The second annual Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball is underway in Long Beach this week. Founder Leonard Armato will attempt to top what was an excellent event last year with even more great players and a music festival surrounding the event. This year, just about all of the top international players will be participating including the top 15 ranked women's teams and 13 of the top 15 on the men's side.
When the American men set out over eight weeks ago for the preliminary round of the 2014 World League competition, expectations were not exactly high. Without several of the staples from the last few quads and with one of the few veterans, Reid Priddy, suffering an injury in the early going, even making the final round seemed questionable. No one would have predicted that this particular incarnation of the men's team could have the wherewithal to win the entire tournament. Yet that's exactly what they did.
After a strong start to the season for the U.S. women, it is now the men who've been performing consistently and garnering top international finishes. American men have appeared in each of the last five men's grand slam finals and in two of those five both finalists were American pairs.
With two years to go before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the USA women's team is already looking strong and deep. In two matches against World No. 1 Brazil, the U.S. women won in four sets on night one and three sets on night two. Coach Karch Kiraly utilized a different line up each night, but the American women did not miss a beat. The team looked much more solid than expected which has great implications for what is to come as they continue to build toward 2016.
At 41 years old, John Hyden is supposed to be in the twilight of his career. When his long time partner, Sean Scott, retired after the 2012 season, Hyden could have called it quits as well. It's tough to break in a new partner after so many years and so much success with one person. But Hyden wasn't quite done and instead of shrinking into the middle of the pack he has re-emerged and re-invented himself with a new young partner.
Though the second half of the 2014 World League preliminary round did not go as smoothly for the U.S. men as the first half did, the team did what it had to do to earn a spot in the final round by winning one of two matches against Serbia in the final weekend of play. With the split, the Americans won Pool B, finishing with a 9-3 record and 24 points. That's enough to advance along with Russia, which finished in second place in the pool.
The USA women will compete on U.S. soil this weekend in what will hopefully be a preview of the 2016 Olympic gold medal match in Rio de Janeiro. The U.S. will host the first two of four matches against World No. 1 Brazil for the USAV Cup.
The USA men continue to lead their World League pool and could clinch a spot in the 2014 World League Final round in Italy this weekend with just one win over Serbia. After splitting two matches with Russia last weekend, the men now have a record of 8-2. They need to remain in the top two in the pool to move on, so one win should be enough.
2014 has the makings for a very good summer for American beach volleyball. Last weekend at the Grand Slam event in Stavanger, American pairs won gold in both the men's and women's competition. That brings the US total to five golds in eight tournaments, the most of any country on the FIVB Tour. No other country has more than two golds so far.
The Iranian men’s team scored a huge victory with two wins over perennial powerhouse Italy over the weekend in World League competition. The wins show that Iran can compete with some of the best teams in the world and that they are becoming a world class program. I wish that was the entirety of the World League news to come out of that country this week. But that good news was overshadowed by an incredible decision by the Iranian government to ban all women from attending World League matches.