The plot thickens for the AVP teams in the FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome. On Friday, maybe we’ll see the race tighten between three teams who are caught in a close race to represent the United States in the 2020 Olympics.
The top-ranked team in the world, April Ross and Alix Klineman, picked up on the torrid pace they set by winning the Gold Series Chicago last weekend.
Ross and Klineman, along with Kelley Claes and Sarah Sponcil, plus Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman, all went 2-0 in pool play Thursday at the Foro Italico, earning them a bye into the round of 16.
Stockman and Larsen are chasing Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who went 1-1 and will begin Friday in the round of 24.
Then, in the final match of the night at the beach arena Foro Italico, Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb recorded a momentous victory over top-seeded Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo, the home country favorites.
Gibb and Crabb scored a 23-21, 17-21, 15-8 victory over the 2016 Olympic silver medalists. The Americans trailed 19-14 in the first set before stunning the crowd. In the third set, they were down 4-2 before turning things around to win Pool A. Earlier in the day, Gibb and Crabb defeated Germans Lars Fluggen and Nils Ehlers, 21-17, 21-16. It was almost a mystery how they pulled out the first set. “I don’t know either,” Gibb said. “I’ll have to go back and watch that.” That adds Gibb and Crabb to the round of 16, and their opponent will be determined on Friday.
“We’re not looking anywhere past the game ahead of us,” Crabb said. “Any tournament you come into, you’re always looking to win pool, that puts you in the best position. It shows our fight and we’ll go down swinging with anyone. I’m happy with the way we’re playing.”
Only five days after losing to Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in Chicago, Larsen and Stockman rebounded to score a 21-15, 21-23, 15-13 victory to capture Pool A. Earlier in the day, they survived another three-setter to defeat Joy Stubbe and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands, 16-21, 21-15, 15-3. “It feels great to have two wins today, but every game’s going to be a tough match,” Larsen said. “All the teams here are super strong and every game’s going to be a battle no matter what you’re seeded in pool. We’ve got to be ready to play tomorrow.”
Claes and Sponcil, the tournament’s ninth seed, opened Pool H play with a 21-15, 21-14 victory over Russian qualifiers Ekaterina Birlova and Evgeniya Ukolova. Taking the court after Brazilians Rebecca Cavalcanti and Ana Patricia Silva defeated Sweat and Walsh Jennings, the pair scored a tense 24-22, 21-19 victory over Chantal Laboureur and Sandra Ittlinger. It was the Americans’ third win to no defeats over the Germans in 2019.
“It’s so exciting, but again we try not to think about those things,” Claes said. “It’s so comforting and exciting when you skip that first round of elimination, and we get to watch and prep and we’ve taken advantage of those situations.”
On the men’s side, the fortunes were different for Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who fell to Dutchmen Chrstiaan Varenhorst and Steven van de Velde, 21-18, 21-16. The Americans will finish pool play Friday with an elimination match against Austria’s Clemens Doppler and Alex Horst.
Three AVP teams who entered the tournament fell victim to the country quota. Theo Brunner and Reid Priddy were eliminated by Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, but the latter pairing could not get out of the Qualifiers. Tri Bourne (playing one-handed due to his injury sustained in Vienna) and Trevor Crabb were also present, but were handed an early defeat from Italy’s Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi 13-21, 13-21.
On the women’s side, Emily Day and Betsi Flint, who reached the finals in Chicago on Sunday, were ousted by Sweat and Walsh Jennings.
Both draws for the elimination rounds will be completed Friday following the end of pool play. The Quarterfinals and Semifinals for the men and the women will be played Saturday, with the medal matches concluding the event on Sunday.