Canadians continue chasing Croatian gold

Porec, Croatia, July 2, 2016 - For the second-straight year in Porec, Canadian Beach Volleyball players have risen to the occasion in this Croatian coastal resort town as Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk made it four-for-four with pairs from the North American country in reaching the men’s and women’s “final four” at the Porec Major.

Seeded sixth in the men’s competition, Saxton and Schalk eliminated North American rivals from Mexico and the United States here Saturday to match the effort by compatriots Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter at the 2015 Porec Major where the Canadians lost the title match to Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands.

On the women’s side, it was Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan taking care of business for the Canadians as the pair posted silver medal finishes in the first two Porec Majors after losing Saturday’s finale to Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude.  To add frosting to the cake, the Canadians had a second women’s semi-finalist last year in Porec when Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas placed fourth.

Saxton and Schalk, who will be playing in their first FIVB World Tour “final four” since placing third last August at the Olsztyn Grand Slam in Poland, advanced to the semi-finals with wins over 14th-seeded Juan Virgen/Lombardo Ontiveros of Mexico 2-0 (21-19, 21-16) in 34 minutes and third-seeded Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena of the United States 2-0 (25-23, 21-17) in 39 minutes.

By defeating two Rio-bound pairs for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in two sets each, Saxton and Schalk will face their biggest challenge of the Porec Major in Sunday’s first semi-final against 15th-seeded Clemens Doppler/Alexander Horst after Austrians posted come-from-behind three set wins over pairs from Spain and Brazil Saturday.

After eliminating ninth-seeded Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira of Spain 2-1 (19-21, 21-19, 16-14) in 53 minutes, Doppler and Horst rallied to oust 18th-seeded qualifiers Gustavo “Guto” Carvalhaes and Saymon Barbosa of Brazil 2-1 (18-21, 21-14, 20-18) in 51 minutes.

With a stadium full of supporters traveling more than three hours from Austria to follow their Rio-bound Olympians, Doppler and Horst will be seeking their fifth win in eight FIVB World Tour matches with Saxton and Schalk.  The Austrians last semi-final appearance was 11 events ago in Japan were Doppler and Horst won the bronze medal and the Canadians were second.

“The crowd makes a huge difference for us,” said the 33-year old Horst.  “It is an unbelievable atmosphere and their support really inspires us.  We played two great teams today and had to fight for each point.  Nothing was easy and we were fortunate to make the big plays at the right time.  The Spanish guys are veterans and the young Brazilians are one tough team to beat with their defense (Guto) and blocking (Saymon).”

Sunday’s other semi-finals will be a rematch of the last FIVB World Tour finale two weeks ago in Poland when Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins of Latvia defeated Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil 2-0 (21-19, 21-15) in the 37-minute Olsztyn gold medal match.  The Brazilians lead the series 4-3 as the two teams have met four times in FIVB “final fours” with Alison and Bruno winning the first three before losing last month’s title match in Poland.

To reach the semi-finals, the fifth-seeded Samoilovs and Smedins won both of their matches Saturday by the identical scores of 2-0 (21-18, 21-16) by eliminating 17th-seeded Grzegorz Fijalek/Mariusz Prudel of Poland in 37 minutes and fourth-seeded Jake Gibb/Casey Patterson of the United States in 38 minutes.

Alison and Bruno reached Sunday’s schedule by outlasting second-seeded Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands 2-0 (21-19, 24-22) in 41 minutes and 10th-seeded compatriots Pedro Solberg/Evandro Goncalves 2-0 (19-21, 21-14, 15-9) in 49 minutes.  The match against the Dutch pitted the last two FIVB world champions while the All-Brazilian affair featured the two teams that will represent the country in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.


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