As they say, the rubber meets the road Saturday in elimination bracket play at FIVB/AVP Cincinnati. After qualifying and two days of pool play, the elimination bracket began for 12 women’s teams and 12 men’s.
What’s more, the schedule was rife with Olympic implications.
First up, the women, where Friday’s semifinals feature April Ross/Kerri Walsh Jennings vs Elsa Baquerizo at 11:05 a.m., followed by surprise semifinalists Xue/Xi vs van der Vlist/van Gestel at 10:05 a.m :
No. 1 seed April Ross/Kerri Walsh Jennings passed their first challenge over fellow Americans and No. 20 seed Lane Carico/Summer Ross 21-13, 19-21, 15-7.
Carico/Ross earned the right to play Ross/Walsh Jennings by defeating their compatriots and No. 9 seed Emily Day/Jennifer Kessy. With the first round loss, Day/Kessy are unable to improve their Olympic qualification total. Ross/Jennings Walsh subsequently faced Teresa Mersmann/Isabel Schneider of Germany in the quarterfinals, a rematch of their pool A match. Ross/Walsh Jennings handled Mersmann/Schneider in straight sets, 21-15, 21-13.
No. 3 Fendrick/Sweat won both their matches, first besting qualifiers and No. 31 Kim Behrens/Anni Schumacher of Germany 24-22, 21-13. In their second match, they survived a very athletic No. 7 Linline Matauatu/Pata Miller of Vanuatu 21-14, 17-21, 15-7.
Fendrick/Sweat subsequently faced No. 4 Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez of Spain under the lights. Fendrick/Sweat gave the Spaniards a spirited fight, but lost in a tight quarterfinal 12-21, 17-21 to finish fifth. That was worth 150 points each; their 12th-worst finish is 120 points, so they will increase the gap 30 points per player, bringing their lead over Kessy/Day from 430 points to 490 points with two Grand Slam events remaining.
No. 21 Kim DiCello/Kendra VanZwieten of the U.S. were unable to overcome Takemi Nishibori/Sayaka Mizoe of Japan in the first round 19-21, 21-16, 12-15.
Other women’s matches of note included two Chinese teams that finished well beyond their seeds. No. 13 Chen Xue and Xinyi Xia of China marched into the semifinals by upsetting No. 8 Fernanda Alves/ Josemari Alves of Brazil, 20-22, 21-16, 15-6, No. 19 Nina Betschart and Tanja Huberli of Switzerland 21-14, 21-19, and No. 6 Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler of Germany to ink a semifinal birth. The second Chinese team, No. 14 Fan Wang and Yuan Yue, scored two upsets, beating No. 10 Melissa Humana-Paredes/Taylor Pischke of Canada 21-16,16-21,15-12, and No. 2 Heather Bansley/Sarah Pavan of Canada 21-18, 21-14. Wang/Yue’s run was finally halted by No. 11 Jantine van der Vlist/Sophie van Gestel of the Netherlands 19-21, 21-14,15-10.
Next up, the men, where No. 1 seed and the U.S. Olympics points leaders Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson began the morning by taking down No. 24 Michael Plantinga and Cameron Wheelan 21-17, 21-15.
In the afternoon they faced No. 10 John Mayer/Ryan Doherty of the U.S. Mayer/Doherty had been tested by both No. 8 Esteban and Marco Grimalt of Chile (19-21, 24-22, 15-11), and a very physical No. 12 Bennet Poniewaz/Alexander Walkenhorst of Germany 19-21, 22-20, 15-13. Walkenhorst is a very physical and intense player; one of the few blockers that can play at Doherty’s altitude.
Mayer/Doherty thwarted Gibb/Patterson’s attempt to add to their Olympic totals in a three game match, 21-19, 17-21, 15-13. Mayer/Doherty will face young upstarts Gustavo Carvalhaes/Saymon Barbosa in the semifinals at 5:35 p.m.
No. 2 Phil Dalhausser of the U.S. defeated a very challenging No. 5 seed Jonathan Erdmann/Kay Matysik of Germany, who fought desperately for qualification points, currently on the bubble in 18th place with 4,410 points, 20 points behind Juan Virgen/Lombardo Ontiveros of Mexico. Dalhausser/Lucena needed three games, 16-21, 21-18, 15-10 to advance.
Next up for Dalhausser/Lucena was the veteran team of No. 9 Isaac Kapa and Christopher McHugh of Australia; Dalhausser/Lucena prevailed 21-13, 21-15. The win brings Dalhausser/Lucena to the semifinals against Binstock/Schachter Saturday at 4:35 p.m.
No. 4 Tri Bourne/John Hyden of the U.S. advanced past Christian Redmann/Felipe Humana-Paredes of Canada in a routine 21-16, 21-15 match in 29 minutes.
Bourne/Hyden then dispatched a feisty No. 6 Juan Virgen/Lombardo Ontiveros of Mexico 15-21, 21-14, 15-13. The Virgen/Ontiveros loss means that the Mexican team will not be able to improve their Olympic standings; they are hanging on in 17th place and 4,430 points. Bourne/Hyden then lost narrowly to a challenging young team, No. 13 Gustavo Carvalhaes/Saymon Barbosa in straight sets, 21-19, 22-20.
The loss puts Bourne/Hyden out in fifth place (150 points), failing to improve their Olympic qualification points (lowest scores of 150, 150, and 180 points). Gibb/Patterson finish in fifth place (150 points), and were unable to increase their lead over Bourne/Hyden (lowest three qualifying finishes of 150 points).
No. 19 Trevor and Taylor Crabb of the U.S. were unable to advance beyond the second round in an encounter with No. 11 Grant OGorman/Sam Pedlow of Canada in three hard fought games, 21-16, 21-19, 15-13.
No. 27 Derek Olson/Jeremy Casebeer of the U.S. were unable to pass their round-one test, falling to Tim Holler and David Poniewaz of Germany 15-21, 21-17, 15-9.
Other men’s matches of note included No. 24 Michael Plantinga/Michael Plantinga of Canada upsetting No. 20 Sam ODea and Michael Watson of New Zealand in a tight battle 29-31, 21-15, 15-12.
No. 7 Josh Binstock/Sam Schachter won Canadian bragging rights in an upset win over countrymen Chaim Schalk/Ben Saxton 21-19, 21-17. Binstock/Schachter further established their bragging rights in a win over No. 11 Grant OGorman/Sam Pedlow of Canada 21-19, 18-21, 15-12, to advance to the semifinal against Dalhausser/Lucena.
The women’s finals will be broadcast live on NBC from 3-5 p.m. Eastern. The men’s finals will be shown on NBCSN at 3 p.m. Eastern on Sunday,