Dream Start for Beach Pro Tour in Tlaxcala

That was a great tournament. Skepticism was high among players and fans ahead of Volleyball Worlds first ever Beach Pro Tour tournament in Tlaxcala, Mexico, but tournament organizers far exceeded expectations. Curious locals came to check it out early in the week and couldn’t stay away by Saturday. Players delivered loads of action and drama to keep the new fans coming back for more and the fans themselves along with the beautiful setting made it a tournament to remember.

Checkout the fans mobbing Samoilovs and Smedins after their quarterfinal win on Saturday afternoon.

The Mexican fans were fully behind their home teams, but as Juan Virgen & Miguel Sarabia and Jose Rubio & Josue Gaxiola faced early elimination, they adopted new teams to support. No team benefited more from the noise in the stadium than Chileans Noe Aravena & Vicente Dorguett. They shocked everyone by winning silver in just their second event on the world stage. Chants of “Chile, Chile, Chile” echoed through the stadium in a semifinal match between the upstarts and Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins of Latvia.

Questions remain about Volleyball World’s struggle to line up sponsors and host cities for the tour, but this was a dream start. It was like taking a 7-0 lead into the first side switch. It is not a guarantee of match or even the first set victory, but there is a lot of momentum to build on. Everyone who loves beach volleyball is hoping this is a sign of many more good things to come. 91% of respondents to a Beach Volley Blog Instagram poll said they were blown away by the tournament atmosphere, including every pro player that voted.

Michal Bryl & Bartosz Losiak take gold

This was the first senior tournament for the Michal Bryl & Bartosz Losiak partnership and they were rock solid. They survived a huge scare in the semifinal against Renato & Vitor Felipe of Brazil (17-21, 24-22, 15-12) but cruised in the final against Aravena & Dorguett.

Bryl and Losiak last played an international event together in 2014, where they took 5th at the U23 World Championships. Losiak was already five years into his successful partnership with Piotr Kantor and had won multiple World and European youth championships, but Kantor was too old to compete at the U23 level in 2014. Losiak and Kantor went on to revolutionize beach volleyball with their high tempo offense and reach a number one ranking. The month after playing with Losiak Bryl won the U21 World Championships with Kacper Kujawiak. Now, eight years later they are together on a permanent basis and look like a very dangerous combination.

Lessons from the men’s tournament

The high altitude had a big impact, so we can’t read too much into these results. The teams that were in the best shape or were able to conserve energy had the advantage in Tlaxcala.

That being said, the quarterfinal lineup sums up my early impressions of the men’s side of the Challenge level. We saw the future we’ve expected. Sweden’s David Åhman & Jonatan Hellvig looking very strong and Brazil’s Renato narrowly missing the gold medal match. We also saw the future we didn’t know about in Noe Aravena & Vicente Dorguett. It will be fascinating to see if these guys are one hit wonders or if they can make their mark on the new tour.

We also saw veteran partnerships continue to thrive in Aleksandrs Samoilovs & Janis Smedins and Alexander Brouwer & Robert Meeuwsen. Top players found success with new partners, like Bryl & Losiak and Daniele Lupo with Alex Ranghieri. The Australians, Chris McHugh & Paul Burnett came out of the qualifiers to build on their Asian championship and domestic success with an impressive fifth place finish. They are a big team that sides out at a very high rate.

Also telling where the lack of any American teams in the men’s quarterfinals. The Americans didn’t get any of their six qualifiers into the main draw. Their lone main draw team, Chaim Schalk & Theo Brunner looked good but lost a close 21-19, 21-19 decision to Renato and Vitor Felipe to finish 9th.

Brazilian Women Dominate

The last world tour event in Itapema saw six Brazilian women’s teams in the quarterfinals. This weekend they had half of the quarterfinalists and three out of the four semifinal teams. It looks like the Brazilian federation is gunning to get all 16 teams in an Elite 16 at some point. Carol and Barbara claimed the gold medal and young Dutch pair Katja Stam and Raïsa Schoon won silver.

Carol and Barbara were pushed to three sets several times in Mexico, so their win wasn’t one of complete dominance. The young Dutchies showed that they are more than capable of following up on their phenomenal run into Tokyo. Bronze medalists Elize Maia & Thamela Coradello won a two-star in Prague last year and won a South American continental tournament earlier this month, proving they can win at this level.

New partner reveals

There are tons of new partnerships in the women’s game. Some are starting strong and others still have some bonding to do. Of all the new partnerships, only Taiana Lima & Hegeile made the semifinals. The veteran defender is still incredibly athletic after 20 years as a pro, and Hegeile is a physical blocking presence in front of her. Spain’s Belén Carro & Angela Lobato exceeded expectations with a fifth place finish and April Ross & Emily Day looked strong finishing fifth, too. The biggest disappointment for a new team was definitely number one seeds Terese Cannon & Sarah Sponcil. They lost both their pool play matches and finished 19th.

Swiss sister battle

Zoé Vergé-Dépré has always been in the shadow of her famous big sister, Olympic bronze medalist and European champion Anouk. This week the sisters ended up in the same pool and Zoé and her partner Esmée Böbner gave the Olympic medalists (Anouk and Joana Heidrich) a real scare, before losing 21-15, 17-22, 12-15). Zoé and Esmée still got the better of the matchup by finishing an impressive fifth place while Anouk and Joana settled for 9th.

First Impressions of Volleyball TV

I signed up for the free 30 day trial of Volleyball TV and was pleasantly surprised. Here is a list of what I liked:

  • Multiple camera angles and instant replays on all three courts
  • New commentators got more comfortable throughout the tournament and added nice insight
  • Multiple screen view with the ability to toggle sound on a PC monitor
  • Bookmarks of when matches begin on 10 hour qualifier replays are a life saver
  • No blocked replays for YouTube music copyright infringement
  • There is an Apple TV app that let me watch some matches on a big screen

I’m definitely planning on paying up when my free trial is over. Hopefully a large number of Mexican fans that discovered the sport in Tlexcala will too.

Beach Pick’em Results

The first Beach Pick’em game of the year saw players get caught off guard by some upsets. 28% picked Cannon and Sponcil to win and were disappointed by their 19th place finish. 20% correctly guessed that Carol and Barbara would top the podium and reaped the rewards. Stam and Schoon were also popular picks, but Em Day and April Ross were the most common pick for silver. Zoé and Esmée earned one supporter a 50% bonus for picking them out of the qualifiers. Pick’em expert Jasmine scored 3500 points and dominated the rest of us on the women’s side. Volleybannika finished second with 2880 points and Carolina showed off her beach volleyball knowledge in 3rd place with 2760.

The men’s version of the game had Boermans & de Groot as the most popular choice, but stomach problems forced them to withdraw before the quarterfinals. Only 4% of players picked Bryl and Losiak to win and only one player thought Aravena & Droguett would make the top 5. Qualifier bonuses went to 16% of the players who knew Renato and Vitor Filipe would have a good week. Alison & Guto were the biggest disappointment with over 75% of participants expecting them to finish in the top 5. The men’s contest finished in a tie between shalley7 and Greg at 3620 with Mariano just 200 points off the pace.

It isn’t too late to sign up and make pick the world’s biggest teams for the Elite 16 tournament in Rosarito. But don’t wait, picks close after the first serve of the qualifiers.