Latvians thrive at p1440 San Jose

Latvians Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Martins Plavins thrive on American soil

Perhaps it’s something about America, or just playing Americans in general, that suits Latvia’s beach volleyball teams well.

After all, it has been 10 years since Martins Plavins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs played a professional event together, and though that’s a full decade in the rearview, it’s not difficult to recall what occurred the last time they played.

Ten years ago, on the opening day of the Beijing Olympic Games, Samoilovs and Plavins shocked the world when they stunned Americans and world power Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in the first round of pool play, 21-19, 21-18.

“We used to play good together,” Samoilovs said. “[Martins] agreed to come to San Jose so I’m very happy he had a chance to join me.”

Indeed it seems he is. After rekindling their partnership for p1440’s opening event – due to Samoilovs’ normal partner, Janis Smedins, being out with an injury – the two didn’t drop a single match, losing only one set the entire tournament, to Austrian Olympian Alexander Huber and Leo Williams.

After that? Just two teams, Miles Evans and Billy Kolinske of the U.S., and Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, were able to even push the score to 21-19, let alone grab a set off the Latvians.

“I know that Edgars misses me,” Plavins joked of his usual partner, Edgars Tocs, who made an argument for FIVB Most Improved this season. Most would miss Plavins, whom Samoilovs referred to as “the best defender in the world.” For it was Plavins, alongside Smedins, in the 2012 Olympic Games who eliminated then-world No. 1 Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal in the quarterfinals.

So maybe what Tocs is really missing out on is the American competition, which has suited Latvia well throughout the years. In Huntington Beach earlier this season, Samoilovs and Smedins made Sundy while Plavins and Tocs finished seventh, toppling Dalhausser and Nick Lucena along the way.

In San Jose, Samoilovs and Plavins beat a new American in Chaim Schalk, formerly of Canada, and upstart Americans in Evans and Kolinske, a dark horse for Tokyo 2020. And it was on American soil that they pulled off another shocker, beating the formidable and thrilling young Norwegian duo of Mol and Sorum, who swept three of the biggest tournaments of the year – Vienna, Gstaad, Hamburg – back-to-back-to-back while maintaining a stranglehold on the FIVB awards, claiming Best Blocker, Offensive Player, Most Improved, Most Outstanding (all Mol), as well best Best Defensive Player (Sorum) and Tour Champion.

But even the Norwegians, on Saturday evening, acknowledged what may be the lone weakness in their games: experience.

With five Olympic Games between the two Latvians, that’s one element Mol and Sorum, a combined 43 years old, cannot practice.

Soon, though, the Norwegians will be off to a much-needed vacation in Yosemite, and Tocs will get to experience another American tournament in Las Vegas in mid-October.

“I hope we show a good result in the next two events,” Plavins said.

And how could they not?

It’s in America, after all.