Porec, Croatia, June 29,-2016 - Fourteen pairs, who are headed to the Copacabana celebration of Beach Volleyball in less than five week, compiled a 17-11 match record here Wednesday during the first of two days of pool play matches in the US$800,000 Porec Major.
With several of the Rio-bound Olympians sidelined due to injuries or recovering from the stress of playing a “heavier than usual” schedule before the 2016 Olympic Games, the top-seeded teams in August’s Summer Games were winning as expected Wednesday during the first two rounds of pool play action at three sites in this Croatian coastal resort town.
However, it was the play of Brazilians Fernanda Alves/Josemari Alves (Pool E) and Greeks Vasiliki Arvaniti/Penny Karagkouni (Pool F) that produced the biggest “surprises” Wednesday.
Seeded 21st-seeded after qualifying for the Main Draw, Fernanda and Josemari qualifiers defeated two teams headed to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games August 6-18 on Copacabana. With Fernanda sidelined for the first nine FIVB World Tour events this season due to shoulder surgery, the Brazilians were playing in only their third tournament this season with a ninth in Turkey (Antalya) and 17th in the United States (Cincinnati).
With both their wins Wednesday being three-set victories, Fernanda and Josemari posted triumphs over 12th-seeded Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat of the United States 2-1 (21-18, 19-21, 15-12) in 49 minutes and fifth-seeded Madelein Meppelink/Marleen Van Iersel of The Netherlands 2-1 (16-21, 21-14, 15-12) in 44 minutes.
With the two wins over the Rio-bound pairs, Fernanda and Josemari play 28th-seeded qualifiers Teresa Mersmann and Isabel Schneider of Germany for the Pool E title that rewards the winner with a first-round “bye” for elimination bracket matches along with a guaranteed ninth in the Porec Major.
When asked prior to the tournament about her team’s expectations, the 31-year old Fernanda said “we are still a very new team trying to learn how to play together. Any wins will be a great accomplishment since we are playing in a very tough pool against more experienced teams.”
Although Fernanda and Josemari lack experience together, the Brazilians don’t lack proficiency. While Josemari has more domestic experience than international, Fernanda teamed with Taiana Lima during the 2014 and 2015 FIVB World Tour seasons to win one gold medal with four podium placements and five “final four” finishes in 16 events together.
One of their two silver medals was earned at the 2015 FIVB World Championships in The Hague where Fernanda and Lima lost the finals to compatriots Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas. Josemari also won a pair of South American tour events earlier this season with Val Leao.
After the 27th-seeded Arvaniti and Karagkouni were routed in their first set by Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy, the Greeks rebounded to upset the sixth-seeded Australians 2-1 (9-21, 21-17, 15-11) in 38 minutes. Against 11th-seeded Rio-bound Isabelle Forrer and Anouk Verge-Depre of Switzerland, Arvaniti and Karagkouni posted a 2-0 (21-17, 21-17) win in 31 minutes.
Arvaniti and Karagkouni, who failed to qualify last week for Rio at last week’s European Continental Cup event in Stavanger, Norway, conclude pool play against 22nd-seeded qualifiers Maria Antonelli/Liliane Maestrini. The Brazilians lost to Forrer and Verge-Depre before defeating Bawden and Clancy Wednesday afternoon.
The Brazilian pairs of Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca (Pool A) and Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas (Pool C), the top two seeds in Rio when the Olympic action begins August 6, each posted 2-0 match marks Wednesday to gain berths in the elimination round. Both teams will be seeking to secure Thursday morning wins to net a “bye” for the first-round of bracket play that starts in the afternoon.
The defending Porec Major champions, the top-seeded Talita and Larissa improved their season record to 33-5 by defeating 32nd-seeded Samanta Fabris/Sara Radanovic of Croatia 2-0 (21-11, 21-17) in 22 minutes and 17th-seeded Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler of Germany 2-0 (21-16, 21-17) in 32 minutes.
The Brazilians conclude pool play Thursday against 16th-seeded Jamie Broder/Kristina Valjas of Canada, who are also bound for the Rio Olympics. Broder and Valjas split matches Wednesday with a setback to Germany and a win Croatia. Talita and Larissa have a 4-0 mark against the Canadians on the FIVB World Tour with their initial win in the series being 2-0 (21-19, 21-19) semi-final victory of the 2015 Porec Major.
Third-seeded Agatha and Barbara, the reigning FIVB world champions, scored wins Wednesday over 30th-seeded qualifiers Jagoda Gruszczynska/Dorota Strag of Poland 2-0 (21-12, 21-10) in 26 minutes and 19th-seeded qualifiers Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude Germany of Germany 2-0 (21-18, 22-20) in 36 minutes.
Agatha and Barbara are challenged by 14th-seeded Elsa Baquerizo/Liliana Fernandez of Spain in their last pool match for both pairs. The Spanish, who are also headed to Copacabana for their second-straight Olympic appearances, split their two matches Wednesday by losing to the Germans and defeating the Polish pair. Agatha and Barbara are 4-0 against the Spaniards with one of the wins being a three-set victory in the second-round of elimination at the 2015 FIVB World Championships in The Netherlands.
Here are the pool records from Wednesday for other Olympic-bound teams competing in the Porec Major.
Pool B - Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst, Germany - 2-0
Pool D - Heather Bansley/Sarah Pavan, Canada - 1-1, Marta Menegatti/Viktoria Orsi Toth, Italy - 1-1
Pool G - Karla Borger/Britta Buthe, Germany - 2-0, Fan Wang/Yuan Yue, China - 1-1
Pool H - Joana Heidrich/Nadine Zumkehr, Switzerland - 1-1
The women’s schedule Thursday features the last set of pool matches followed by the first round of elimination. The Rounds of 16 and 8 for women will be Friday with the “final four” contests Saturday. The men’s schedule will have pool play and elimination contests Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The men’s semi-finals and medal matches will be played Sunday. The winning women’s and men’s pairs will share the $57,000 first-place prizes.
Following the Porec Major, the SWATCH Series continues with stops in Switzerland (Gstaad, July 5-10) and Austria (Klagenfurt, July 26-31). Following the Olympics and the ASISCS World Series of Beach Volleyball at the end of August in the United States at Long Beach, the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals will be held September 8-13. The site for the event where the winning teams shared $100,000 first-place prizes, will be announced in the coming weeks.