Competing in their second FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event this year, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross faced their toughest test. Amidst a raucous, partisan crowd in Vitoria, Brazil, the second-seeded Americans lost today to the top-seeded Brazilian tandem Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes in the championship match, 22-20, 21-19.
Both teams are destined to battle it out all along the qualifying road to the Rio Olympics, and likely into the gold medal match in August.
Heading into the finals, Walsh and Ross continued their undefeated streak of match wins this year. Seizing upon the momentum of their FIVB Grand Slam victory in Rio de Janiero last weekend, the pair were on a roll.
After sweeping their pool with a trifecta of two-set victories, they advanced to the round of 16 where they bested their American counterparts Brittany Hochevar and Jennifer Fopma (21-17, 21-14). Then, in their only tie-breaker of this competition, they came from behind to fend off another home country duo of Maria Antonelli and Liliane Maestrini (16-21, 21-18, 15-11) in the quarterfinals.
Next up, they defeated a determined German couple, Katrin Holtwick und Ilka Semmler, in the semifinals (21-19, 21-16). The Germans then overcame this setback to win the bronze medal by edging Australia’s Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy (20-22, 21-17, 15-11).
Larrissa and Talita, one of three top Brazilian squads contending for the 2016 Summer Olympics, benefited from the home court advantage in this gold medal contest. On a sunny morning with temperatures hovering in the low eighties, several hundred jubilant fans slammed their thundersticks with each successive point. In both sets, the Brazilians forced Walsh and Ross off of their game, as the Americans were plagued by sideout errors and snuffed spikes.
Despite the loss, Ross said in a FIVB press release, “We’re happy with a lot of our play from the final. We’re going to take a lot from that, it’s hugely motivating.”
Walsh and Ross, after laying low among the FIVB Provisional Olympic Rankings pre-season, are now chasing the tails of the international leaders. With this silver medal in hand, they now lead three other American pairs in these standings.
The teams of Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat, Jen Kessy/Emily Day, and Hochevar/ Fopma also seek to clinch the second spot on Team USA’s contingent to the 2016 Summer Olympics. Several tournaments will afford these women the chance to punch their Olympic ticket, including one to be held in Cincinnati, OH in May.
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