Vitoria, Brazil, March 20, 2016 - It took nearly three full tournaments, but Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes finally discovered the secret of winning in their home country.
The Brazilians, boosted by a roaring crowd under a hot sun on the first day of fall in the Southern hemisphere, emerged with the $150,000 FIVB Vitoria Open gold medal with a 2-0 (22-20, 21-19) victory over April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States on Camburi Beach.ERASING A DEFICIT
Larissa and Talita erased a 16-11 deficit plus two set points against them in the first game, then Talita came up with consecutive blocks of Walsh Jennings to close out the match in the second game.
It was the third tournament in 2016 on Brazilian sand for the Olympians and their first medal after missing out in Maceio and Rio de Janeiro.
“It feels real good,” Talita said. “I feel like I have no words to tell you what this feels like.”
In the battle for the bronze medal, Ilka Semmler and Katrin Holtwick of Germany scored a 2-1 (20-22, 21-17, 15-11) win over Australians Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy.
Larissa and Talita won seven of the 10 FIVB events they entered in 2015 to earn one of Brazil’s two spots for the Rio 2016 Olympics. But in Maceio and Rio, they were upended in the first round of the knockout phase.PERFECTION
This time, they marched to the final without dropping a game to set up a showdown with Ross and Walsh Jennings, who blitzed the field to capture the FIVB Rio Grand Slam and had started the 2016 season with a 13-0 match record.
Ross and Walsh Jennings, still chasing their own country’s Olympic qualification standards, silenced the crowd early in the first game and took a five-point lead. That dissipated in a hurry in a five-point run by Larissa and Talita.
“We didn’t think about the score,” Talita said. “We just thought about doing what we had to do at that time, play together, think about our sideouts, good serve, good block. If you think about the score, it’s the worst.
“We have to take it step by step.”
And with each step it became louder and the Brazilians kept finding a way to get the ball past Walsh Jennings at the net and Ross in the backcourt. HERE AND THERE
“Momentum,” Walsh Jennings said of the key to the first game. “Just a couple plays here and there and they made good plays. We didn’t take advantage of a couple things, a bad ace at the wrong time, things like that. It’s just the ABCs that fell apart a little bit. Mostly, we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had.
“April was on everything, I touched so many balls and those are going to fall for us, I have no doubt. The more we play them, the better we are going to be.”
Larissa and Talita, who will share $11,000 in prize money, jumped out to the lead to open the second game, but Ross and Walsh Jennings regained control and took a 19-18 lead. It was 19-19 when Talita twice got to Walsh Jennings for blocks that decided the match.
“They have to play amazing to beat us,” Walsh Jennings said, “and we need to break their runs and we’re very capable of doing that.”THE STANDARD
Did the Brazilians play to their 'amazing' standards?
“If they said this, yes, maybe we played amazing,” Talita said with a smile, “but I think we can play better.”
The teams last met in the 2015 Long Beach Grand Slam in California, though Walsh Jennings was stymied by a shoulder injury that curtailed her season and eventually required surgery to repair.
The new shoulder was one of the questions the Americans wanted to answer on their trip to Brazil and even with a gold-medal defeat, they leave for the West Coast of the USA encouraged.
“We had two good tournaments, we learned a lot, we were happy with a lot of our play,” said Ross, whose team collects $8,000. “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, but it’s a good start to the season for us.”GERMAN GLEE
Holtwick and Semmler had also been frustrated by their first two Brazilian tournaments with a fifth in Maceio and 17th in Rio. But they showed they are a serious contender for their own Olympic team with a third-place finish for their first time reaching he podium since 2014.
“We started off OK with a fifth place in Maceio,” said Semmler, who will share $6,000 with Holtwick. “We wanted to make more in Rio but it didn’t happen and we had a tough week there.
“We worked really hard to have a better result here and it paid off so well. In the end these weeks were good for us and to leave with a bronze medal at the end of the Brazil journey - we’re pretty happy with that.”