Perhaps lost to the rest of the Olympics world, what with USA gymnastics turmoil sending NBC into apoplexy and COVID rising and even Katie Ledecky losing a race, the volleyball world has seen two great American stories emerge.
One is Jordan Thompson, who in two USA women’s victories has 46 kills.
The other is the beach team of old-guy Jake Gibb and first-time Olympian Tri Bourne.
They did it again Wednesday, sweeping a Swiss team to improve to 2-0 in pool play to guarantee themselves a spot in the knockout round. No matter how long their run lasts, what they’ve done so far is incredible.
Also Wednesday, the USA men improved to 2-1 with a four-set indoors victory over Tunisia. They are certainly well positioned to get out of pool play as well after a day in which their Pool B had some interesting results.
The USA women (2-0) and the aforementioned Thompson look to stay atop Pool B when they play Turkey (1-1). Also in Pool B, Italy (2-0) plays Argentina, and China (0-2) plays ROC (1-1)
Two American pairs play Thursday in beach volleyball.
On the men’s side, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena wrap up their Pool D play when they face Argentina’s Julian Azaad and Nicolas Capogrosso. At 1-1, they need a victory to ensure getting into the knockout round. If they lose, they could advance, they could end up in the Lucky Losers bracket, or be out completely.
The story is well documented, that Gibb’s long-time partner, Taylor Crabb, tested positive and was replaced at the last minute by Bourne, whose usual partner is Crabb’s brother Trevor.
Gibb and Bourne had never played together in tournament competition before, but now, after opening with a sweep earlier in the tournament over an Italian pair, they did it again.
On Wednesday, Gibb and Bourne, seeded 10th, beat 22nd-seeded Mirco Gerson and Adrian Heidrich of Switzerland 21-19, 23-21.
“I would give us a B-. I think we’re both playing good volleyball and hopefully we start jelling a little bit more,” Gibb said. “But we’re increasing. That went from a C+ to a B-. It’s a slow increase and you know what, it’s a slow climb, but I think we’re getting better.”
Gerson was impressed.
“They played very solid you see it also on the court, they’ve just played free,” Gerson said. “Yeah, they just played beach volleyball and I think today was like this confidence they had a little bit more than us.
“We know them both very well, but it’s still like, they play the same beach volleyball as they do with the normal partner. But I think the difference is the mentality part. They are just playing beach volleyball and then they are really solid, they enjoy every ball, they don’t care about mistakes.”
Rich Lambourne, the coach for Gibb and Bourne, was extremely pleased.
“What might have been needs never be discussed again,” Lambourne told VolleyballMag.com. “The boys are doing an amazing job of being in the here and now, rolling with the sometimes illogical curveballs being thrown out way and just focusing on the task at hand, which is the next match.”
In their case, it’s a tough one, against third-seeded Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan of Qatar. They are also 2-0 after sweeping Italians Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi on Wednesday. In that match, Samba tweaked his knee and said he was planning on getting an MRI.
“Yeah, I twisted it,” Samba said. “Maybe we’re going to check MRI to see what’s going on. Now I’m warm, but let’s see tomorrow morning what we have.”
Another beach pair with American ties scored a big uupset Wedneday. USC star Tina Graudina and Latvian teammate Anastasija Kravcenoka, coming off their defeat to Team Slaes, upset the fourth-seeded Brazilian pair of Ana Patricia Silva and Rebecca Cavalcanti 21-15, 12-21, 15-12.
There was a big result late Wednesday night when the 12th-seeded ROC’s Ilya Leshukov and Konstantin Semenov, who had never taken a set off their opponents, upset top-seeded Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sorum 21-19, 21-19. It left the Russians 3-0 and the Norwegians 2-1 after pool play.
Click here for all of Wednesday results from the 10 matches of beach action.
In addition to Team Slaes and Dalcena, another match of note Thursday includes the other men’s Pool D match between Alison Cerutti and Alvaro Filho of Brazil versus Brouwer and Meeuwsen of the Netherlands.
There are also two women’s matches involving both Canadian teams, when Agatha and Duda of Brazil play Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, and Switzerland’s Anouk Vergé-Dépré and Joana Heidrich go against Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes.
Click here for the complete 10-match Thursday beach schedule.
The USA men, who opened with a win over France and then lost to ROC, came back with a 25-14, 23-25, 25-14, 25-23 as TJ DeFalco had 21 kills and hit .444 after having five errors in 36 attacks.
“We were disappointed with our play against Russia,” USA coach John Speraw said. “The issue with Tunisia is you’re playing a team everyone expects you to beat. But they have good players. It’s about respect, and we gave that in the first set.
“In the second we made a couple uncharacteristic errors in the middle. A couple float serves caught us, we drop a set, and it’s a ballgame. In the fourth we missed a bunch of serves at the end.
“In men’s volleyball if you’re not hitting serves hard you will lose. If you miss serves you will lose. So how do you strike a balance? Against Russia, our serving was tentative. Today, we blew too many serves. We’ve got to get better at serving in this arena.”
DeFalco had two blocks, an ace, and seven digs.
Taylor Sander had 14 kills with two errors in 20 swings and hit .600. He added a block, two aces, and five digs.
Max Holt had 13 kills and hit .556 to go with three blocks and four digs. Erik Shoji had 10 digs and Micah Christenson had 59 assists, a block, and four digs.
The men are in action again Friday when they play Brazil. Brazil, the defending Olympic champion, was knocked off late Wednesday by ROC. Also in Pool B on Wednesday, Argentina went five to beat France.
After three matches, ROC leads Pool B at 3-0. The USA and Brazil are tied at 2-1, France and Argentina are 1-2, and Tunisia is 0-3. The top four teams get out of pool play.
In Pool A, Italy beat Japan in four, Canada swept Iran, and Korea swept Kenya.
Click here for Wednesday’s men’s results.
Click here for Thursday’s women’s schedule.
SIMONE BILES REACTION
The subject of USA gymnast Simone Biles dropping out came up in the post-match news conference.
Sander: “I learned a lot from competing at the Rio Olympics, where there was almost too much energy, too much hype and by the first whistle I was exhausted. This time around I treat it like another day on the volleyball court and trust the work I’ve put in. I try to block out pressure by controlling what is within my control. I wish Simone the best. People deal with different things, different emotions. She’ll come back stronger.”
Speraw: “We are super proactive. My mom was a psychologist, so my philosophy has always revolved around the mental side of the game. We have a sports psychologist on staff, and we’re very open to conversation with our athletes. We are very direct, so everyone knows what’s coming. We encourage our guys to use the resources, get help, be honest, be willing to be vulnerable, tell us how you are feeling now, not later.
“I think the pressure of the Olympics has grown significantly since 2008 because of social media. The athletes who embrace social media and the attention are saying: ‘I’m at the Olympic Games, come look at me!’ That adds an exorbitant amount of pressure. A lot of people are suddenly watching you closely during the Olympics.
“The NBA guys have learned to handle that sort of scrutiny throughout a long season every year. For certain other sports, it’s very intense once every four years. We want our athletes to understand it, cope with it and control it, so it doesn’t get out of hand.”