Following Thursdayâ€™s last of three pool play matches, 24 of the worldâ€™s best young-adult womenâ€™s tandems have advanced to single-elimination play as they enjoy the Halifax Harbor sunshine, soothing summer breezes and the heated competition at the 2012 FIVB Beach Volleyball SWATCH Junior World Championships for players under the age of 21. This yearâ€™s 12th annual double-gender event began Wednesday in Halifax, a regional municipality of over 300,000 residents located in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada.
Winning their respective pools with undefeated records to earn automatic advancement to Fridayâ€™s second round of the single-elimination bracket phase of the tournament are teams from eight countriesâ€”Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the United States.
The world championship event is being held through Sunday at the purpose-built beach volleyball complex on the Salter Lot of the Halifax Waterfront. This is the not only the second time in the eventâ€™s 12-year history that it is being held in North America, but also the second straight year in Halifax.
The teams started pool play on Wednesday divided into eight four-team pools for round-robin play of three matches per team. The women began with two rounds on Wednesday and one on Thursday, while the men had two rounds on Thursday and one on Friday.
The top three teams in each pool (24 total) are advancing to the single-elimination bracket phase of the tournament.Â The women will begin their single elimination phase with two rounds on Friday followed by the womenâ€™s quarterfinals and semifinals on Saturday. Men will play their first elimination round on Friday, followed by the second round and quarterfinals on Saturday and the semifinals on Sunday morning.
The bronze and gold medal matches for each gender will be held on Sunday event at the SEA stadium center court.
Undefeated teams leading the way with 3-0 marks while winning their respective pools are USAâ€™s third-seeded Sara Hughes/Summer Ross, Germanyâ€™s fourth-seeded Kim Behrens/Christine Aulenbrock, Brazilâ€™s seventh-seeded Drussyla Costa/Rebecca Silva, Russiaâ€™s ninth-seeded Ksenia Dabizha/Ekaterina Karapischenko, Czech Republicâ€™s 11th-seeded Eliska Galova/Tereza Vankova and Australiaâ€™s 12th-seeded Mariafe Artacho/Taliqua Clancy.
Canadaâ€™s top-seeded Melissa Humana-Paredes/Taylor Pischke won their pool with a 2-0 record and Switzerlandâ€™s second-seeded Nina Betschart/Anouk Verge-Depre won their only match to win their pool as travel issues eliminated two teams from their pool.
Because the field is 30 teams instead of 32 due to visa and travel issues with several countries forcing withdraws from the tournament, a draw will be held Thursday night between the top two fourth-place pool finishers to determine the final two spots to begin elimination play on Friday.
In the deciding matches in two pools, a pair of 2-0 teams faced off with Germanyâ€™s Aulenbrock/Behrens defeating Norwayâ€™s 13th-seeded Irmelin Sannarnes/Signe Tauboll in three sets and Russiaâ€™s Dabizha/Karapischenko winning their pool by beating Austriaâ€™s eighth-seeded Lena Plsiutschnig/Katharina Schuetzenhoefer in two sets.
Switzerlandâ€™s Betschart, who won the gold medal last year in Halifax with Joana Heidrich, is playing this year with Verge-Depre. Verge-Depre, who finished fifth in the 2009 youth worlds in Alanya, Turkey, has played in 11 FIVB SWATCH World Tour events, including seven this season. The Swiss tandem advanced with their single two-set win over a team from Venezuela on Wednesday.
Another one of the top womenâ€™s entries is USAâ€™s Ross, who won the inaugural USA national collegiate sand volleyball pairs championship this past spring. Ross, who is playing with Sara Hughes for the first time in Halifax, was a double gold-medal winner in 2010, winning the youth world championship with Jane Croson in Porto, Portugal and the junior worlds with Tara Roenicke in Alanya, Turkey.
Playing in their first tournament together, Ross/Hughes earned their first-round bye with their Thursday win over Mexicoâ€™s 14th-seeded Maura Martinez/Claudia Rios, 21-17, 23-21 in 34 minutes.
Down 19-21 in the second set, Ross/Hughes rallied by outscoring Martinez/Rios, 6-2 to end the set and earn their third pool play match victory.
Said Ross Thursday following her teamâ€™s third win in the tournament, â€śEven though we have never played together before, we have known each other several years and we are starting our partnership very well overall. In all three of our wins in pool play we started strong in the first set and then in the second set of the last two against Australia and Mexico our opponents rallied but we closed them both out so we didn’t have to go three sets.Â Now the tournament gets really tough and there are a lot of very good teams here in Halifax.â€ť
Among the other top returning womenâ€™s players is Canadaâ€™s Humana-Paredes who won the silver medal in Halifax last year with Victoria Altomare. Humana-Paredes is playing this yearâ€™s event with Taylor Pischke.
In winning their abbreviated pool, Humana-Paredes/Pischke, who two weeks ago won the Canadian National Championship, earned their second win on Thursday, defeating Israelâ€™s 16th-seeded Yael Lotan/Viktoria Nesterov, 21-9, 21-7 in just 24 minutes.
Humana-Paredes commented after her teamâ€™s impressive win, â€śThere is a lot of tough competition here in Halifax. Itâ€™s going to be a dog fight, but a good one. Playing with Taylor makes us a different team than in the past.Â Taylor is a permanent blocker and is a huge force and I am a defender and a finesse player so I think we will be a factor as the tournament moves forward.Â We definitely have a good start in winning our pool and putting us into the second round of elimination.â€ť
As the host nation, Canada has three menâ€™s teams and four womenâ€™s teams qualified into their respective 32-team fields. Besides Humana-Paredes and new teammate Pischke, the three other womenâ€™s teams representing Canada are Julia Hamer/Charlotte Sider, Sophie Bukovec/Julie Longman and Meaghan MacDougal and Hillary Monette. In pool play, Humana/Paredes/Pischke were 2-0, Hamer/Sider were 1-2 and both Bukovec/Longman and MacDougal/Monette were 0-3.
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The gold medal team in each gender in Halifax will also be rewarded by the FIVB and the organizers with wild cards and free transportation and an automatic main draw berth in a FIVB SWATCH World Tour event in 2012 or 2013. A total of 2,000 tons of special sand was transported to the SEA stadium complex to build the four competition and two practice courts for the venue, which includes the 3,000-seat featured SEA stadium center court.
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