CUT SHOTS: BREAKING BAD?
By Tom Feuer
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this week’s post, just a couple of shout outs from the AVP tourney in San Francisco: How about the performance of Ty Loomis and Marty Lorenz? Loomis, 37, was essentially out of the sport entirely for two years. He peaked in 2009, when playing with Casey Patterson when they won an AVP event in Brooklyn, New York. However, despite that success, the following year Patterson moved on and hooked up with Kevin Wong, Loomis was left to struggle with a succession of journeymen partners.
Then Loomis “unretired” in 2015 and in his third tournament back picked up Lorenz, 6-5, a former middle blocker at Cal State Northridge, and only 25 years old. They had an unlooked-for run through the Mason, Ohio draw to place third.
Fast forward nine months later, to this past weekend in SF, Lorenz and Loomis partnered for the first time since that Mason event. And just like that tournament, they had to come through the qualifiers’ bracket into the main draw and again they shocked, grabbing third place. Two events completed together and two spectacular finishes.
The difference between this year and last, though, was their two losses were to both teams that made the finals: Jake Gibb/Patterson and the Crabb brothers. Moreover, they took both teams to three games including a one hour battle royale with the “sand Crabbs”. The scalps Loomis and Lorenz picked up in SF included a dominating 21-19, 21-11 win over 2015 AVP MVP John Mayer and his partner Stafford Slick, as well as two victories over Ryan Doherty and Ty Tramblie (one by forfeit).
On the women’s side Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes, also had to come out of the qualifier, as the 13th seed, and play Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross in the winner’s bracket semis on Saturday where they improbably took a set and continued to send the beach volleyball world into frenzy before losing 17-15 in the third. They bounced back of course to play Walsh and KWJ in a final where the vets took care of business.
After the match Ross heaped praise on the Trojan duo by saying, “They’re the next Olympians. Every time we play them, they get better. Last year they weren’t the second-best team on tour, I think they’re clearly the second-best team on tour in my mind.”
Now, as good as Claes, 20 and Hughes, 21 are, one must not forget that in 1979, at the age of 18, Karch Kiraly and his 22 year old partner Sinjin Smith won all five of the tournaments they played together including the World Championships of Beach Volleyball. This still makes them the best “young” team ever in the sport’s history. But the really good news is that just among the current collegians alone, the University of Arizona’s Witt sisters among others, the future is incredibly bright for women’s beach volleyball in this country.
Now, across the pond, two consecutive majors in Porec and Gstaad should give us an indication whether the Brasilian teams are either peaking at the right time, or more alarmingly, are in a collective funk. It was shocking watching the Olsztyn Grand Slam final how Alison melted down midway through the first set all the way through the second and what little communication he had with Bruno. The question: is this symptomatic of a bigger problem?
Lets take all four Brasilian teams scheduled to participate in Rio (Bruno/Alison, Evandro/Pedro, Larissa/Talita, and Agatha/Barbara) and compile their results collectively so far in 2016. What is alarming, if you are a Brasilian fan, is that of the total 23 tournament finishes, there are seven ninth place finishes and only two firsts, both accomplished in Opens, where the competition is less than in Grand Slams or Majors. In addition, there was a ghastly 17th place finish by Agatha and Barbara in Moscow.
Now, in comparing results to last year, Bruno and Alison did right the ship around this time winning in The Hague and never looking back capturing six of the final seven events including a gold at the World Championships. Larisa and Talita started to gel in Gstaad last year, the week after the Hague tourney, winning five of their last six events, a record blemished only by the 9th at the Worlds.
Agatha and Barbara won the Worlds last year and Evandro/Pedro took a bronze so they also peaked exquisitely well…But alas, time is getting very short for all four of the four teams and we should probably see some clear indications of where they are over these next two critical weeks.
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.