QINZHOU, China – The last FIVB event that Austrians Nadine and Teresa Strauss played was in September, the World Tour Finals in Rome. In the first round of the qualifier, they beat Japan’s Azusa Futami and Akiko Hasegawa, 29-27, 21-17, setting up a final-round matchup with Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat.
It took just 28 minutes for Sweat and Walsh Jennings to punch their ticket to the Rome main draw over the Austrians, winning 21-8, 21-11.
Nearly two months later, playing in their first event since, who would the Strausses see in the FIVB Qinzhou three-star but Walsh Jennings and Sweat in the second round of pool play.
“We played them in the Rome qualifier and that was a great match and it was another good match today,” Walsh Jennings said.
There is no denying that it was yet another good match for Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who won, 21-12, 21-15 to claim the top spot in the pool and earn a bye in the first round of playoffs.
“We decided to focus on the left-sider because that’s who we focused on in Rome and we had great success,” Walsh Jennings said.
It’s a type of success that nearly all of the four American women’s teams have found in Qinzhou. Joining Walsh Jennings and Sweat at the top of their respective pools are Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, who followed up a win over China (21-10, 21-17) by beating Spain (22-20, 21-15), and Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, who haven’t dropped a set in victories over China (21-17, 21-11) and Japan (21-12, 21-19).
Only Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman have a blemish on the ledger, with a narrow 21-14, 19-21, 15-10 loss to China’s Xinxin Wang and Chen Xue. It didn’t much matter, as they rebounded with a win in the first round of elimination against Canada’s Julie Gordon and Shanice Marcelle, 26-24, 21-14.
“The most important thing for us was to play in the moment,” Stockman said. “It’s been a long season and it’s easy to get caught up in everything else that’s going on with the Olympic run. Our focus moving forward is to stay in the moment, point for point. Try not to let our minds wander into other things that we can’t control.”
It was almost inevitable that American teams would meet, and now Stockman and Larsen will be the first, as they battle with Hughes and Ross in the ninth-place match on Saturday in Qinzhou (Friday in America).
Claes and Sponcil will play Jingzhe Wang and Shuhui Wen of China, while Walsh Jennings and Sweat will see Japan’s Suzuka Hashimoto and Sayaka Mizoe.
BVBinfo.com has all the results and complete schedule.