Of the eight teams in the semifinals in Leuven, half were from the qualifier; of the six medals awarded, half went to qualifier teams.
On a chilly Thursday morning, under a cold and wet and slate gray Leuven sky, the 10 seed in the Leuven qualifier played the 7. It was a match that, even in the best of conditions, if you were to judge purely on seeding alone, would have been one to miss. Yet under an umbrella, with a steady patter of rain providing the soundtrack to the match, sat an American observer and a referee, who was off on this particular match.
“Why,” he asked, “are you watching this match?”
Because, came the reply, that 10 seed, the one comprised of Zana Muno and Crissy Jones, is the best team in the tournament.
“Are you sure?”
"You're not just being an American fan?"
In three days, the young American women would prove that to be true.
One-stars are a fascinating type of event. Most teams are not well known, save for the few veterans who are playing with up-and-coming youngsters, teaching them a thing or two. Or the host country’s top team, like Belgium’s Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle, who wouldn’t typically play a 1-star unless their federation was the host. Seeding is almost irrelevant, as tournaments can feature the likes of a team like Muno and Jones, who have taken as high as a third place on the AVP Tour yet barely had a single FIVB point to their names.
They were just one of four qualifier teams to make the semifinals in Leuven this weekend.
Muno and Jones would finish with the highest of honours on Sunday, winning gold in Leuven in Muno’s first international event and Jones’ second. But to do so, they needed to beat another team who emerged from the qualifier, Germany’s Chenoa Christ and Anna-Lena Grüne, who were seeded eighth in the qualifier and had to beat the top-seeded qualifier team and the No. 6, 8 and 2 seeds in the main draw.
You can label these results as monumental upsets, as they are on paper, or you can label it simply what it is: the usual one-star fireworks.
Such is the nature of this level of play. Take France’s Tom Altwies and Arnaud Loiseau, for example. They began Leuven as the third seed in the qualifier and won six straight matches to make it into the finals, against van Walle and Koekelkoren. They even took the first set off the Belgians, 22-20, the only team to do so all weekend. In the end it would be van Walle and Koekelkoren who won gold, prevailing in the final two sets of the finals, 21-18, 15-13, in front of a delighted home crowd. But still: it was a third medal for a qualifier team.
No bronze would be won by a qualifier team. Slovenia’s Crtomir Bosnjak and Danijel Pokersnik made sure of that. they held off French youngsters Liam Patte and Timothee Platre, the top seed in the qualifier, for bronze, 21-10, 17-21, 15-11.
All in all, half of the teams in the semifinals began in the qualifier, and half of the medals awarded went to those who began in Thursday’s pouring rain. That’s the way these one-stars go.
The best team could be the home favourites.
Could be the team you’ve never heard of.
Could be the dangerous ones emerging from the qualifiers.