Mathematically speaking, it is possible — likely, perhaps — that the USA could make some sort of unofficial pro beach volleyball history Friday at the Ostrava Elite16:
All six teams in the main draw in the Czech Republic could break pool and advance to the playoffs.
While possible, it is far from easy. Doing so will require a number of scenarios to go all but perfect. The first and foremost priority? Winning.
Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon have already taken care of their end of that bargain, by both of their qualifying matches on Wednesday. Sponcil and Cannon beat Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth in the opening round (21-17, 22-20) and followed it up with the same scores over Latvia’s Tina Graudina and Anastasija Samoilova.
Nuss and Kloth, whose afternoon included a three-set loss to Brazilians Duda and Ana Patricia, are now essentially in a single-elimination tournament: A win over Latvia in the mid-morning could — if Sponcil and Cannon win in the morning — put them in a three-way tie for second and third with Brazil and Latvia. The tiebreak would come down to total point differential, a quirk of the Elite16 system that Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk became acquainted with in squeaking out of pool at the Uberlandia Elite16.
“It’s cool to see the improvements we’ve made from last year at this tournament where we qualified, but then went 0-3 in pool,” Cannon said. “So nice to be 2-0 today with another opportunity to compete tomorrow.”
And they are guaranteed to compete Saturday as well. Which makes them the only ones in such a scenario.
With a sweep over Brazil’s Barbara and Carol (21-15, 21-17), Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes are likely to break Pool C, though to guarantee it would require a win over Australia’s Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho, or Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles. Australia is currently 1-0 with a 21-14, 21-18 win over Flint and Scoles. Paramount, then, for Flint and Scoles is their morning matchup with Barbara and Carol. A win there would put them in excellent position to break, especially if Australia then beats Barbara and Carol in the afternoon.
The men, meanwhile, find themselves in a promising, though still precarious, position. Both Miles Partain and Andy Benesh and Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner are 1-1. Their mission Friday is a simple one: Win.
It is, of course, easier said than done at the Elite16 (or Challenge, or even Futures) levels. Crabb and Brunner, who edged Brazil’s Pedro and Guto in three in the afternoon (19-21, 21-19, 15-12), meet world No. 1 Anders Mol and Christian Sorum. Partain and Benesh have hardly a better draw, with the Czech Republic’s David Schweiner and Ondrej Perusic, a pair who is coming off a gold medal at the Uberlandia Elite16 and has made three straight finals in Ostrava.
There is the possibility of help as well. If France’s Arnaud Gauthier and Youssef Krou beat Pedro and Guto, Crabb and Brunner will advance, regardless of their result. Same goes for Partain and Benesh, only in their case, if Germans Nils Ehlers and Clemens Wickler beat Chile’s Marco Grimalt and Esteban Grimalt, they’ll be through.
Those previous 500 words you’ve just read are, essentially, a long way of saying that winning is of critical importance. Doing so might just make a small bit of history.
You can watch all matches at VolleyballTV.