The Hague, The Netherlands, July 4, 2015 - Call them underdogs, call them longshots, call them lucky for their draw – whatever you choose to call them, Theo Brunner and Nick Lucena of the United States are simply trying to capture some magic from season’s past in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Netherlands 2015.
They are the “new kids on the block” as far as International play is concerned. In soccer they would be called caps, events representing your country; while Lucena has been playing intermittently since 2005 and has 69, Brunner has just 16 in three seasons. Compared to Brazil’s Pedro Solberg who has 117 along with Netherland’s Reinder Nummerdor and Brazil’s Alison with 86, Brunner is a mere infant on the FIVB World Tour. Of the other players in the final four, Brazil’s Evandro has the least with 38.
They are the lowest seeded team remaining at 15th, and no team seeded below 13th has ever won an FIVB World Championship in nine previous tries. The closest 15th seed was another American team, Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger who lost in the 2003 finals, played in Rio de Janeiro, against the home team Brazilians, Emanuel and Ricardo, 21-18 and 21-15 in 44 minutes. Brunner and Lucena will have to beat a Brazilian team in The Hague just to reach the finals, where they could play another home team if Reinder Nummerdor and Christiaan Varenhorst win the other semi-final match.
The Americans are also the only team in the final four who have never won an FIVB World Tour event; their best finish is the bronze medal they won in the last event before the World Championships, held in St. Petersburg, USA, their home country. Their opponents in the semi-finals, Alison and Bruno, won the Klagenfurt Grand Slam last season, while the other Brazilian team of Evandro and Pedro Solberg won the Stavanger Major Series last month, and Nummerdor and Varenhorst have won two times since forming late last season, in the São Paulo Grand Slam and Mangaung Open, both in 2014.
Those are all the reasons why they shouldn’t win, but beach volleyball history tells a different story in its biggest events. In the last World Championships held in Stare Jablonki, Poland in 2013, Netherland’s Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen had a best finish of 5th in 23 events before shocking the world to capture the gold. The Dutch were also the lowest seeded team in the final four in 2013, seeded 13th, the lowest to win, and had to defeat a team from Brazil in the gold medal match, which could be a possibility in the finals this year.
History doesn’t stop there for beach volleyball; two American teams got their first International wins in the first two Olympic Games for beach volleyball as a sport. In 1996, legendary American Karch Kiraly and his partner, Kent Steffes, won the gold in Atlanta, their first time playing together on the world’s stage. While Karch and Kent were already superstars on the American Domestic tour, amassing 71 victories, and the event was held in the United States, another pair of Americans got their first win four years later in Sydney against all the odds.
Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana were far from favorites on Bondi Beach in 2000 as the 9th-seeded team. Their previous best on the FIVB World Tour was a silver medal two years earlier in their 22 events together. They had won three times on the American Domestic tour but in 37 events, hardly iconic status like Kiraly and Steffes. Like Brunner and Lucena, they won the bronze medal in the last event leading up to the Olympics that season in Ostend, Belgium before beating a team from Brazil in the Sydney finals, Zé Marco and Ricardo, 12-11 and 12-9 in one hour and 41 minutes with the previous side out scoring system.
While Brunner‘s and Lucena’s odds of winning seem very slim of the World Championships in 2015, history has proven itself to be on the side of the underdogs. The Americans are just hoping to capture some of that magic to win against all the odds.