CUT SHOTS: The World Comes to Long Beach!
By Tom Feuer:
Two plus weeks until the World Championships in Vienna, Austria and two huge tournaments remain: The FIVB World Series of Beach Volleyball this week in Long Beach, and an FIVB four star event in Olsztyn, Poland. Long Beach’s tournament format is quite interesting, and innovative, featuring a USA vs World format.
Eight teams from each gender from the USA and an additional eight international doubles squads will vie in separate pools starting Thursday, with women’s and some men’s quarterfinals on Friday, women’s semis and finals on Saturday and men’s semis and finals on Sunday.
The fields in Long Beach are superb. Seven of the eight quarterfinal teams from the FIVB five star event in Gstaad which concluded Sunday will be playing including both men’s (Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena) and women’s winners (Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude of Germany) and the runners-up in Brasil’s Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes and the young Polish duo of Bartosz Losiak and Piotr Kantor.
For Dalhausser, who was born in Baden, Switzerland, this is the fourth time he has won at Gstaad. No other player has won there more than twice. Phil and Nick breezed through this tournament with no match even going three games. A similar track record exists in the four years of the Long Beach FIVB stop as Dalhausser has won twice and finished runner-up twice. To say he and Lucena are the favorites would be an understatement.
On the women’s side it is “go time” for Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh. They have precious few tourney matches under their belts, but Long Beach with its pool play format featuring USA teams in one pool and the international outfits in the other, will afford them the opportunity to sharpen their game.
Another team to watch closely will be the defending Olympic champion German team of Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst. Ludwig, who spent time training in Manhattan Beach with Walsh Jennings this past Spring, is recovering slowly from shoulder surgery. Meanwhile, Walkenhorst has had to contend with her own shoulder problems. When they have played together this year they have managed only a fifth and two ninths.
Labourer and Sude have usurped the gold medalists in their own country this season, as aside from their big win in Gstaad they have a third and two fifths on the FIVB circuit. They have something to prove this season as they lost out at the 11th hour to Karla Borger and Britta Buthe for the “second” German spot in Rio behind the gold medalists. Last year Labourer and Sude won the bronze in Long Beach.
Another point of interest will be to see all the top USA teams duke it out in pool play in both genders after a season which has seen a lot of tour “swapping” between events on the FIVB and AVP circuits. Now everyone will be at home playing with the FIVB ball and FIVB rules and I would imagine that the domestic competition will be spirited at the very least.
Aside from Dalhausser and Lucena, only two American men’s teams have played for podiums in major international events this season. Ryan Doherty and John Hyden with a fourth in Fort Lauderdale back in February and Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson garnering the same placement in Rio de Janeiro in May. Doherty and Hyden were the second best U.S. team in Gstaad as well finishing fifth. Doherty’s size and Hyden’s savvy make them a tough out. Aside from a bad finish in Porec, where they were jetting in from Seattle, this team has really been good and gone under the radar.
Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb appear poised to breakthrough on the FIVB with three fifths and a ninth. Crabb, “undersized” at 6-0, continues to get better but it is always tough internationally on the “little” guy who must play error free offense against the giants. The pressure is immense to continuously sideout. Crabb has gotten better in those tight situations as evidenced by his win on the AVP New York City tour stop.
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.