcena, the veteran beach volleyball team of Dalhausser and Lucena.
The 41-year-olds lost to Qatar’s Cheriff Samba and Ahmed Tijan in a three-set battle worthy of a team that might win it all and two guys who have done so much in the sport.
“I’m trying to digest possibly the last international match with my buddy right here, and just how grateful I am to get to play with someone as great as Phil,” Lucena said.
“So I’m not thinking about Paris. But hats off to Qatar, that’s a great team. But we’re gonna take a little bit of credit because they did train with us for about four weeks before this.”
More on that match follows.
Sunday also marked the end of these Olympics for Team Slaes, the youngest USA beach team ever in Claes and Sponcil. They lost in three to Canadians Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson (click here to read all about that match).
“This is just the beginning for them, this is just the first inning,” said Team Slaes coach Jordan Cheng. “These were growing pains, and that’s OK.”
Monday on the beach at Shiokaze Park, two USA teams are back in action as the A Team, April Ross and Alix Klineman, and the surprise of the tournament, Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne, play their round-of-16 matches.
Ross and Klineman, seeded second, won Pool B as they swept China’s Chen Xue and Xinwin Yang and Spain’s Liliana Fernandez and Elsa Baquerizo before going three to top Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink of the Netherlands.
They play 20th-seeded Lidianny Echeverria and Leila Martinez of Cuba. They finished 1-2 in pool play and then beat Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam of the Netherlands 21-17, 21-17.
Gibb and Bourne went 2-1 in Pool C, winning matches over Italians Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi and Switzerland’s Mirco Gerson and Adrian Heidrich before losing to Qatar’s Samba And Tijan.
They play seventh-seeded Germans Julius Thole and Clemens Wickler, who finished second at 2-1 in Pool F, losing only to Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai.
There are eight more round-of-16 matches Monday:
April Ross-Alix Klineman (USA) vs. Lidianny Echeverria-Leila Martinez (Cuba)
Sarah Pavan-Melissa Humana-Paredes (Canada) vs. Liliana Fernandez-Elsa Baquerizo (Spain)
Evandro-Bruno (Brazil) vs. Plavins-Tocs (Latvia)
Ily Leshukov-Konstantin Semenov (ROC) vs. Esteban Grimalt-MarcoGrimalt (Chile)
Michal Bryl-Grzegorz Fijalek (Poland) vs. Paolo Nicolai-Daniele Lupo (Italy)
Herrera-Gavira (Spain) vs. Viacheslav Krasilnikov-Oleg Stoyanovskiy (ROC)
Jose Gaxiola-Jose Rubio (Mexico) vs. Alison Cerutti-Alvaro Filho (Brazil)
Jake Gibb-Tri Bourne (USA vs. Julius Thole-Clemens Wickler (Germany)
Click here for the complete Monday beach schedule.
Inside Ariake Arena, the USA women play Italy in Pool B in a match that will determine quarterfinal seeding for both teams. Both the USA and Italy are tied atop the pool with ROC, which plays Turkey. Also in Pool B, China plays Argentina.
The big question for the USA women, coming off getting swept by ROC, is when does leading attacker Jordan Thompson return? She went down in the second set with a sprained ankle. She said on Instagram, there is “nothing serious is wrong with my ankle.”
In Pool A, first-place Brazil (4-0) plays Kenya (0-4) and Serbia (3-1) plays Korea (3-1) to break the tie for second. Also, Japan (1-3) and the Dominican Republic (1-3) play in a match that will decide who gets the fourth and final quarterfinal spot.
Click here for the Monday women’s indoor volleyball schedule:
OLYMPIC BEACH VOLLEYBALL
Dalhausser and Lucena went 2-1 in pool play and gave the Qataris all they could handle before falling 21-14, 19-21, 15-11.
“I mean they’re playing the best in the world at this point,” Dalhausser said of the Qataris. “They’ve made five finals, pretty impressive. Yeah, I mean, man, they’re just a solid team, there’s no holes. Both of them are good ball players.”
Dalhausser, a four-time Olympian whose incredible resume includes winning 2008 Olympics gold with Todd Rogers, said this was the end of his FIVB career.
“Internationally, for sure. Like my wife would divorce me if I played any more. I love the sport and everything, it’s given so much to me, but I think it’s time to move on, try to spend more time with my family,” Dalhausser said.
“One day I was sitting in the room, I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna calculate how long I’ve been gone from my family.’ And I’ve missed like a year and a half of my kids’ life — that’s something I’ll never get back. So now they’re still pretty young, so I could hang out with them a bit more.”
Lucena wasn’t sure of his future.
“Listen, we had no business doing what we’ve been doing for the last 18 years,” Lucena said. “We were 23 years old, two knuckleheads kicking around, not doing anything. I mean, we didn’t have no real-world skills, (we were working as) substitute teachers and we’re like, ‘Hey, we’ll give this volleyball a shot’.
“I haven’t had the time to reflect, I’ve been trying to stay in the moment, but a lot of gratitude. I’m grateful for where volleyball has taken us. You just can’t explain it. We were two kids from Florida that didn’t grow up in the sport, and we’re here now talking with you guys about beach volleyball. So, pretty sweet.”
While the guys are winding down, Claes and Sponcil have to hope this is only the beginning after their fantastic 2021 run.
The coach for Team Slaes, Jordan Cheng, told us this after the match:
“First set, I thought they battled. It was an unbelievable display, they stayed patient and calm and looked like a veteran team that first set.
“Second set, we worked hard to disrupt them and put some pressure on them. We had a 10-4 lead but gave up five points in a row. That one hurts.
“I think we let our foot off the gas pedal and just started shooting balls – that’s not us, that’s not what got us here. I think Sarah’s at her best when she’s aggressive, Kelly’s at her best when she’s aggressive.
“In the third set, we had some opportunities but just couldn’t convert. I’m proud of these girls, but it stings, and we’ll be back. Watch out for them in just a couple of years, next Olympics.
“They put more pressure on themselves than anyone else. It’s a good learning lesson. I’ll give them a few days, when we watch the film together, I think it’s going to light a fire underneath them.
“We’ll still have the AVP season, and see how we respond to that. A little adversity will help build some character and we’ll get through it.”
There were eight beach matches in all Sunday.
Also moving on are Latvians Tina Graudina, the USC star, and Anastasija Kravcenoka, who beat the ROC’s Nadezda Makroguzova and Svetlana Kholomina 16-21, 21-17, 15-13.
“It just tells us that we should never ever give up, no matter what. This is similar to some of the games that we’ve had in the past and this one reminded us of that.”
In a thrilling match of big-time beach talent and experience, Germans Laura Ludwig — won won gold in Rio with Kira Walkenhorst — and Maggie Kozuch beat Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Duda Lisboa 21-19, 19-21, 16-14.
“We didn’t really know what to do after the game,” Kozuch admitted. “The focus was so on the match that we didn’t even know if we had to cheer or what.”
Duda: “We are very sad. It’s not easy to give an interview when you lose like that. But we know in our hearts that we gave everything we had.”
In what had to be the toughest match of the day, for many reasons, the Swiss pair of Anouk Vérgé-Depre and Joana Heidrich beat countrywomen Tanja Huberli and Nina Betschart 21-12, 19-21, 23-21.
“We know each other so well, I think it’s been one of the toughest games in my career,” Vérgé-Depre said. “The opponents know exactly what I’m gonna do in which situation. Same for them. I think that’s why there were so many rallies. It’s been a really tough game and I’m so happy those two points (at the end of the match) went on our side.”
Added Heidrich, “Gosh, I think it was really a mental game. It’s never so nice so play so early in the tournament against other Swiss, I mean Swiss against Swiss. It was tough and I think we had a good preparation and we said, ‘we wanna win this game,’ and we’re gonna go for more.”
Now they play the Brazilians, another team they know well.
“We trained with them here already,” Heidrich said. “I think it’ll be a very tough game but we’ll put everything in.”
Heidrich’s brother, Adrian, and partner Mirco Gerson, lost their Lucky Losers match on Saturday to the Chileans.
Click here for the complete list of Saturday’s beach results.
OLYMPIC INDOOR VOLLEYBALL
The USA men ended pool play 2-3 after losing to Argentina 25-21, 25-23, 25-23. It’s the first time since 2000 that the USA didn’t make the playoffs.
The Americans had one ace, by Mitch Stahl, and 14 errors. They battled tough in the third match, tied at 23-23, but that was it.
Matt Anderson led the USA with 11 kills but hit .260 and had three service errors. TJ DeFalco had 10 kills and hit .240 to go with three blocks. Max Holt and Taylor Sander, who had four service errors and four digs, had six kills apiece.
Erik Shoji had 12 digs, and Micah Christenson had 32 assists and five digs.
Facundo Conte led Brazil with 13 kills and Bruno Lima had 10.
ROC and Brazil tied for first in Pool B at 4-1 and France, despite losing in five to Brazil on Sunday, clinched the fourth spot at 2-3. Argentina went 3-2 and finished third.
“Our group is so tough. We needed those two sets to advance,” France coach Laurent Tillie said. “We’re relieved. We lost to Argentina and the USA so we were in a bit of a hole and we’re glad to get out.”
The USA had a really tough go at the Games after what was a great start. They swept France, but then lost in four to ROC 25-23, 27-25, 21-25, 25-23 in a match with clearly the smallest of margins. They went four to beat winless Tunisia, and then lost to Brazil 30-32, 25-23, 25-21, 25-20.
In Pool A, the final men’s standings saw Poland and Italy tie for the lead at 4-1, while Japan finished third at 3-2.
Canada and Iran both finished 2-3 but Canada won by virtue of tiebreaker. That included a substantial point-ratio differential and Canada sweeping Iran in the third match of the tournament.
Sunday, Poland swept Canada, Italy swept Venezuela, and Japan beat Iran in five.
Click here for Monday’s men’s volleyball results.
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