FIVB Women’s Power Rankings: U.S.A., Canada, Brazil Are Stacked
The beach volleyball season can be a strange one to follow sometimes. Unlike golf and tennis, which pace out their major events throughout the season, almost in a quarterly fashion, beach volleyball simply loads them up in the span of a month. Most other tournaments have a sort of ancillary feel to them: They’re either used for points to get you into that month-long span of events, or used for points to get you into an event – the Olympics – more than a year down the road.
But with the first two majors of the season – World Champs in Hamburg and the Gstaad Five-Star — now complete, it’s about that time to do an update international beach volleyball power rankings. The men had 10 different countries represented. Here’s what we have for the women:
- April Ross, Alix Klineman, U.S.A.
The only team guaranteed an Olympic spot at this point is the one below April Ross and Alix Klineman. However, barring something bizarre – and I don’t mean to put some jinx here, wood has been sufficiently knocked – Klineman and Ross have all but shored up their spot in Tokyo. A silver at World Champs, the biggest opportunity for Tokyo points, followed by a gold in Gstaad, the second-biggest opportunity for Tokyo points, has widened the gulf between them and the next U.S. team wide enough that it is now mostly a race for second.
It’s also a race for second for the rest of the world, too. Klineman and Ross are just that good, and it’s scary how much they’re only improving, too. Who knows how dominant this team will be come 2020.
2. Melissa Humana-Paredes, Sarah Pavan, Canada
This is the team that is revolutionizing Canadian beach volleyball. Not in how they play or the style, but in what they’ve been able to and are accomplishing. In the same sense that Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings showed American girls all around the country what’s possible with a beach and a ball, Pavan and Humana-Paredes are doing the same for Canada. Together, they have won Canada’s first world tour medal, Canada’s first Commonwealth Games gold, and, most recently, Canada’s first World Championship.
In a little more than a year, they could very well be the first Canadian team to win an Olympic medal.
3. Mariafe Artacho, Taliqua Clancy, Australia
This is one of the most entertaining teams to watch in all of volleyball right now, men or women. Their style of play – spreading everything, from passing to setting, in serve receive or transition – has one of the highest difficulty levels out there, but the rewards, as evidenced by their success this season, are immense. It’s harder on the defense than it is the offense, it appears, for Artacho and Clancy have played in six events and medaled in three of them, including a win in Warsaw and a third at World Champs.
4. Agatha, Duda, Brazil
Another team with a style of play that is incredibly difficult, and also incredibly difficult to defend. Agatha and Duda are right up there with Artacho and Clancy in numbers of options hit. It’s almost rare when they use all three touches. In eight events, that style has carried them to eight top-10 finishes, including a win in Ostrava and a third in Warsaw. A pair of ninths at World Champs and Gstaad seemed a bit uncharacteristic, but the fact that two top-10s in majors is uncharacteristic is a sign that this team is one of the finest the world has to offer.
5. Rebecca Cavalcanti, Ana Patricia Silva, Brazil
The first time I saw Cavalcanti play was at the p1440 Top Guns tournament in Huntington Beach last December. She won the whole thing, which was impressive enough, but the lasting impression came in how she won it: With the heaviest arm I had seen on the women’s end in a long time. Cavalcanti was bombing balls with a 20 mile per hour tailwind, which is difficult with any ball, much less the Mikasa, which goes on magic carpet rides with the wind. That heavy arm, and excellent play from Silva, has led to the most decorated 2019 season of any team in the world, with three golds, two silvers and two bronzes. Despite playing 12 events already – 12!! – they haven’t finished outside of the top 10 once.
6. Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat, U.S.A.
Rewind about nine months ago and take a straw poll: How many would have bet that Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat would not only be in contention for a spot in the 2020 Olympics, but have jumped all the way to No. 2 in the country?
At this time last year, Walsh Jennings was coming off another shoulder surgery and launching her fledgling company, p1440. Sweat, too, was coming off of shoulder surgery. Now they’re favorites to make Tokyo, circling the globe on an audacious world tour schedule this year, and are back in the quarterfinals in Espinho for what will be their eighth top-five finish in their Olympic race.
7. Nina Betschart, Tanja Huberli, Switzerland
At 23 and 26 years old, Betschart and Huberli are going to be a competitive world tour team for a long time to come. They’re improving fast, too. After a brief slump in Ostrava and Itapema, taking back-to-back 17ths, they played lights out in the majors, finishing fourth in Hamburg, nearly completing a miraculous third set comeback over Humana-Paredes and Pavan and losing a close one for bronze to Artacho and Clancy. In Gstaad, they were felled only by champs Klineman and Ross and Cavalcanti and Patricia Silva.
8. Heather Bansley, Brandie Wilkerson, Canada
After an electric finish to the 2018 season and white-hot start to 2019, Wikerson and Bansley have cooled a bit, which is ok. Nobody wins an Olympic medal on an odd year. But still, even with that cool off, in this calendar year they’ve played six tournaments and only finished outside the top 10 in one of them, and took a bronze at the Itapema Four-Star. It will only be a few minor adjustments, at most, for Wilkerson and Bansley to return to the winning form that had them claiming three tournaments in a row to bridge the 2018-2019 seasons.
9. Maria Antonelli, Carolina Salgado, Brazil
How nuts is the Brazilian federation? Nuts enough that Antonelli and Salgado finished the 2018 season ranked No. 1 in the world – and were back in the country quota in July. And it wasn’t even because they were playing poorly! No, they played eight tournaments, finished top 10 in seven, and took a second – a second! – in the Gstaad Major, and were back in the country quota in Espinho. That’s how loaded Brazil is right now.
They didn’t even make it out of the country quota and they’re still on the list of top 10 teams in the world because it’s in the top 10 teams in the world that they belong. Brazil just has about six or seven teams that could make an argument for being top 15 in the world.
Once the points from Gstaad take effect, Salgado and Antonelli should be out of country quotas again, and once they are, they’ll be back in medal contention.
10. Kelly Claes, Sarah Sponcil, U.S.A.
Call me bold for putting this team in the top 10 but I’m doing it anyway. This is sort of as much on upside as it is on results up to this point, but even on results alone, they have an argument to be top 10 – they are, after all, ranked No. 9 in the world on points alone. They’re currently sitting in fifth in Espinho, which will mark their fourth top-five finish this season. A podium would be huge, particularly considering that Sara Hughes and Summer Ross opted out of Espinho. I’m taking the buy and hold on this team.
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