International Volleyball

World’s best back on the beach at this week’s Tepic Elite16

World's best back on the beach at this week's Tepic Elite16

As the Beach Pro Tour season has settled into its early-season stride, hitting consecutive stops in Brazil and another in Mexico, something still felt amiss. Namely, the best players.

Almost all of them.

Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth have played just four matches this season, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes six. Miles Partain and Andy Benesh havenโ€™t played at all. Their last appearance was in the Beach Pro Tour Finals in December.

The spring months have been a test of patience thus far for those seeded directly into the main draws of Elite16s. Champagne problems, to say the least. These are the pairs so secure in their entry points they donโ€™t have to grind it out in Challenges. So far ahead in the Olympic standing that they need not play Challenges in Recife and Saquarema, Brazil, nor last weekโ€™s in Guadalajara, Mexico. So theyโ€™ve waited, ramping up the media attention as Paris draws closer, training, repping, finetuning, anxious to get back on the sand.

This week, for the Tepic Elite16, they alas can do so again.

Nuss and Kloth will not have to wait long in Mexico to compete again for the first time in more than a month. They have the 8 a.m. slot against Germans Laura Ludwig and Louisa Lippmann, a pair against whom they are 3-0, though two of those matches have gone the full three sets.

Cheng and Hughes will have to wait a bit longer, until a 12:10 p.m. matchup with Italyโ€™s Valentina Gottardi and Marta Menegatti, the tenth-seeded Italians whose only match against Cheng and Hughes came in the Tepic semifinals a year ago. It was a match Cheng and Hughes won, though narrowly, 30-28, 21-19, an establishment of sorts that yes, the young 20-year-old Gottardi โ€” now 21 โ€” was for real.

Both will compete in the afternoon as well, Nuss and Kloth against the Netherlandsโ€™ Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon, Cheng and Hughes against Spainโ€™s Paula Soria and Lili Fernandez in the first meeting between those teams.

The USA men play in the afternoon, beginning with Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunnerโ€™s 1 p.m. matinee with Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot of the Netherlands. Both pairs are coming off gold medals โ€” Boermans and de Groot a dominant victory in the Doha Elite16, Brunner and Crabb a not-so-dominant but nonetheless impressive gold last week in Guadalajara. With both Chase Budinger and Miles Evans and Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk falling in Wednesdayโ€™s qualifier, this weekend presents a significant opportunity for Brunner and Crabb to continue tacking onto…

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