Monday, 27 May 2024

Two U.S. Pairs Triumph in Elite 16 Qualifiers

Image: Alpinetgheep

ROSARITO, Mexico (March 23, 2022) – Qualifier day for a Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour tournament is always a high-pressure affair. It’s a win-or-go-home situation that challenges even the best teams. Today, four U.S. Beach National Team pairs faced off against some of the top teams in the world at the Rosarito Elite 16 in Mexico. Remarkably, two of them – Sara Hughes/Kelley Kolinske and Chaim Schalk/Theo Brunner – successfully navigated their way through the challenging two-match gauntlet to secure a spot in the main draw.

A Test of Skill and Determination

“You have to be one of the top four teams playing, basically in a normal tournament,” explained Lauren Fendrick, referring to the 16-team qualifier field for Thursday’s 16-team main draw. “You have the top 28 teams in the world… a normal tournament’s 32 teams.”

In the women’s category, Hughes and Kolinske faced a Japanese team in the first round and emerged victorious. They then went up against Hegeile Almeida dos Santos and Taiana de Souza Lima of Brazil in a thrilling match that went into extra points. Despite losing the first set, Hughes and Kolinske rallied back, winning the second set 22-20 and eventually clinching the third set with a 17-15 victory. Their impressive performance secured their spot in the main draw.

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“It means everything for a new team like us,” Hughes expressed. “That was such a good battle with Brazil… but we played our game, and that’s exactly what we wanted.”

On the men’s side, Schalk and Brunner secured their berth with a hard-fought two-set win against fellow countrymen Chase Budinger and Troy Field. Schalk and Brunner took a commanding lead of 14-9 in the first set, but Budinger and Field fought back, narrowing the gap. However, they couldn’t complete the comeback, and Schalk and Brunner won the set 21-19. In the second set, it was Schalk and Brunner who needed the comeback, overcoming an early two-point deficit to secure a 21-18 victory.

“Our goal was to get out of the qualifier, and this was the hardest, nastiest qualifier there’s ever been on the international tour,” Schalk admitted. “Four teams coming out of it out of the top 28 in the world is ridiculously tough.”

American Representation in the Main Draw

Earlier in the day, Budinger and Field defeated Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, while Schalk and Brunner swept Norway’s Mathias Bernsten and Hendrik Mol, setting the stage for an all-American matchup.

Fendrick and her partner Emily Stockton also participated in the qualifier but were eliminated in the first round by Germany’s Karla Borger and Julia Sude, who competed in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

In the main draw, Hughes and Kolinske will join Pool B and face fellow Americans Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon in their opening match. Schalk and Brunner, on the other hand, will join Pool C in the men’s division.

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Completing the American representation in the main draw are Emily Day and April Ross, Kelly (Claes) Cheng and Betsi Flint, and Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb. Cheng and Flint will be the first U.S. pair to compete, taking on Tokyo 2020 bronze medalists Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre of Switzerland at 9 a.m. Pacific on Thursday, March 24.


Q: How did Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske secure their spot in the main draw?
A: Hughes and Kolinske won their first-round match against a Japanese team and then triumphed over a Brazilian team in a thrilling three-set match.

Q: Who will Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner face in the main draw?
A: Schalk and Brunner will compete in Pool C in the men’s division.


The Rosarito Elite 16 qualifiers proved to be a intense and demanding challenge for the U.S. Beach National Team pairs. Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske, as well as Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, showcased their skill, determination, and teamwork to secure their spots in the highly competitive main draw. With the full support of passionate fans, these talented teams are ready to take on the world’s best in the upcoming matches. Stay tuned for more exciting volleyball action!