CUT SHOTS: “VIVA VIENNA”
By Tom Feuer:
The World Championships begin next week in Vienna, Austria and the format is unlike any other elite global tournament as it features a robust field of 48 teams in each gender distributed among 12 pools of four players each.
There is no FIVB tourney in the world with as many teams and the Olympics format contains only 24 squads per gender. The Worlds playing schedule, however, does more closely approximate an Olympics, where teams do not have matches every day.
As a consequence, those teams that can best deal with the down time and pressure should succeed. Predictions by gender below:
Alison Cerutti has to be in the conversation now as one of the greatest players in history. His resume in the big events is imposing. A gold and a silver in the Olympics, and two golds and a silver at the World Championships. What’s scary is that he SHOULD add to the total as he is entering the prime of his career at age 31. His cooler, more reserved partner Bruno Oscar Schmidt balances the fiery Alison and they create alchemy on the court that is pure magic.
One of the key elements of this unit is that they carefully and methodically set their schedules and do not over-compete. When they do show up they mean business. They have played in just 15 tournaments over the last two calendar years. And in half of them Bruno and Alison have placed either first or second.
Another significant omen for Bruno and Alison is that there have been 10 different editions of the World Championships, and only one time has a Brasilian team failed to make the podium.
But Alison and Bruno won’t win the World Championships in Vienna. That honor will go to Cuba’s Nivaldo Diaz and Sergio Gonzalez. The surprise fifth place finishers at the Olympic Games have been underwhelming in FIVB tournaments thus far this year with a fifth, a ninth, two 17ths and a 33rd. So you may ask if I have taken a leave from my senses. However, I have a feeling about the Cubans. First off, they are in the pool with the number one seeds, Alvaro Filho and Saymon Barbosa. The Brasilians have struggled recently. They won one match (by forfeit) in Long Beach last week and before then they had two ninths, a 17th and a third on the FIVB circuit. Not a stellar resume to be heading to Vienna with.
Secondly, the Cubans have fared well in big events where there is plenty of rest between matches. Aside from the Olympic fifth, they won a bronze medal in the Pan American Games in 2015. Finally, although the smaller of the two, at 6-4, Gonzalez has a huge jump and is a technically sound blocker. The 6-7 Diaz is getting better as a defender, and at 23, is very very dangerous offensively.
The bronze medal is likely to go to Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. Dalhausser has not been on a World or Olympic podium in eight years since a bronze in Stavanger but right now no team globally is playing better sideout volleyball than the two Americans.
Another team to watch is the Russian tandem of Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Nikita Liamin.
Without the pressure of a hometown Olympics, the Brasilians should be “free” to play their best volleyball. And their best should be good enough for at least two podium placements. The Brasilian women have never failed to medal at Worlds, and in four editions they have won multiple medals led by a podium sweep in The Hague in 2015.
Now, most pundits would pick Larissa and Talita to win out. After all they are the hottest team on the FIVB World Tour. And they just shredded some of the top teams in Long Beach barely breaking a sweat. Only one of their six matches went to three and that was against the Olympic champions, Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany.
Larissa and Talita have a first, two seconds and a fifth so far on the World Tour after running roughshod over the best Brasilian teams on their summer tour (our winter). What bothers me though about these veterans is their difficulty performing well LATELY in the clutch in big events. They were fourth at the Olympics as a number one seed, a stunning ninth at the 2015 Worlds as a number two seed (A Dutch team was seeded number one as the host country). Larissa sat out 2013 but Talita was 17th at the 2013 Worlds. And Larissa and Juliana, as the number one seeds in London at those Olympics could muster “only” a bronze medal. I think you get the picture. This team is no slam dunk for a podium finish, much less a win.
So, who will emerge in Vienna on top? It says here that it will be Agatha and
Duda. The latter is a “Big Game Hunter” and she is only 18!! Duda has won no less than six FIVB Age Group World Championships. So far, playing with Agatha, who is 16 years her senior, they have four podium finishes in six events. Duda plays behind the powerful Agatha on defense. Offensively, she has a varied arsenal, and standing 6-0, she is close enough in height to most blockers that she can power her way through.
From this vantage point it looks like another Brasilian sweep of the podium as Fernanda Alves and Barbara Seixas should be in the bronze medal position. Barbara has more recent World/Olympic podiums than anyone else on tour. In 2013 she took bronze in Stare Jablonki, Poland with Larissa’s wife Liliane Maestrini. Two years later Barbara won the Worlds with Agatha and then last summer they were the highest Brasilian finishers in Rio at the Olympics winning the silver medal. Fernanda, meanwhile, is the reigning Worlds silver medalist with Taiana Lima at the Hague in 2015.
So far, Alves and Seixas have not exactly meshed well in their nascent
partnership with only one podium finish and two fourths on the World Tour. Alves, though, a former indoor great, is one of the best blockers in the world and Barbara is a sideout machine.
Others that will be in the hunt include Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova of the Czech Republic, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada, and Anouk Verge Depre and Joana Heidrich of Switzerland.
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.