I knew I needed to write an article on Larissa and Lili when this weekend, I heard someone say, “Franca and Maestrini just upset Stockman and Cannon!” This statement, though entirely understandable because the #20 seed beat the #5 seed, is erroneous on two levels.
First—Brazilians of a certain volleyball caliber only go by their first names. Ricardo, Alison, Shelda, Ágatha. Larissa and Lili are definitely in that category, so their last names are all but pointless.
Second—Emily Stockman and Terese Cannon are a great team, but I wouldn’t say they were upset by Larissa. It’s hard to be upset by the winningest woman in beach volleyball history. Larissa may be at the twilight of her career, but her resume speaks for itself.
With 62 FIVB wins, Larissa has the most ever. She and partner Juliana would have been top dogs had they not been contemporaries of the unstoppable Americans, Misty May and Kerri Walsh. And though Larissa consistently lost to them, she still has more FIVB wins overall (62 to Kerri’s 56 and Misty’s 43). Misty and Kerri spent a lot of time on the AVP Tour during their career, so they missed many FIVBs. Still, Larissa is a 3-time Olympian and London 2012 Bronze winner.
Not only did Larissa rack up wins, but also FIVB awards. There are many, but here are some highlights:
- Best Setter every year from 2006-2012
- Team of the Year with Juliana from 2005-2007, then again from 2009-2012
- FIVB Tour Champs the same years as Team of the Year
Her partner—in life and on the court—Lili is outstanding in her own right. Being a top Brazilian beach player is extremely difficult; they have some of the world’s best talent. Larissa and Lili were rivals for years before they announced their romantic relationship in 2010 and married shortly after. They welcomed their son Gael in late 2019. Larissa and Lili had never played together until early 2020, right before Covid hit. They now live in Orlando and train with fellow Brazilian and AVP staple, Ricardo. He couldn’t coach them in Manhattan because he played with John Hyden, so the two teams shared Brazilian coach Dougie for the weekend.
Larissa and Lili earned an MBO bid in late 2020 with a 2nd place finish in Clearwater. They were runners-up to Julia Scoles and Hailey Harward, who already earned a bid with their 2020 Waupaca win. MBO bids trickle down to the 2nd-place team as long as both are eligible and haven’t earned one elsewhere. Though Larissa and Lili technically didn’t win Clearwater, they did beat the previously unbeaten Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss on their way to the Finals. So, it was still a good tournament.
MBO was Larissa and Lili’s first Main Draw AVP appearance. In the Atlanta Qualifier, they lost to the college duo of Megan Kraft and Savvy Simo, 17-21, 15-21. It’s a blessing they didn’t have to play an MBO Quali. With their lineup of 3-set matches in the Contenders Bracket, I don’t know if Larissa and Lili would have been able to summon the strength to do what they did.
The Brazilians wowed us right off the bat in their first match, going on a 9-0 run against Brooke Sweat and Delaney Mewhirter. I watched that match, getting to know this Brazilian team I had previously only heard stories about. They were so fun, incredibly in sync, and ruthless on defense. Larissa lived up to her hype; she’s one of the smartest, craftiest players I’ve seen take the court. Lili’s block, though not the biggest, funneled everything to her partner. It’s extremely hard to score a point on these ladies. The 9-0 start made sense.
Larissa and Lili lost their next game, a marathon 3-setter against Brandie Wilkerson and Sara Hughes, 16-21, 22-20, 15-10. The match lasted an hour and 13 minutes, even with only 11 serves in the Freeze. The extended rallies account for the overall match time; the ball just didn’t drop. Every play was a long one as both teams recovered balls that were seemingly out of reach. Larissa and Lili then had to turn around and play Molly Turner and Macy Jerger, two young players that scouted Larissa and Lili’s midday loss. The Brazilians rallied, winning in three with a commanding 15-7 finish.
Larissa and Lili’s Saturday was match after match after match, as they marched their way to Sunday. I went out to their court whenever I could in order to watch the show. The MBO crowd loved them, especially because Larissa knows how to play to a crowd. I wish I had the resume and guts to be as cool as she is. And as good. They’re an undersized team, Larissa at 5’9″ and Lili at 6’0″. But it doesn’t matter. Volleyball runs in their blood. Lili is nonstop, and Larissa knows what you’re going to do before you do it.
Saturday was no easy feat for the wives. Their match against Emily Stockman and Terese Cannon, a very solid but new team, went three sets. Yet again, Larissa and Lili dominated the third, winning 15-5. Next up—revenge against Megan Kraft and her usual partner, Tina Graudina (instead of Savvy from Atlanta). Another three-set hour-plus win, where Larissa had an insane 22 digs, 12 kills, and 2 aces. Lili had 22 kills, 3 terminal blocks, and 3 controlled blocks.
They finished the day with a blessed two-set win over Karissa Cook and Kelly Reeves. This was a fiery match, with Larissa and Kelly both drawing energy from the crowd. Larissa was once again a maniac, hitting .700 with 14 kills and 0 errors. Lili, this time, had a better match than her legendary wife. She had 18 kills with 0 errors, 2 digs, 3 terminal blocks, and 2 controlled blocks. The best part was when the last ball dropped, and the two fell on the ground and hugged. So much love, adrenaline, and exhaustion in that moment.
My favorite Larissa and Lili match of the weekend was their final victory on Sunday morning, a grudge match (the best) against Brandie and Sara. I already wrote about the details of this 1:07-minute win in my MBO recap. What I didn’t mention was the electric atmosphere. Fans were packed ten-deep around Court 1, fawning over the four athletes. The 22-serve Freeze had us all on edge. I watched from above in Club AVP as each woman scooped and soared and delivered. After two years away from the MBO, it was straight magic.
The best part of that game was when Larissa and Lili took the lead in the Freeze. Brandie and Sara called a timeout, and Lili headed to her player’s box. Larissa, however, vaulted over the foam barrier around the court to give someone a hug. I thought she had the score wrong and believed the match to be over. But no, she was just so comfortable in the neck-and-neck grind that she saw a friend and wanted to say hello. So awesome.
After winning that match, Larissa and Lili put up a valiant fight against Em Day and Betsi Flint, but they were just too tired. It would’ve been fun to see them against the A-Team, though. They’re unlike other teams on Tour, combining their old-school approach with an other-worldly volleyball IQ.
So the next time you see Franca and Maestrini (or maybe Larissa and Lili if I can get someone to change it), you’ll know what’s up. They’ll be in Chicago, so don’t miss it.