Theo Brunner breaks down the Fort Lauderdale Major

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Theo Brunner-FIVB Beach-Fort Lauderdale-Beach Major Series-USA Volleyball
Theo Brunner takes George Wanderley's angle/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Fifth place?

Had you told Theo Brunner, before the FIVB Fort Lauderdale Major this past weekend, that he’d take fifth place, in a field featuring every top beach volleyball team in the world, after being limited in training, admittedly a bit out of shape, with a new partner, after re-injuring his bad ankle and spraining his other … yeah, he’d have taken that.

He was, as he said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, just happy to play at all.

At the end of last season, Brunner had sprained his ankle, an injury that has limited his training “70 or 80 percent” this off-season, he said. Add into that that he was playing with a new partner in John Hyden, and add onto that  that he mildly re-injured that same ankle a few weeks ago, and onto that another sprain of the opposite ankle his first day of training in Fort Lauderdale, and, well, fifth isn’t too shabby.

“This was just ridiculous,” Brunner said. “I feel so out of shape … I’m normally pretty on top of my conditioning, probably do too much in the off-season as far as running all the time before practice, on the gym, in the sand, and I couldn’t do that this year. There were times when I was just struggling to catch my breath and I was like ‘Dude you’re probably not going to win this set. Just collect yourself, get a little bit going.’

“It’s just hot and humid out there, and if you’re gas to the floor the entire match, even if you’re in really good shape, it’s not going to be the best result for you. I was just trying to conserve, and when things were getting out of hand, I’m not jumping max and trying to slam this ball, I’m trying to conserve so I can get up on my block and side out consistently the next game.”

Brunner admitted that perhaps that’s not the best spot to be in, though here’s the thing: It worked. Four of his five matches went to three sets, and Brunner and Hyden came out on top in three of them.

They beat Austrians Martin Ermacora and Moritz Pristauz-Telsnigg 15-8 in the third set in a do-or-die match in the modified pool-play format, eliminated Canadians Ben Saxton and Grant O’Gorman 15-11 in the first round of playoffs, survived, 18-16 over Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb to get to the quarterfinals before succumbing 13-15 in the third to Brazilians Pedro Solberg and George Wanderley in a match that Brunner knows he should have won.

The Americans were up 13-10 before giving up five points in a row.

“I’ve been reliving it the last 24 hours,” he said. “I went back and watched the video and they made a couple good plays … but I had a mindset ‘All right, it’s a little windy, the sets are blowing off the net, I’m just going to hit a good shot, make them work for it.’ I think I should have just been a little more terminal … I think I tried to be a little too cute.”

Next up for Brunner and Hyden, as it is for the majority of the Americans, is the FIVB event in Doha, Qatar, starting Tuesday, then Xiamen in mid-April before a four-star in Huntington Beach the first week of May.

“Notwithstanding how we went out,” he said, “it was a good result for us.”

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