There is no shortage of downtime on the Beach Pro Tour. The busiest of days means a maximum of three matches, which can be a full one, indeed. But those are rare and few and far between. Which means, on most days, athletes are tasked with killing time, finding the difficult balancing act of enjoying a different country while staying as physically and mentally prepared as possible to win a medal. That mental preparation can look a bit different for some athletes.

Take Terese Cannon.

In November of 2021, Cannon had received what some might call her big break, a shot with an elite partner in Sara Hughes, her former teammate at USC. It was a promotion well-earned, with a silver medal in the Cervia one-star with Molly Turner and gold in Nijmegen with Delaney Mewhirter. Alas, after five cracks at a four-star that season, Cannon had her chance, straight into the main draw of the Itapema four-star with Hughes.

How’d she take the promotion? Studying film until dawn? Mobilizing and lifting in the gym? Repping, repping, and repping some more with the coaching staff? She did some of that, sure. But Cannon and Hughes also spent much of the evenings killing time by… line dancing.

Yes, line dancing. Footloose, to be specific.

That Sunday, they’d show it off to the thousands packing the stands in Itapema when they beat Taina Silva and Victoria Lopes to win bronze, dancing in celebration after the final ball landed.

Two years later, Cannon’s still dancing in Itapema, albeit with a different partner.

Now with Sarah Sponcil, the two are the last Americans standing in this week’s Itapema Challenge, sweeping both Andressa Cavalcanti and Vitoria De Souza and Finland’s Niina Ahtiainen and Taru Lahti on Saturday to earn a semifinal bout with China’s Chen Xue and Xinyi Xia.

Terese Cannon
Terese Cannon blocks a ball at the Itapema Challenge/Volleyball World photo

It has been a triumphant return to the beach for Xue, the 2013 World Champion and a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Games. She had surgery on her right shoulder in 2015 and, as she told Volleyball World, “it didn’t recover very well. After Tokyo [in 2021, where she finished ninth], I felt like I couldn’t keep playing like that and I decided to retire. Last year, the Chinese Federation hired a Brazilian coach (Ricardo de Freitas) and his staff did a very good job with my shoulder, so I felt that perhaps there was still a chance I could play for a little longer.”

Now here she is, contending for a medal in her first event in two years with an excellent defender in Xia. In their quarterfinal on Saturday, they dismantled Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, 21-10, 21-17, who settled for fifth.

“It’s amazing to be back,” Xue told Volleyball World. “I’ve been playing beach volleyball for almost 20 years, but this time away gave me new energy and a lot of excitement. And being here in Brazil, having Brazilian coaches to help us around, has been great. The Paris 2024 Games are right around the corner and qualifying will be a big challenge, but we have the ambition of becoming a strong team.”

And Cannon will have the ambition of dancing just a little longer on center court in Itapema.

They will play China at 5 a.m. Pacific, and will meet either Swiss qualifiers Zoe Verge-Depre and Esmee Bobner, or Brazilian top seeds Barbara Seixas and Carol Salgado.

You can watch all matches on Volleyball TV (I’ll be commentating the four medal rounds).

Sarah Sponcil-Itapema Challenge
Sarah Sponcil digs a ball at the Itapema Challenge/Volleyball World Photo

Podiums continue to elude American men at Itapema Challenge

For the ninth straight major event on the Beach Pro Tour — major being Challenge, Elite 16, or World Tour Finals — the podium will be devoid of an American men’s team. The two remaining American teams in the hunt on Saturday, Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, and Andy Benesh and Miles Partain, were knocked out in a pair of thrilling quarterfinals.

Benesh and Partain, who began in Thursday’s qualifier, nearly stunned top-seeded George Wanderley and Andre Loyola, squandering a 20-18 first-set lead to lose, 23-21. They came back to win set two, 21-17, behind superb blocking from Benesh, and mounted an impressive comeback in the third, from down 7-12, to lose 15-13.

It was, all in all, a tremendous showing from Partain and Benesh, who knocked out Alison in the qualifier, came back to upset Evandro and Arthur Mariano in the ninth-place rounds, and are the only team in the field to take a set off George and Andre, winners of consecutive gold medals in Itapema. They will begin next week’s Challenge in Saquarema in the qualifier again.

Bourne and Schalk will likely not be satisfied with their fifth, but it’s far better than anyone could have expected had they tuned into the third set of their ninth-place match with Poland’s Maciej Rudol and Piotr Kantor. Down 7-12 in the third set, having given up four straight, you’d be forgiven had you switched the channel and tuned into either the Masters or a different match on Volleyball TV. But it was at that point that the match turned thrilling, with, as Schalk said afterwards, “Tri my guy taking over.”

At the 12-7 mark, all hope being virtually extinguished, Bourne tallied three blocks, an ace, and forced an overpass at 14-13 to give the USA the opportunity it needed to close the match in an improbable 15-13 three-set win.

The third-set magic, however, was exhausted. Two hours later, they ran out of tricks against Norwegians Hendrik Mol and Mathias Berntsen, falling 12-15 in the third. Mol and Berntsen will play George and Andre, while Cuba’s Jorge Alayo and Noslen Diaz will meet France’s Arnaud Gauthier and Youssef Krou.

While there is, again, no podium, Itapema still marks the best finish of the year for Bourne and Schalk, and it was an excellent debut for Benesh and Partain.

Andy Benesh-Evandro Goncalves-Itapema Challenge
Andy Benesh blocks Evandro at the Itapema Challenge/Volleyball World photo

A note about the Challenge format

A number of readers and viewers have reached out, wondering how Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander wound up in the lucky loser rounds despite having won their second pool play match. In the 24-team modified pool play format in which the Challenges are run, there are six pools of four. If you win your first match, you are automatically into the round of 16, regardless of the result of your second match. That second match is for seeding purposes only.

However, if you lose your first match, and win your second, you finish third in your pool. The top two third-place finishers, based on a ratio of sets won and points scored, will advance to the round of 16. The bottom four third-place finishers will play off in a lucky loser round, where Crabb and Sander fell to Cuba’s Jorge Alayo and Noslen Diaz, who are now into the semifinals.

This format differs from that of an Elite 16, where there are four four-team pools in which each team plays three pool play matches. The winners of each pool in an Elite 16 automatically move into the quarterfinals, while the second- and third-place teams play in the round of 12.


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