Larsen, Stockman win silver

Emily Stockman, Kelley Larsen Win Silver in Big International Breakthrough

EmilyStockmanandKelleyLarsenfromUSAwithsilvermedal

Photo: FIVB

Evidence of just how strong American women’s beach volleyball has become, and is becoming, is really not too hard to find.

Check the country quota in Warsaw, Poland. The one that took place seven matches and four days prior to Sunday’s finals. There, you’ll find Emily Day and Betsi Flint playing Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman. The former is a three-star silver medalist on the year.

The latter would be playing for gold a few days later.

It is no small measure of strength that the fifth-ranked American team in the current Olympic rankings for the race to Tokyo 2020 is the one that made the finals at the Warsaw four-star. That a team that didn’t break the country quota competed in a final not long before. That the only team to claim a set off of Larsen and Stockman, prior to the finals against Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy of Australia, was Flint and Day, in the country quota.

And they played the best the world had to offer, Larsen and Stockman. Their route to the finals was no easy one. They met Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan, No. 5 in the world in the Tokyo rankings. They met Joy Stubbe and Marleen Van Iersel, No. 15 by those same rankings. They met 2016 gold medalist Laura Ludwig as well as April Ross, who should be, once again, the top on any short list when discussing the best player in the world.

They also met Agatha and Duda, one of the most consistent teams on the planet that suddenly didn’t look so consistent, falling 21-11 in the first set to Larsen and Stockman in the semifinals.  

Not one of those teams, all of whom are as capable as the next of winning World Championships in Hamburg in two weeks, managed to claim a single set off of Larsen and Stockman, and if that surprises you, it shouldn’t.

They’ve been on this track for some time now.

They’ve just been road-blocked by the fleet of potential American Olympians in front of them.

Points are a more valuable currency than prize money on the FIVB Tour, for only with the former can you claim the latter. And points are what Stockman and Larsen raked in Poland. Enough to leap to No. 3 in the FIVB rankings, 200 points ahead of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat and 420 behind Sara Hughes and Summer Ross.

That bound is as big as a medal of any color they could bring home, for it – temporarily, possibly – relieves them from country quotas. They’re straight into main draw for World Championships, where the points, prize money, and stakes are massive. It’s not totally out of the equation for Larsen and Stockman, with another good finish in Hamburg, to jump to No. 2 in the U.S.

They’ve proven, this season, to be one of the few who can challenge Ross and Klineman, who have only dropped three sets on the AVP this season, one of which came to Larsen and Stockman in the semifinals of New York in a 20-22, 21-17, 15-13 thrill ride.

In Warsaw, Larsen and Stockman became the first American team to beat Ross and Klineman on the world tour. This isn’t, of course, meant to pit Americans against Americans, though that is, regrettably, the nature of the Olympic race. It’s simply meant to shine a light onto just how deep this country has become, particularly with the breakthrough of Larsen and Stockman, who won their first medal since the Lucerne three-star more than a year ago.

With World Championships looming, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see any of the Americans — Ross-Klineman, Hughes-Ross, Kelly Claes-Sarah Sponcil, Walsh Jennings-Sweat — win gold. Only this time, there will be no country quota to navigate. And what could potentially be a country quota match later in the season could very well be a gold medal match in Hamburg.

Such is the depth of American beach volleyball.

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