The first question to arrive in our monthly SANDCAST mailbag was curious about the hottest new team in beach volleyball. So was the second. And the third. And the fourth and fifth.
Everyone, it seems, wants to know: What in the world is the Qatar federation doing, and how did Ahmed Tijan and Cherif Samba, a partnership that had never made a final prior to 2021, make such a stratospheric jump?
Five events have the Qataris played this season; four have resulted in finals.
“That was their coming out party,” Tri Bourne said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Since I’ve been on tour, only the great teams, the hall of fame teams, do that: Three in a row. That was extremely impressive.”
So impressive, in fact, that Norwegian defender Christian Sorum, a member of the only other team this quad to make three consecutive finals on the men’s side, dedicated an entire social media post to Samba and Tijan.
“The thing is,” he wrote, “they didn’t just make a final. They won the whole tournament! Three tournaments in less than three weeks, you made it to the final in all three and ended up on the top of the podium in the last one. You guys showed some amazing beach volleyball and I can’t wait for more epic battles on the court.”
Neither can anyone who is a fan of beach volleyball.
What are the Qataris doing? We don’t know for sure. But as far as epic battles go, there was no shortage of them in Cancun, which brings us to our next question in the SANDCAST mailbag: What are the top five matches from Cancun?
1. Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb vs. Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb
There is no animosity between Trevor and Taylor Crabb anymore. Once something of a toxic rivalry, matchups between the brothers are now underscored by a tremendous amount of respect. They live together, do virtually everything aside from play volleyball together, and want nothing but the best for one another — aside, of course, when they play one another.
They’re still brothers, you know?
They bring the absolute best out of each other on the court. Their match in the ninth-place rounds of the third Bubble event was one of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Taylor’s defense went to a different level, and it was already at one of the highest levels in the world. Trevor and Bourne, playing in their third elimination match of the day, dug deep into the wells to find any semblance of energy, even getting yellow-carded for stalling to catch their breath (it was deserved). It was epic, a three-set thriller won by Bourne and Trevor, 26-28, 21-19, 15-13, to keep them in the Olympic race.
2. Anders Mol and Christian Sorum vs. Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak
The potential of qualifying for the Olympics brings out the grittiest performances from any player on the cusp. Mol and Sorum, the No. 1 ranked team in the world currently making a case for one of the best teams of all time, need no such added motivation. But Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Piotr Kantor do. They’re currently one spot out of qualifying, requiring fourths or better to move up in the race. When they played Mol and Sorum in the quarterfinals of the second bubble event, it was an enormous opportunity. It was hot enough that multiple players were legitimately heaving up whatever they ate — yet they kept on pushing in what would become a 22-24, 21-14, 15-13 win for Norway.
3. Agatha and Duda vs. Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho
What a fitting end to an awesome series of events this was. The final of the last tournament in the bubble was a wild one, between Brazilians Agatha and Duda and Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy. It was very nearly not a wild one, too. Agatha and Duda won the first set and cracked open an 18-12 lead in the second. That’s a lead that makes most matches virtually over.
Taliqua Clancy is not most blockers.
She blocked five balls to help her and Artacho come back to win the second, 22-20, and continued to sustain that pace in the third, as her and Artacho won their first gold medal since Chetumal of 2020.
4. Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil vs. Karla Borger and Julia Sude
It would be wrong to say that Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil needed to beat Germans Karla Borger and Julia Sude in the ninth-place round of the final Cancun event. Even if they lost to Borger and Sude, they could still emerge from the country quota and qualifier in Sochi and Ostrava and qualify for the Olympics.
But if we’re being honest, they kind of needed it. Beating the Germans would guarantee a few much-needed Olympic points. It would mean they’d be out of the country quota and qualifier for the final two events of the Olympic qualification period. It would push them into the quarterfinals, where they would still have a shot at making the medal rounds.
After splitting the first two sets, 21-16, 19-21, Claes and Sponcil were down in the third set to the Germans. And then they just bore down. As they had done so many times before in Cancun, they found ways to keep the ball off the sand, until Sponcil buried the final point with a flourish, sending a high line dig over on one to seal up a 17-15 win.
5. Alison and Alvaro vs. Robert Meeuwsen and Alex Brouwer
Any time three Olympic medalists from 2016 are on the court with one another, a tremendous match is likely in store. And it was, as Brazilians’ Alison and Alvaro battled with Dutchmen Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen in one of the longest matches of the tournament, 16-21, 22-20, 20-18 in the Brazilians’ favor. Like Claes and Sponcil above, it was only for ninth, but again: When Olympic qualification is on the line, even the ninth-place matches have the feel of a final.
This one certainly did.