CUT SHOTS: TASTY HAMBURG
By Tom Feuer
Maybe it was an omen that on the last day of competition to set the automatic qualifiers for the Olympic Games, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena captured the Hamburg Major, the most significant tournament win of their partnership to date…and that includes their first go round from 2003-2005 and encompasses a total of 48 events.
What made this title so compelling, and important, was first and foremost their resounding win over the world’s top ranked team, Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt which came in the semifinals. Dalhausser and Lucena previously owned a victory over the Brasilians from Fort Lauderdale pool play last October. However, in the finals of that tournament, Phil and Nick were manhandled, 13-21, 15-21 What was most disconcerting about that loss was Lucena’s inability to get anything going whatsoever.
Flash forward eight months to Sunday and it was a different story. Nick was able to sideout and Phil executed the game plan at the net. Bruno damned the win with faint praise saying, “With no pressure it’s easy to play. We’ll try to be more concentrated and focused for the future confrontations because this one we almost gave to them.” Bruno also mentioned later that they are peaking for August. That of course remains to be seen.
Dalhausser and Lucena did not let down in the Hamburg final either. They played arguably the second best team in the world, the 2013 World Champions from the Netherlands, Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, and throttled them back 29-27, 21-12, where they broke the Dutchmen’s will in that second game after the marathon first. The Dutch have been as consistent as any team in the World this season with two seconds, two thirds and two fifths. Dalhausser and Lucena have now won the last three skirmishes against them, which is another positive sign towards Rio.
If Lucena’s shoulder can hold up over the torrent of serves he will receive over the next two plus months then the USA will have another team that can spark medal discussion besides Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross.
This week Dalhausser and Lucena as well as Ross and Walsh Jennings are back in the U.S. playing in the AVP New York City Open. The other two confirmed U.S. Olympic teams, Jake Gibb/Casey Patterson and Brooke Sweat/Lauren Fendrick will stay in Europe to play in the Grand Slam in Olszytn, Poland.
Walsh Jennings and Ross had a hiccup last weekend in Hamburg finishing fourth. However, with no truly realistic shot at improving their Olympic seeding and having surpassed the minimum 12 tournaments necessary to qualify for the Games I can imagine that mentally there might have been a letdown in Germany. The pressure has been immense to chase that 12 tournament minimum and then secondarily to amass as many points as possible. The travel is insane, spousal and family logistics are enormous so how can you possibly win every tournament cris-crossing from one side of the globe to another on a week-to-week basis?
What this last week illustrated most were the improvements that have been made by Kira Walkenhorst of Germany who partners with the uber-experienced Laura Ludwig. Consider that Walkenhorst, only 25, did not start playing on the FIVB circuit until 2012 which makes her among the most inexperienced of all the leading women’s beach volleyball Olympic contenders. She started playing with Ludwig in 2013 and she is a very imposing figure at the net. The areas where she was once weak, passing and setting, have improved markedly. Ludwig and Walkenhorst have won the last two European Championships and have three wins thus far this season, just one behind Walsh Jennings and Ross.
Those that think the medals will be decided by the two Brasilians and Walsh Jennings may have to expand their horizons especially if Walkenhorst continues to make improvements.
Tom Feuer has been a close observer of the sport since 1976. He currently works as the Director of Arizona State’s Cronkite Sports Bureau in Santa Monica, CA and is a Professor of Practice. Prior to that, he was the Executive Producer for Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and has won three National Emmy Awards for his work in television.