Volleyball News

Viva Las Vegas—Men’s Preview

Viva Vegas

It could be Vitor Felipe/Evandro. Maybe Alison and Andre Loyola. How about Pedro Solberg and Bruno? And don’t count out Guto and Saymon Barbosa. What in the world are we writing about? Brazilian Olympic qualifying, of course, which is drama unto itself. Two of the four teams above will “represent” in Tokyo at the Olympic Summer Games and the other two will be cooling their heels left to ponder the “what if’s?”

It all begins this week at a four star in Yangzhou, China where all but Victor Felipe/Evandro will be in action. Then the following week the traveling circus will be in Vegas for the four star presented by p1440 where EVERYONE will be there.

So, who has the upper hand? Alison and Bruno have Olympic gold medals together, but now that they have gone their separate ways, who knows. Evandro and Andre Loyola are the reigning World Champions but their split left a lot of people scratching their heads. For Pedro and Bruno this will be the third time they have played together in 12 years. The Brazilians get together and split apart more often than Crosby Stills Nash and Young!

For Vitor Felipe and Evandro it is a redux of a partnership dating back to 2013. They played together for two years but it’s not like they set the world on fire. They won in Berlin, coming out of the qualifier in ’13 but their next best finish together was a fifth. Since they renewed “vows” during the seismic shift in partnerships that occurred in Brazil last June, Evandro and Vitor have been consistently good with two fifths, two fourths and a second, laying an egg only once with a 25th.

As we all know if Evandro gets his serve going and stays out of the back row he is arguably the most dangerous player in the world. He is still only 28. Vitor is 27 and is playing more consistently than he has in the past. Evandro wants revenge for his upside down performance, a ninth at the Rio Olympics, and for this and other intangibles I believe they are the team to beat.

Alison and Andre are the most intriguing of the Brazilian entries. Andre has been mentored by the “Wooly Mammoth” and perhaps that has been a mental obstacle when they play together. On paper this is the most physical team in the world. Moreover, they are big game hunters. Alison has won silver (2012) and gold (2016) in the Olympics, and in the World Championships he has even been better with two golds and a silver. Loyola, meanwhile, is 24, and at 6-7, is the tallest full-time defender in the World. In his first “major” he aced the test winning the Worlds in Vienna defeating Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst in front of their rabid home crown for the gold medal. In other words, this “kid” is very poised. I like them for the second Brazilian slot in Tokyo.

Now, Casey Jennings is going to get mad at me because I am not picking Pedro Solberg to represent the yellow and blue in Tokyo. And it would not be the first time I have been wrong. That being said, what bothers me about the Solberg/Bruno team is that there are some chinks in the armor. Bruno has not been the same since the end of the 2016 season. Yes, he and Alison won an FIVB tournament in 2017, but it was on “home” soil in Rio de Janeiro. Outside of that event, Bruno and Alison had only two other podiums in ten tourneys. Last time I saw Bruno he looked a little “zaftig” as well. He has always appeared to be on the heavy side for his size but he may need to redouble his conditioning.

Meanwhile, Pedro and Bruno as a team have struggled. A fifth, three ninths and a 17th for this go-round. When they played previously together in 2013 they had six podium finishes including two titles. Can they recapture their form from five years ago? I am not betting the house.

Finally, lets not count out yet Guto and Saymon Barbosa. Some of you Americans might remember that they won the FIVB event held in Cincinnati in 2016 and they looked at that time as if they could challenge the Brazilian powers that be. However, it was weird after that. They had two more podium finishes and then poof they were off to different partners in 2017. Barbosa with Alvaro Filho, and Guto with Pedro, Vitor Felipe and Ricardo. Guto is really fun to watch as a defender and has to be considered among the top half dozen in the world at that position.

The problem with Guto and Saymon is that they are inconsistent and Saymon appears to be somewhat emotional. Furthermore, unless they rack up high finishes and the concomitant points they will have to play in Country Quotas and qualifiers because there are so many top Brazilian teams in most major main draws.

While interest in Vegas will be high to see who strikes the first blow for the Brazilians there are a ton of other compelling narratives. We will write about those in ensuing days.