Slovak Republic celebration for Natalia Dubovcova (left) and Domimka Nestarcova.
Olsztyn, Poland, June 17, 2016 - Teams that posted 1-2 pool play records usually don’t recover to win FIVB World Tour gold medals as those pairs must win three elimination matches just to reach the semi-finals at a FIVB World Tour event.
But that was not the case here Friday at the US$800,000 Olsztyn Grand Slam where ninth-seeded qualifiers Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa/Elize Maia of Brazil and 23rd-seeded Natalia Dubovcova/Dominika Nestarcova of the Slovak Republic each won three elimination matches to advance to Saturday’s semi-finals where two Olympic-bound pairs will be waiting.
Duda and Elize Maia had an easier path to the semi-finals where the Brazilians meet third-seeded Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst of Germany. The two teams have met once before on the FIVB World Tour with the Germans defeating Duda and Elize Maia last October for the gold medal in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Dubovcova and Nestarcova’s task was to upset three Olympic-bound pairs from Poland, Canada and The Netherlands that were seeded among the top six in the second annual Olsztyn Grand Slam. The Slovakians accomplished the feat to meet second-seeded Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca of Brazil in the semi-finals. The Brazilians have defeated Dubovcova and Nestarcova twice with both matches being in pool play.
After eliminating 12th-seeded Marketa Slukova/Barbora Hermannova of the Czech Republic 2-0 (21-14, 21-12) in 27 minutes and 16th-seeded Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude of Germany 2-0 (21-18, 23-21) in 33 minutes, Duda and Elize Maia scored a 2-1 (21-11, 19-21, 15-12) win in 38 minutes over Nina Betschart/Tanja Huberli of Switzerland to advance to their fifth FIVB World Tour “final four” in 11 international starts together.
Dubovcova and Nestarcova, who will compete next week in the CEV Continental Cup Finals in Norway for a shot at an Olympic berth in Rio, started Friday by defeating top-seeded Kinga Kolosinska/Monika Brzostek of Poland 2-1 (25-27, 21-16, 15-11) in 56 minutes followed by a 2-1 (21-18, 15-21, 16-14) victory in 47 minutes over fourth-seeded Sarah Pavan/Heather Bansley of Canada.
To reach only their third FIVB World Tour semi-final in 63 international starts together, Dubovcova and Nestarcova scored a 21-17, 21-19) win in 36 minutes over sixth-seeded Madelein Meppelink/Marleen Van Iersel of The Netherlands, who were seeking their second trip to an Olsztyn “final four” after placing second last season by losing the finale to Talita and Larissa.
After winning their pool Thursday, Talita and Larissa posted wins Friday over11th-seeded Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler of Germany 2-0 (21-12, 21-15) in 28 minutes and eighth-seeded Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat of the United States 2-0 (21-13, 21-10) in 24 minutes. Saturday’s appearance will be Talita and Larissa’s 15th semi-final in 22 FIVB World Tour events.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst, who captured the gold medal at last week’s smart Major Hamburg, posted wins Friday over 17th-seeded Melissa Humana-Paredes/Taylor Pischke of Canada 2-0 (21-17, 21-18) in 31 minutes and 10th-seeded Liliana Fernandez/Elsa Baquerizo of Spain 2-0 (21-18, 16-21, 15-8) in 40 minutes. The Germans have now reached a FIVB “final four” in 14 of 33 events they have entered.
One of Friday’s biggest upsets was posted by Betschart and Huberli, who scored a 2-1 (21-19, 17-21, 18-16) second-round elimination win over fifth-seeded and reigning FIVB world champions Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas of Brazil. Agatha and Barbara are Olympic-bound and finished second to Ludwig and Walkenhorst last week in Hamburg.
"I think it was one of my biggest wins,” said the 23-year old Hüberli after the match, “and for us as a team, it's definitely the biggest win in our young career.”
When asked how her team managed to win, Hüberli added “we are here without our coach. Normally we have a discussion before the game, like a game plan. Today, after our first game, we didn't have any idea. We didn't watch any videos on Agatha and Barbara. We just got a short WhatsApp message from our coaches. And they said if you win this game, we are never going to come again. I think we just played and didn't think about winning. And it worked out well."
The Olsztyn Grand Slam will have elimination rounds for men Saturday while the women play their “final four” matches. The men’s semi-final and medal matches will be played Sunday. The winning teams will share the $57,000 first-place prizes.