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Americans start strong at p1440 Vegas

Americans off to strong start heading into elimination rounds at p1440 Las Vegas

Sarah Sponcil-p1440 Las Vegas

It’s funny, what can happen in just a matter of five months. A little less than half a year prior to p1440 hosting a four-star FIVB in Las Vegas, the first of its kind in Sin City, the best in the world came to Huntington Beach in a 48-team colossus of a tournament. It was an event that wasn’t only stacked with Americans, but stacked for the Americans.

Forty-one total U.S. teams were featured in the main draw – 19 men, 22 women – nearly half the 96-team field. None made it to Sunday.

This is not to say that the Americans are guaranteed a spot on Sunday here in Vegas, though it has certainly been a more promising start. Only one American men’s team failed to make it through Wednesday’s qualifier – Eric Zaun and Avery Drost – and even that comes with an asterisk, for that loss came to fellow Americans Miles Evans and Billy Kolinske. After Thursday’s pool play, five of the seven men’s teams moved onto Friday’s single elimination rounds, two of whom – Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb – earned a first-round bye after winning both pool play matches.

“By skipping that last China event we were able to have a great week of preparation and to get rid of any lingering jet lag,” Bourne said. “Plus, there’s always added incentive to do well in a domestic event. It’s all about how to turn the odds in your favor out here in Vegas.”

It wasn’t especially easy to turn those odds, either. No, Crabb and Bourne played three Olympians – Robin Seidl of Austria, and Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira of Spain, a team Bourne had never beat in his career up to that point – en route to straight set wins. Neither match even went longer than 35 minutes.

“Neither of us had beaten the Spaniards before so we knew that this was a great opportunity to do so,” said Bourne, who, with Crabb, is on the heels of a three-star victory in China. “Pressure was on them.”

Also moving on for the United States are Billy Allen and Ryan Doherty, Casey Patterson and Stafford Slick and Evans and Kolinske, who survived a thrilling three-setter against Poland’s Maciej Rudol and Jakub Szalankiewicz, battling back from down 14-13 in the third set to win 17-15 and move onto Friday.

“Just gotta believe,” Kolinske said.

It is becoming easier to believe in the U.S. at this point, and in particular the U.S. women. All three American teams in Wednesday’s qualifier – Emily Day and Betsi Flint, Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, Nicole Branagh and Brittany Howard – made it through to main draw.

Those who didn’t need to grind through the qualifier left no doubt in pool play, as Sarah Hughes and Summer Ross won in straight sets, Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Brooke Sweat won their do-or-die match over Canada’s Kristina May and Taylor Pischke in convincing fashion (21-15, 21-13), Emily Day and Betsi Flint split theirs, and Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman became three-set specialists, winning both pool play matches in three, over Jolien Sinnema and Laura Bloem of the Netherlands and Josemari Alves and Lili Maestrini of Brazil.

Just one American women’s team failed to make it through pool, Howard and Branagh, a forgivable loss if there ever was one for a team that was playing together for the first time. Their eliminating loss to Spain, on a more positive note, preceded a convincing show of dominance from Claes and Sponcil, a 21-7, 21-14 win over Germany to carry them into Friday’s bracket play.

So now it’s onto the elimination rounds, where there are 10 American teams left though certainly no guarantees. With the sheer volume of American teams moving on, it’s at least tipped the odds in the United States’ favor. In Vegas, even the slightest of advantages can go the longest of ways.

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