Chantal Laboureur (center) celebrates a Huntington Beach Open semifinal-qualifying win with German partner Julia Sude over a team from the United States.
Huntington Beach, USA, May 5, 2018 - With their tournament lives at stake, with a semifinal spot in the 2018 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Huntington Beach Open presented by the AVP on the line, two teams outfought drama, the conditions and determined opponents to advance on Saturday.
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First, it was Germany’s Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude overcoming a wildly partisan crowd to defeat Summer Ross and Sara Hughes of the United States, 2-0 (21-16, 21-18). Then Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes won a staredown with countrywomen Brandie Wilkerson and Heather Bansley to emerge with a 2-0 (25-23, 21-16) victory.
The Germans, who finished the 2017 season ranked No. 7 on the FIVB World Tour, entered this event ranked No. 43 after dropping three of the season’s first seven matches.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Sude said. “There were some problems in the beginning of the season, but step by step we were sneaking forward from a 17, fifth, now we’re in the semifinals and let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
“To play here in the centre court against the USA in the USA you have to be very confident in what you are doing and I am always very emotional, and it worked out very well,” Laboureur said. “It’s just amazing to see the things that you try to do in practice work out. That’s a good feeling.”
They’ve won five of their six matches in the double-elimination and get a chance for revenge in Sunday’s semifinal when they take on Brazilians Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado, the only team to beat the Germans. They scored a relatively easy 2-0 (21-18, 21-16) win over the Germans in the fourth round.
“We need to play a little more consistently,” Laboureur said. “We had a lot of break chances yesterday and we didn’t finish the play, so we need to work on this to get the ball in the sand.”
They jumped on Hughes and Ross to take a 14-7 lead in the first set, then had to battle during a second set that had eight ties and four lead changes until Laboureur and Sude won five of the final six points.
“In the beginning we played very aggressively and then on the sideout, we lost it a little bit,” Sude said. “We also changed the tactics by ourselves, by accident. Sorry, coach. We lost our focus a little bit and there was a strange wind inside (the stadium), but they are a strong team. In the first set everything worked out well for us.”
Things weren’t looking as good for Pavan and Humana-Paredes, the tournament’s second seed and the team that was coming off a victory in Xiamen, China. They trailed Wilkerson and Bansley, Pavan’s former Olympic partner, at 19-16 before battling back to tie it and made the right plays the rest of the set.
They’ve reached the semifinals in nine of their last 10 tournaments, including their Commonwealth Games victory last month.
“We always believe we can win no matter what the score is,” Pavan said. “We’ve come back from some gnarly deficits and won. We just never believe that we’re going to lose.
“We are learning that we can make it work even when we’re not playing our best. We are learning that we have it in us to find what it takes and to trust each other even if one or both of us is just not feeling it. It’s been windy, the conditions have been a little nasty in the afternoon and we’ve taken care of it.”
The Canadians also have a semifinal meeting against a Brazilian team. Pavan and Humana-Paredes will face Barbara Seixas and Fernanda Alves, who have won 10 consecutive matches and are 13-1 on the season.
“It’s going to be great volleyball,” Humana-Paredes said. “Hopefully it’ll be true volleyball and we can go out there and show everyone what good volleyball looks like and what we can do. We’re excited for another tough battle.”