Men's World Championships Preview

Men’s World Championship Preview: Beware of Cuba, One Heck of a 48-seed

TeamfromNorwaycelebratesasuccessfulaction

Photo credit: FIVB

This week is the onset of the biggest beach volleyball event not named the Olympic Games. All of the top talent will descend upon Hamburg, Germany, for World Championships, whose value has risen significantly with the cancellation of the Fort Lauderdale Major.

With just three major events on the calendar this season, the stock for major points – and, by extension, Olympic points — has been put on a premium. Here’s the men’s preview for Hamburg, with favorites, contenders, and, always popular amongst the fans, dark horses.

Favorites

Anders Mol, Christian Sorum, Norway

These two may be the closest equivalent this generation has to Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers circa 2008. They’ve made four straight finals, winning three, dropping the last to Evandro and Bruno due to, what else, Evandro’s serving. Last year, Mol and Sorum won three majors back-to-back-to-back, stringing together the most profitable run in beach volleyball history.  

Michael Bryl, Grzegorz Fijalek, Poland

While we’re on the topic of Todd Rogers, former UCLA assistant coach Jeff Alzina, on SANDCAST, dubbed Fijalek the Polish Todd Rogers. He has a point. Their demeanors are nearly identical, as is their playing style. Fijalek’s play looks effortless, and yet he digs just about everything. He relies mostly on chisels down the line and under the block, yet he can bang with the best of them. Combine that with a physical, vastly improved blocker in Bryl, and they’ve made four semifinals in six events this season.

Viacheslav Krasilnikov, Oleg Stoyanovskiy, Russia

One of the scariest sights on the FIVB this season is seeing the development of Stoyanovskiy’s hand-setting. He had every skill in the book prior to it: huge and physical, a massive presence at the net, nearly unstoppable on offense. And now he’s able to give Krasilnikov, who belongs in the discussion of best defenders in the world, the consistent sets he needs to routinely beat the top teams in the world. This year, the Russians have played eight events, won two, medaled in another two, and have yet to finish outside the top 10.

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena, U.S.A.

When Dalhausser appeared on SANDCAST a while back, the message that stuck was this: Phil Dalhausser loves winning.

“Never gets old,” he said. As he and Lucena grow a bit older, they reserve their jumps and dives and swings for the major events, events like Hamburg. These are the ones Dalhausser and Lucena get up for. These are the events where they will look very much like the team that, at their best, still may have the claim as the best in the world.

Contenders

Jake Gibb, Taylor Crabb, U.S.A.

After a break from international travel, Gibb and Crabb, the most consistently successful team on the AVP Tour and, by extension, America, should be ready to go for World Champs. It’ll be a different type of competition in Hamburg from what they see on the AVP, but Crabb, alongside Sorum, Fijalek, and Krasilnikov, is as good as they come on the defensive side of the ball while Gibb is just the same old Gibb that’s been winning and winning and winning for four quads now.

Paolo Nicolai, Daniele Lupo, Italy

The 2016 silver medalists have had an odd couple years since Rio. They’ve won just two medals in the past two seasons, which is good for most, but not quite up to the standards of a team that is considered by many to be another favorite to win an Olympic medal. Regardless, Lupo is still one of the toughest defenders to read, taking that quick set out of the middle, and Nicolai is as formidable as they come at the net, with a serve that rivals Evandro’s and blocking that rivals Mol’s.

Evandro Goncalves, Bruno Schmidt

In Warsaw, this team looked very much like the one that combined an Olympic gold medalist and former best player in the world with a World Champ and four years the best server in the world. Bruno and Evandro were the ones to finally halt Mol and Sorum on their run of titles, beating the Norwegians in the finals, 11-21, 21-17, 15-12 to win gold and a good deal of momentum heading into the biggest event of the year.

With Evandro’s serve and Bruno’s still wizard-like defense, scoring on this team is no easy feat.

Andre Loyola, George Wanderley

What a strange few years it has been for Andre. One year, he’s partnered with Evandro, winning World Champs, winning Team of the Year, winning FIVB Tour Champion…and then they break up. Why is anybody’s best guess, but it certainly couldn’t be a results-based decision. He partnered with Alison for a bit, but putting two blockers together wasn’t the best of ideas, evidently. After struggling – relatively, to Andre – he scooped up Wanderley, a young and promising defender with whom he’s now played six events, with mixed results. There was the third in Jinjiang, in which they beat excellent teams in Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira, Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, and Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb. But then they failed to qualify in Warsaw.

They’re capable of beating the best. It’s just a matter of putting it all together for an entire tournament.

Dark horses

Konstantin Semenov, Ilya Leshukov, Russia

The men’s game is becoming a ‘Who can serve the toughest and side out the best?’ Semenov, a 6-foot-11 bomber of a server, is the personification of that evolution. You can never count out a team that Semenov is on, for he brings it from the service line and sides out at a high enough clip that, go down a few points, and you’re in trouble. This year, he and Leshukov have played just four events, but they’ve won one in Yangzhou and taken two bronze, in The Hague and Warsaw.

Pablo Herrera, Adrian Gavira, Spain

Models of consistency. That’s what Herrera and Gavira are, and have been for the entirety of their 100-plus event partnership. This year, per usual, they have yet to have a dud of a tournament, finishing in the top 10 in all of them while adding two medals to their growing treasure trove of them. When you put yourself in position to win a medal in virtually every tournament in which you play, at some point, one of those medals will be gold.

Juliius Thole, Clemens Wickler, Germany

What a show these boys put on last year at this same event, becoming the home darling underdogs who made an unexpected run to the semifinals, and very nearly the finals after a narrow three-set loss to Mol and Sorum. One thing is certain at events of this magnitude: Never count out the home team, particularly when that home team has a 6-foot-9 blocker at the net and Wickler digging everything behind him. Do yourselves a favor and make sure to catch these guys on the livestream. The atmosphere will be absolutely bananas.

Sergio Gonzalez, Luis Reyes, Cuba

One of the greatest beach volleyball matches you’ll ever watch is the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals, between Gonzalez and Nivaldo Diaz and Russia’s Krasilnikov and Semenov. Their Cinderella run, beating Evandro and Pedro, Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk, Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst, came to a thrilling end in a 20-22, 24-22, 16-18 battle with the Russians.

This year, Gonzalez has partnered with Reyes, and they’ve resided mostly on the NORCECA Tour, winning virtually every one they enter.

This may be the best 48 seed in beach volleyball history.

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