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Kira Walkenhorst (28) is going to end her beach volleyball career for health reasons. With her partner Laura Ludwig (32) she had dominated women’s beach volleyball in recent years. After winning the Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016, they did also win the World Championships in Vienna and the World Tour Finals in 2017.

Walkenhorst has been struggling with back, hip and shoulder problems for many years. After skipping the 2018 season, Walkenhorst/Ludwig had planned to return to the international beach volleyball scene this February. Laura Ludwig had given birth last year but has been working on her comeback in the past months. Due to Walkenhorst’s ongoing health problems, they had to postpone their return last December. Now Walkenhorst announced:

“This decision was by far the toughest of my career. I was looking forward to reuniting with Laura all year long, then having to cancel her just before the start of the Olympic qualifying session hits me hard… I would like nothing better than to continue with Laura and my great team where we left off in 2017… Perhaps I have pushed the warning signals of my body in the last few years too much into the background, at least my body allows me no more competitive sports.”

Walkenhorst’s career end will severely endanger Laura Ludwig’s goal to defend her Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 games. Ludwig’s new partner will be former indoor national player Margareta Kozuch (32) who had partnered up with Karla Borger in the last season. Kozuch had already announced that she and Karla Borger go separate ways:

“I am thankful to Karla for our time together and that with her support I made it into beach volleyball. Now I’m looking forward to new challenges in beach volleyball.”

Margareta Kozuch & Laura Ludwig

Laura Ludwig and Margareta Kozuch at the Porec Major in 2017 (Credit: Beach Major Series)

Margareta Kozuch started with beach volleyball in 2016 and is a dedicated blocker. She has played more than 300 indoor volleyball matches for the German national team. Laura Ludwig and Margareta Kozuch have played together before when they participated in the 2017 Porec Major Series event. Laura Ludwig about her new partner:

“Maggie has everything you need, she’s incredibly athletic, she has an insane ball control, she’s a real fighter, she’s ready to invest a lot and she wants to go full throttle with our team, and we’re all looking forward to our project.”

The new team will be coached by Jurgen Wagner who coached Ludwig and Walkenhorst to Olympic gold in 2016. On their way to prepare for the 2019 World Championships on home turf in Hamburg, their first competition as a new team could be the FIVB 4-star in Xiamen (China) in April.

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Ana Patricia and Rebecca from Brazil won the year’s first FIVB event at The Hague, Netherlands. In the final they beat Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes (USA) in two straight sets to claim their first 4-star World Tour gold medal after winning silver at the FIVB 4-Star Las Vegas in October 2018. After a quick and easy first set win, the Brazilians had to fight back in the second set to finally win the gold medal match 2:0 (21:10, 21:18). Ana Patricia Ramos:

“It was very hard because the USA have very strong teams, but we stuck together and we are very happy to have this victory…It is a great birthday present for our coach.”

In the semifinals the Brazilians had beaten the second American team in the final four. Against the “A-team” Alix Klineman and April Ross they could turn around early leads from the Americans in both sets. Strong serving from April Ross didn’t help the A-team since both Ross and Klineman were heavily struggling with service reception. Ana Patricia’s strong blocking and Rebecca’s consistent side-out were enough to stop the defending champions (21:17, 21:19). After their semifinal defeat Klineman/Ross did also lose the bronze medal match against Lahti/Parkkinen from Finland.

In the men’s competition it was Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Viacheslav Krasilnikov (Russia) who claimed the gold medal against German younsters Clemens Wickler and Julius Thole who had beaten local heroes Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen in the semifinals. The final was a straight two-set win for the Russians (21:11, 21:18).

FIVB World Tour 2019 The Hague

Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Viacheslav Krasilnikov

But not only in the final did they show a very strong performance. Before they had defeated World Tour number one team Anders Mol and Christian Sorum from Norway in the quarterfinals. And in the semifinals they had beaten their Russian compatriots Konstantin Semenov and Ilya Leshukov who claimed the bronze medal against Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen. Blocking machine Oleg Stoyanovskiy after the final:

“It wasn’t simple. The Germans put service pressure on us. It is hard to play them…We don’t have time to celebrate because we are now going on our first training camp.”

 

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In the end, the FIVB 3-star event in Chetumal (Mexico) turned out to be a North American Championship. Only teams from the U.S. and Canada made it to the semifinals. And just as in Las Vegas last weekend, Canadians Brandie Wilkerson and Heather Bansley claimed gold after beating Caitlin Ledoux and Geena Urango (USA) in the final.

The final was a one-sided match. Against the American qualifiers Bansley/Wilkerson won in two straight sets (21:12, 21:13). Several service winners and consistent side-out was the key to the victory that was never at risk.  For the Canadian world ranking leaders it was their third FIVB gold medal this year after winning Warsaw and Las Vegas which secured them another 600 points in the Olympic qualification process. Heather Bansley after the final:

“We came here to get some valuable Olympic qualification points and this is a big win for us. The fans were amazing, they pushed us all the way to the final and it was a really special tournament.”

In the semifinals, the Canadians had beaten three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat (USA) who claimed bronze against Canadian newcomers Megan and Nicole McNamara. In convincing manner Bansley/Wilkerson had dominated their American counterparts and won in two sets (21:18, 21:17). Brandie Wilkerson’s strong serving and attacking caused a lot of trouble, especially for Walsh Jennings who struggled with Wilkerson’s unconventional serve. After the match, Wilkerson who was born in Switzerland to an American father and a Swiss mother, showed great humor in the post-match interview. Being asked how many passports she holds, Brandie’s reply in Spanish honored the local Mexican crowd:

“Three. But I am looking for a Mexican one!”

FIVB 3-star event in Chetumal (Mexico)

Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson

Obviously the Canadian world ranking leaders cannot do any wrong right now…

 

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In an all-Canadian final, beach volleyball “gypsy” Brandie Wilkerson and Heather Bansley claimed the gold medal at the FIVB Las Vegas Open, a 4-star event presented p1440. In a close three-set gold medal match, Bansley/Wilkerson defeated their Canadian compatriots Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan (21:17, 17:21, 15:9). It is their fifth podium in the last eight World Tour events. Brandie Wilkerson after the final on their performance:

“I think it is just a build of everything we work so hard to do. Anything I am doing well is a complement on what Heather is doing well.”

Bronze went to Carolina Salgado and Maria Antonelli after their Brazilian compatriots Rebecca Silva and Ana Patricia Ramos had to retire from the bronze medal match due to Ana Patricia’s ankle injury.

In the men’s competition, it was business as usual. Just as in the Hamburg World Tour Finals and the Vienna Major, Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum claimed the gold medal in the final against Grzegorz Fijalek and Michal Bryl from Poland. In two straight sets, the Norwegian youngsters completely dominated their favorite gold medal match opponents whom they beat for the fourth time in only two months. Anders Mol being asked about Norway’s status as a beach volleyball nation:

“There are not many beaches in Norway, so practicing is not easy. But we have indoor facilities and we usually travel to Spain to practice with the best teams in the world.”

Anders Mol and Christian Sorum

Anders Mol after the Vikings’ victory

 

In a close bronze medal match, Yangzhou winners Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb were defeated by Russians Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Viacheslav Krasilnikov after missing five match points in the tie-break.

 

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With a strong performance throughout the tournament, Alix Klineman and April Ross (USA) claimed gold at the FIVB 4-star event in Yangzhou (China). In the gold medal match the “A-Team” defeated strong Brazilian team Ana Patricia Silva and Rebecca Cavalcanti in two sets.

Having beaten Canadian top team Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in a three-set semifinal thriller (21:19, 27:25, 15:11), Klineman and Ross dominated the Brazilian team in the final. Coming back from 15:17 in the first set, they won the set 21:19. In only 16 minutes Klineman/Ross finished the second set (21:16) to claim the gold medal. Alix Klineman after the final match:

“The Brazilians are a great team. They are young, they are up and coming. We knew that they are gonna be really good. The blocker is super physical and the defender has great vision. We served tough and really had to push for points wherever we could find them.”

The Brazilians who had won a Qinzhou 3-star gold earlier this month, beat Americans Sara Hughes and Summer Ross in the semifinal on Saturday. Today Sara and Summer came back with a three-set win against Pavan/Humana-Paredes to claim the bronze medal.

On the men’s side, Konstantin Semenov/Ilya Leshukov won the all-Russian final against their compatriots Viacheslav Krasilnikov/Oleg Stoyanovskiy (14:21, 21:19, 15:13).

 

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He already had a strong comeback at the last few AVP events of the season, especially at the AVP Invitational in Hawaii. But after a break that lasted for almost two years, today Tri Bourne won his first title after returning to the beach. He and his childhood friend Trevor Crabb won the FIVB 3-star event at Qinzhou (China).

In the final, they beat Russian team Myskiv/Samoday to whom they had lost in pool play. The gold medal match was a straight two-set win (21:19, 21:9) and at no time was there any doubt that Tri and Trevor would win the match to claim the gold medal. In the semifinals the Americans had defeated Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle (Belgium) who claimed bronze against Durant/Schumann from Australia.

“It was a huge victory for Trevor and me. This is the first FIVB World Tour event for me in two years, so it just means a lot to me to play at this level. […]

I feel like the biggest thing that I can attribute this quick success to is the fact that I stayed close to the sport while I was out. I traveled to events to watch live matches and broadcasted, and I think doing that gave me the mental reps that are helping me to be in a very familiar place out there on the court.”

In the women’s final, Brazilians Ana Patricia/Rebecca won gold against Italians Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth in three sets. Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil claimed the bronze medal.

 

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