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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Holly McPeak's article on beach vb in the Olympics

Beach volleyball preview: Walsh and May own the sand
By Holly McPeak, Yahoo! Sports, Special to Yahoo! Sports
1 hour, 30 minutes ago

Buzz Up Print

Beach volleyball was thrust into the spotlight in 2004 at the Athens Summer Games, and with legends like Kerri Walsh and Misty May returning to the sand, the beach is the place to be once again in Beijing.

Here are some story lines to watch in the Olympic beach volleyball competition:

1) Trio of stars leads U.S. women

Kerri Walsh (left) and Misty May-Treanor.
(Jim McIssac / Getty Images)Three-time Olympians Elaine Youngs, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor have experience on their side as they try to bring home a pair of medals for the United States in beach volleyball.

Walsh (2000 indoor, 2004 beach) and May-Treanor (2000 beach, 2004 beach) are riding a record 96-match winning streak dating to July 2007. They are seeded second because host country China gets the first seed.

Youngs (1996 indoor, 2004 beach) is paired with first-time Olympian Nicole Branagh and seeded fifth.

2) Defending world champions representing the U.S.

On the men’s side, Phil Dalhauser and Todd Rogers are the favorites after sweeping the last three Grand Slam events and winning 33 straight matches and five straight tournaments. Rogers/Dalhausser dominated the World Championships in Gstaad in 2007 and look to win their first Olympic gold.

On the women’s side, Walsh and May-Treanor, also defending 2007 world champions, are the team to beat. They are the defending gold medalists and have dominated the AVP and FIVB world tour for the past six years and come in with a record 17 straight tournament titles.

3) Raised in the West, Rosenthal rises in the East

Sean Rosenthal grew up in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, a beach community where surf, sun and sand are a way of life, and spent a lot time at the beach hanging out with friends. With a mother who was battling a drug addiction and an absentee father, “Rosie” did not have any boundaries set for him. He was fortunate to have a grandmother who took him in, but money was tight and they had to make a welfare check stretch every month.



Gold: Walsh and May are too dominant and pull themselves out of tough situations by wearing down opponents and forcing errors.

Silver: Branagh and Youngs have a good chance to win silver and push Walsh and May for the gold. They need to serve well and make sure that they can pass the tough serves from the Chinese, Germans and Brazilians. Branagh and Youngs have their work cut out for them because they’ll have to play the young Chinese team of Chen Xue and Xi Zhang, who have beaten them all four times they’ve played this year, and the No. 1-seeded Chinese team, Tian Jia and Jie Wang, to reach the gold medal match.

Bronze: If the seeds stand after pool play, the Brazilian team of Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca will be the No. 3 seed and face Walsh and May in the semifinals. Juliana and Larissa will not be at 100 percent because of the serious knee injury that Juliana suffered in June. This gives them a chance at the bronze, but I think the Chinese team of Tian Jia and Jie Wang will beat them for the bronze medal.


Gold: Dalhausser and Rogers have been the hottest team on the international circuit over the past five events and are peaking at the right time. Phil has become the most dominant player in the world, and Rogers remains solid all around and is the brains and experience behind this team. They can beat anybody in the world and should capture gold.

Silver: Germany’s Julius Brink and Christoph Dieckmann have been one of the most dangerous teams in the world, and according to most of their competition are the best serving team in the world. They should match up against the top Chinese men’s team and have a good chance to challenge Rogers/Dalhausser for the gold.

Bronze: Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos are the defending gold medalists and have been the team to beat the past four years. They are consistently at the top of the world rankings and are experienced Olympians who have a chance to push Dalhausser and Rogers in the semifinals to get to the gold-medal match. Ricardo is coming off an ankle/foot injury that has kept him out of the last four international events.

Rosie impressed coaches with his enormous athletic ability but was unable to compete on school teams because of poor grades. He admits he did no homework; his passion was sports, and as soon as the bell rang at the end of the school day, he would either be playing or watching sports until bedtime.

His exceptional jumping ability and incredible quickness led him to professional beach volleyball after informally learning to play the sport while hanging out at the beach with friends. He qualified for his first pro tournament at 16, and it was only a matter of time until top players saw his enormous potential. When Jake Gibb called him three years ago to team up, Rosenthal rededicated himself and spent his first day in the gym lifting weights. With no formal training on or off the court, this was a huge step in maturing as a high-level athlete. He stepped up to the challenge of international travel and competition. His play has become more consistent and his game strategy has improved tremendously under the tutelage of coach Mike Dodd.

Rosie has become more professional in the way he approaches the sport, and his dream of standing on the podium in Beijing with a medal around his neck is within reach.

4) Nicole Branagh’s steep learning curve

After Branagh won AVP Tour Rookie of the Year in the 2005 season, I got on the court with her to see what kind of potential she had for 2006. Right away, I knew she had what it took to be a great player. We trained hard and qualified for two finals before losing to Walsh and May-Treanor. Players started to notice, and Elaine Youngs stole her to develop as her potential 2008 Olympic partner. There were lots of doubts because Nicole was a big player (6-foot-1) who played mostly at the net for blocking, and Elaine was a blocker as well. Who would play defense?

Sure, these two players could pass, set and put the ball away with ease, but could they run around and play defense well enough to challenge the best teams in the world? Their teammates had always been smaller and quicker and responsible for defense, but now it was their turn. Nicole has improved tremendously since the end of the 2006 season and has impressed me defensively. She is quick and able to pick up balls that she couldn’t three years ago. The big key to her defense is the fact that if she digs the ball, it is almost a sure kill because her size gives her so much offensive range. What they give up in defense they make up in offense.

Youngs and Branagh are two of the best offensive players in the world. Look for Branagh to impress on both sides of the court for along time to come.



• Brazil’s Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca have been one of the best teams on the FIVB tour since 2005. They have dominated the last three years and have won over 20 tournaments since 2004. They won two events in 2008 when May/Walsh did not compete.

Juliana tore her ACL in the Paris event in June and has not competed since. She has elected to postpone surgery until after the games. I have played with two partners who were dealing with serious injuries heading into the games: Nancy Reno had a torn rotator cuff in 1996 and Misty May had a torn abdominal muscle/sports hernia in 2000. We did every thing we could to get ready, but it was impossible to regain our top form.

Timing is everything, and the stress on the body, the pressure of the competition and the need to be in your best mindset are hard to achieve with these injuries. I expect Juliana and Larissa to do well enough in pool play but struggle in the single-elimination playoff. I don’t see them regaining their top level form by the Olympics. That has been my experience.

Juliana and Larissa are a great team, and if anybody can surprise me, it would be them. At only 5-foot-9, Juliana is the big player on this team. She has long arms and is a good jumper. Her role is to jump serve, run to the net and either jump or pull off the net and play defense. That is a lot of pressure on a weak knee. Her competition will test her by serving her every ball and doubling her workload.

• Greece’s Vasiliki Arvaniti and Vasiliki Karantasiou have been one of the only teams other than the Brazilians, Chinese or Americans to get on the podium at a big grand slam event. They beat some very strong U.S. teams en route to a silver medal in Norway. With a great jump serve and strong ball control, the Greeks have a chance to pull an upset.

• Germany’s Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig are a skilled team that can dominate a match with their serving. Their downfall is that they play every team almost the same. If they can come up with some good game plans against the top teams and their serves are hot, they can surprise a top seed.


Reinder Nummerdor (right) and Richard Schuil.
(Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)• The Netherlands’ Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil have been one of the more consistent teams of the FIVB tour and have had some big finishes this year. They have incredible size at the net, and if they are siding out well, they have a great chance to knock off a top team.

• Russia’s Dmitry Barsuk and Igor Kolodinskiy are another solid pair. With an amazing jump serve from Barsouk nicknamed “bazooka,” they can do damage if he catches fire. Living and dying by your serve is risky, but that is their best chance to surprise the field in Beijing.

• Spain’s Pablo Herrera and Raul Mesa are a solid side-out team but don’t have as much size at the net as some of their opponents. They have some Olympic experience and could surprise with their consistent play.

• Marcio Araujo and Fabio Magalhaes of Brazil have been a team to beat in the past, but they really struggled in 2008 to find their rhythm and had no success until the most recent event in Marseille, France, where they were able to win gold in a diminished field. If that win gave them the confidence they need to regain their form, they too could go far in the single-elimination rounds.

Holly McPeak is a three-time U.S. beach volleyball Olympian and bronze medalist from Athens 2004. She is one of the winningest players in pro beach volleyball history with 72 pro titles and six MVP awards. Holly is currently competing on the AVP tour in her 18th season and does color commentary for the AVP and women's collegiate indoor volleyball. Send Holly a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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