What Doesn’t Stay In Vegas
In the last “significant” FIVB event in the 2018 calendar year there were quite a few intriguing matches and developments that could be a portend of things to come.
Among them, Tri Bourne is starting to pick up speed. A win in far flung Qinzhou, China in a three-star followed by a fourth in p1440 Las Vegas’ four-star (both with Trevor Crabb) is indicative that his health problems may now be in the rearview mirror. In Vegas, they needed to come out of the qualifier, but now that they are accumulating points, they might eke into the main draws early in 2019 which could be hugely important to securing an Olympic bid. If Bourne/Crabb play a lot of the three star and NORCECA events and if Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena or Jake Gibb/Taylor Crabb struggle in the future four-and-five stars we could have a real three way battle on our hands. Bourne-Crabb’s Vegas bronze medal match against the Russians’ Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy was one of the highlights of the entire tournament with Bourne-Crabb losing 20-18 in the third.
Along the way, the Americans defeated third seeds Adrian Gavira and Olympic medalist Pablo Herrera twice, but they lost to the Volley Vikings, Christian Sorum and Anders Mol in addition to the Russians. Crabb and Bourne were able to take down the Spaniards because of the similar styles. Both are ball control teams that do not feature a big blocker. However, when the Americans had to face the 6-7 Mol (who has an impressive vertical leap) and the 6-9 Stoyanovskiy it was a different story.
Gibb and Trevor’s brother Taylor also lost to the Russians, 15-21, 30-28, 15-13 in an absolute donnybrook which may have been the match of the tournament. While Taylor Crabb has been lights out on the AVP Tour his best FIVB finish has “only” been a fourth. And therein lies a problem for the American men. Which combination offers the best chance to do damage in Tokyo?
My argument would be a Phil Dalhausser/Tri Bourne pairing. Bourne can play either side (Hawaiian style) and is young enough (29) and experienced enough (five FIVB podiums in major events including a win in Berlin) to be the sideout partner Dalhausser needs. Nick Lucena has done himself and his country proud, and been a great friend to Big Phil, but would be 41 in Tokyo. Advancing age does more to hurt the “little man” in beach volleyball than the big fellas.
Case in point on display in Vegas was Ricardo Santos. The “Wall” is 43, a three-time Olympic medalist, 6-7 and built like a Mack truck who has had his best season in years. Partnered in Vegas with the 6-0 and slight Alvaro Filho was like watching the “Odd Couple” in action. Perhaps the most entertaining match of the tourney on the men’s side was the Brazilians against the 2013 World Champions/2016 Olympic bronze medalists, Alexander Brouwer (6-6) and Robert Meeuwsen (6-9) of the Netherlands. In a sublime game three Ricardo and Filho won 15-9, sending the Dutch, arguably the second-best team in the world in 2018, to a shocking ninth place finish.
What is equally shocking is how well the “Northern Lights” teams are doing. Aside from the Norwegians, Russians and Latvians populating the World Tour with impressive finishes, we now have our border friends the Canadians with arguably the two best teams in the world on the women’s side. Las Vegas featured a very compelling final with players that are not exactly enamored with one another. After the Rio Olympics, Sarah Pavan dumped Heather Bansley and the rupture was anything but amicable. In the Nevada desert, Pavan and her new partner Melissa Humana-Paredes played the world’s hottest team, Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson for the first time ever in a final and it was a doozy.
Now one could argue that 2018 did not see the likes of Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes of Brazil or the Olympic and World Champion Germans, Kira Walkenhorst and Laura Ludwig. But an argument can be made that both Canadian teams will be in the discussion when the Worlds take place in Hamburg in 2019.
I never thought I would write these words, but credit to former FIVB head Ruben Acosta who made globalization of beach volleyball a priority which I imagine has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
By the way we learned something new in Vegas, quite pertinent to the Olympic qualification. If a team enters a tournament, shows up, but has to withdraw due to injury, they can count that event as one of the minimum twelve needed to gain passage to Tokyo. So, Alix Klineman’s injured shoulder prevented her and April Ross from competing in Vegas, but it was not a lost weekend for the pair as it counts as one of their twelve, a good security blanket in case there is another injury sometime in the next 21 months.
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