CUT SHOTS: DEEP END
By Tom Feuer
Before we get to an analysis of the Olympic Pools, props to Evandro Goncalves and Pedro Solberg for a HUGE win in Gstaad. After some shaky performances, these two Brasilians have thrust themselves back into the medal picture and became the 13th different men’s team to win in 19 tournaments this season, a huge indication of the parity that is playing out on the men’s side at the moment.
The top women’s Olympic seeds, Larissa and Talita got their season back on track in Gstaad for their first win since March. While there have been nine different teams (in sixteen total events) that have captured an FIVB women’s title in 2016, six of the last seven tournaments have been won by the three gold medal favorites: Kerri Walsh-Jennings/April Ross; Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst and the aforementioned Larissa and Talita.
Last year’s World Champs, and Brasilian number two, Agatha and Barbara have yet to win a single title this season but are the overall second seed for the Olympics. Their desultory play this year contributes to my feeling that Pool “B” is the weakest of the six Rio slots. In fact, the fourth and last ranked team in the pool, Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova of the Czech Republic, has a chance to finish second if not win the darn thing! Slukova and Hermannova finished second last month in the fully-loaded European Championships and won the Antalya Open last October. They have played Agatha and Barbara in their last three tournaments and are 1-2 against them.
What shakes out as the toughest pool on the women’s side, the Deep End if you will, is Pool “E” which has Bansley/Pavan of Canada as the top seed (fifth overall) and 2013 World silver medalists Borger and Buthe of Germany, as well as Heidrich/Zumkehr of Switzerland and Van Gestel/Van der Vlist of the Netherlands. Heidrich/Zumkehr won in Sochi in May, Borger and Buthe have a third and four fifths this year, while the Canadians garnered a second in the Porec Major earlier this month. Van Gestel was ninth in the 2012 Olympics with Madelein Meppelink, while she and Van der Vlist have two fourths in Opens during the 2015-2016 season.
Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, as well as Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, both received favorable draws in my opinion. Outside of a crazy second place in the Rio Grand Slam, Monika Brzostek and Kinga Kolosinksa have been underwhelming and that bodes well for Fendrick and Sweat who have a chance to come out of Pool “A” with a second place finish. The Americans are coming off two fifths in their last three finishes and pulled a stunner over Kerri and April this past weekend in Gstaad.
Meanwhile, Walsh Jennings and Ross have a lot of flotsam and jetsam in their pool. The second seed in their pool, Anouk Verge-Depre and Isabelle Forrer of Switzerland who have not played well in the recent Majors or Grand Slams and really have only one decent result, a win in a watered down Xiamen Open .
On the men’s side, Bruno and Alison, fresh off their worst tournament finish off the year (which was preceded by their best, go figure) have a brutal draw in Pool A. Both Ranghieri and Carambula of Italy as well as Doppler/Horst of Austria are extremely dangerous. The Italians have the second most FIVB World Tour points for the 2015-2016 season (!) behind only Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. Doppler is uber-experienced. He will be a third time Olympian in Rio. He and Horst just finished second in the Porec Major a couple of weeks ago. Not only all of that, but the pool will be rounded out July 16th with a Canadian team, either Josh Binstock/Sam Schachter or Sam Pedlow/Grant O’Gorman, neither of which is an easy out.
Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb in my estimation have the gentlest draw. However, the fourth placed team in their pool is very dangerous, the Qatari combo of Jefferson Santos Pereira and Cherif Younousse. Santos Pereira is a Rio native playing for his adopted country. And Cherif can be imposing at the net. Just ask Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner who had to play this combo at last year’s World Championships and barely won.
Lucena and Dalhausser were done no favors either when the lots were drawn. In their pool they have Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo. That was the team that knocked Dalhausser and Todd Rogers out of the Olympics in 2012. Moreover, they have a win over Phil and Nick from Moscow this year. Additionally, Nicolai and Lupo won the European Championships this season, a very prestigious tournament for teams on that continent. Also in that Pool “C” is the vastly improving Mexican team of Lombardo Ontiveros and Juan Virgen. They just crushed Dalhausser and Lucena last week in Gstaad, 21-19, 21-14.
This most unpredictable of seasons just got a little more interesting after the dust settled from Saturday evening in Gstaad.
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.