International Volleyball

Nina Brunner, Tanja Huberli win first gold

Nina Brunner-Tanja Huberli

The idea was to medal in Guadalajara. For Nina Brunner and Tanja Huberli to play their first Challenge event in two years. To feel the pressure of being the one seed, the expectations of a medal. Of getting every teamโ€™s best shot, and to hand it right back, that their best wasnโ€™t good enough.

It didnโ€™t work.

It worked out better than planned.

Brunner and Huberli did not medal in last weekendโ€™s Guadalajara Challenge. Instead, they finished ninth, upset by qualifiers Sophie Bukovec and Heather Bansley. But those reps? That loss? They paved the way for a far bigger moment: A gold medal at this weekโ€™s Tepic Elite16 which marked, almost unbelievably, the first gold medal theyโ€™ve won as a team.

โ€œWe both wanted to win so much because weโ€™ve been on this Tour for so long and already weโ€™ve made semifinals and finals but weโ€™ve never won,โ€ said Huberli who, it must be noted, has won two European Championships with Brunner, in 2021 and 2023. โ€œThe last two days are probably the most intense days in our head because we were so focused. We just wanted to win and it was really hard.โ€

Nina Brunner and Tanja Huberli celebrate winning the Tepic Elite16/Volleyball world photo

Until the finals, they made it look remarkably easy, sweeping five straight opponents, including No. 5 Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes (21-15, 21-19) in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Carol Salgado and Barbara Seixas (21-17, 21-17) in the semifinals. After another dominant 21-14 first set win in the gold medal match over the Netherlandsโ€™ Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam, it seemed the Swiss machine would roll on, a perfect, uninterrupted run to gold. But Stam and Schoon were there by no accident. Like Switzerland, they also hadnโ€™t dropped a match, rolling through Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth in pool play, 21-15, 21-13. It was no fluke, as they similarly dominated Italians Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi in the semifinals, closing a 21-10 second set win on a 14-3 run.

(More on the tough tourney for the USA below).

While no such run would be allowed by the Swiss, Schoon and Stam held on to win the second, 21-19, forcing a third, showing shades reminiscent of their first final encounter, in the 2023 Doha Elite16 finals. Then, as on Sunday, Switzerland won the first set and dropped the second. But Sunday showed a different Swiss team, one that was holding opponents to just 40 percent side out on the weekend. One final time, their defense prevailed, holding on for a 19-17…

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