LONG BEACH, Calif. — Things were hopping in and around Marina Green Park on Saturday afternoon.
As more than 6,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses convened across the street, a massive crowd of young people began to fill the adjacent make-shift musical stadium for the Kaskade concert.
But on center court at the World Series of Beach Volleyball, the focus belonged to Brazilians Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes, 21-15, 21-17 winners of the FIVB President’s Cup gold-medal match over Americans April Ross and Lauren Fendrick.
Just before that, young Americans Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes thumped Olympic gold-medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany 21-17, 21-14, to win the bronze medal.
And for all three teams that stood on the podium, this tournament had nothing but positive benefits and served as an excellent launching point for the next few weeks that includes FIVB Olsztyn, Poland, this week and the FIVB World Beach Championships in Vienna.
“This was a really good tournament for us,” said Fendrick, Ross’s first-year partner. “Every match is kind of like our preseason and we’ve gotten better every match. And I think except for this last match against Larissa and Talita, I think we made a lot of strides and I’m excited for Poland and World Champs.”
Ross, too, was upbeat. Earlier Saturday she and Fendrick beat Claes and Hughes in the semifinals 19-21, 21-19, 15-11, while the Brazilians downed the Germans 21-16, 21-16.
“We immediately learned so much from that match,” Ross said after the final. “The way we approach some top international teams needs to be a little different. The way you play USA is different than the way you play international teams. And it feels like we know what we’re doing in siding out now. I think we were trying way too hard at first, but we tweaked it a little bit and if we tweak it a little bit more I think it will be good.”
In the first set, the Brazilians held the upper hand, but at the start of the second, Ross went on a serving run to get her team a 5-0 lead. But, as Brazilian coach Reis Castro pointed out, when she had to change sides the set changed.
Pretty soon it was 6-6.
Things went back and forth until it was 14-14 when Talita came up with back-to-back roof blocks. The Brazilians never trailed again.
“We didn’t playing that well but we’re improving, improving and improving,” Castro said through translator Oliver Neto. “We made a final in Switzerland last week and now a gold medal here, so for sure we’re going to better next tournament.”
Ross, still wearing her neon green-yellow protective boot while playing with a broken right toe, figures her team is on an upward swing. And her toe is getting better. Three weeks from now, “I’ll be totally in the clear,” she said.
“This week they (her doctors) were kind of OK with me playing if I was like safe. But I feel great.”
Like the others, Claes and Hughes will fly to Poland on Monday. The youngsters reveled in their FIVB podium finish and joined the others in the post-match champagne spray.
“This definitely gives us some momentum,” Hughes said. “There were some great teams out her. We did battle against a lot of USA teams, so it’s fun to be on the top of those and we’re really looking forward to Poland and then Vienna. We’re very excited.”
While the women were wrapping up, the men had just two matches on Saturday. Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, coming off their FIVB Gstaad victory, continued to win by beating Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb 21-18, 17-21, 15-11. In the only other men’s match of the day, Canadians Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter ousted Spain’s Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira 21-15, 21-14.
It sets up Sunday’s semifinals with the Canadians facing Poland’s Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak at 10 a.m. Pacific, followed by Americans Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson taking on Dalhausser and Lucena at 11:10 a.m.
The gold-medal match is at 2 p.m.
Dalhausser and Lucena are on a roll, but Dalhausser didn’t necessarily think their team is riding a high after winning Gstaad.
“Sometimes that’s true, but usually, in my experience, if you have a crappy tournament, the next tournament is always better,” Dalhausser said. “Way better. And that’s what happened in Porec when we didn’t have a great finish and we ended up playing great in Gstaad.”
Most of the players in this tournament played in Porec and Gstaad, flew to Southern California, and then head back to Europe right away. The time zones are nine hours apart, which is why Dalhausser said “you just get used to being tired.”
Accordingly, Dalhausser said because this is a shorter tournament — they’ve played just two matches in two days — this was a hard tournament to get up for at the start.
“This is just for money and for me money doesn’t really motivate me,” he said.
Lucena agreed that the win last weekend didn’t really carry over.
“You get a big win in Gstaad and two days later you have to start over in a whole new tournament,” Lucena said. “So it doesn’t last long … it’s a quick switch and you have to re-focus. And that’s the hard part, re-focusing.”
By all accounts they’ve been doing it pretty well.
“We play Casey and Theo, another good American team,” Dalhausser said. “If we play close to our best we should be pretty good.”
For all the WSOBV results and Sunday’s schedule, click here.