ROSARITO, Mexico (March 23, 2022) – Qualifier day for a Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour tournament is normally pressure-packed. Win and in, lose and done. It’s tough for anybody.
Now, make your opponents among the best teams in the world. That’s what four U.S. Beach National Team pairs faced Wednesday at the Rosarito Elite 16 in Rosarito, Mexico. And two of them – Sara Hughes/Kelley Kolinske and Chaim Schalk/Theo Brunner – successfully navigated the two-match gauntlet to reach the main draw.
“You have to be one of the top four teams playing basically in a normal tournament,” Lauren Fendrick said, referencing the 16-team qualifier field for Thursday’s 16-team main draw. “You have the top 28 teams in the world… a normal tournament’s 32 teams.”
Hughes/Kolinske beat a Japanese squad in the first round of their “normal tournament,” and then they bested Hegeile Almeida dos Santos/Taiana de Souza Lima of Brazil in an instant classic during round two. All three sets against the Brazilians went to extra points, and Hughes/Kolinske successfully came back from a first-set loss. After winning the second 22-20 to force a third, the Americans rallied again, turning an 8-10 Brazil advantage into a 17-15 U.S. win and a main draw berth.
“It means everything for a new team like us,” Hughes said about reaching the main draw. “That was such a good battle with Brazil … but we played our game, and that’s exactly what we wanted.”
On the men’s side, Schalk/Brunner clinched their berth with a close two-set win over countrymen Chase Budinger/Troy Field. Schalk/Brunner took a 14-9 lead halfway through the first set, but Budinger/Field narrowed it. They couldn’t complete the comeback, and Schalk/Brunner took the frame 21-19. In the second, it was the victors needing a comeback, erasing an early two-point deficit for a 21-18 set victory.
“Our goal was to get out of the qualifier, and this was the hardest, nastiest qualifier there’s ever been on the international tour,” Schalk said. “Four teams coming out of it out of the top 28 in the world is ridiculously tough.”
Earlier in the day, Budinger/Field beat Sweden’s David Ahman/Jonatan Hellvig, 2-1, while Schalk/Brunner swept Norway’s Mathias Bernsten/Hendrik Mol to force the all-American matchup.
Fendrick and partner Emily Stockton also competed in the qualifier, falling in the first round to Tokyo 2020 Olympians Karla Borger/Julia Sude of Germany.
In the main draw, Hughes/Kolinske join Pool B, and they’ll first face fellow Americans Sarah Sponcil/Terese Cannon. Schalk/Brunner join Pool C on the men’s side.
Rounding out American involvement in the main draw are Emily Day/April Ross, Kelly (Claes) Cheng/Betsi Flint and Tri Bourne/Trevor Crabb. Cheng/Flint will be the first U.S. pair to compete, facing Tokyo 2020 bronze medalists Joana Heidrich/Anouk Verge-Depre of Switzerland at 9 a.m. Pacific Thursday, March 24.