April Ross and Jennifer Kessy got their redemption Sunday.
After the top-ranked pairing lost in the Round of 32 at the FIVB Grand Slam of beach volleyball Thursday, they rallied from behind to win the inaugural World Series Cup in Long Beach on Sunday.
"We brought home the World Series Cup for the U.S. and that's a big deal," Kessy said. "We're going to have our names on there first. Hopefully this is going to be a really long tradition, and April and my name will always be at the top, which is really exciting."
Ross and Kessy defeated Taiana Lima and Talita Antunes of Brazil, 15-21, 21-18, 17-15, in the World Series Cup final after winning the semifinal against Kerri Walsh Jennings and Whitney Pavlik in similar fashion Saturday. Kessy scored the last two points of the match, first hammering a spike off Lima's hands and into the stands, then cutting a soft shot right-to-left that a diving Lima could only get a hand on.
Ross said the victory takes some of the sting away from their loss three days earlier.
"I don't know if it should, but it does," she said. "To end on a loss like we did, it felt so good to have this extra opportunity to come back and beat two good teams."
At the start of the match, though, Lima and Talita seemed in control. Talita smacked an ace down the middle to make it 8-4 and the Americans could get no closer than 9-8 before the Brazilians ran away late.
Back-to-back emphatic blocks by Talita on Kessy highlighted the 10-5 set-closing run.
"I felt like it was going to take us a couple of points, a couple of side switches to really get in rhythm," Ross said, "and that's definitely what happened."
Lima and Talita opened the second set strong as well, scoring five of the first seven points, but a Kessy ace swung the tides. Two more kills by Kessy preceded a Ross dink over Lima as the teams traded shot-for-shot to a 12-11 American lead.
That's when Kessy walloped a spike off Lima's hands and bounding toward the beach.
Kessy dropped an ace next and finished the 3-0 spurt with a dig on Lima that Ross put away back left. A Lima kill pulled the Brazilians within 16-15, but Ross logged a kill on two and a big block on Talita to make it 18-16. Two Kessy kills, the second off a Ross back bump, sealed the set.
Ross and Kessy opened the third set 5-2 before a Talita trickler ace knotted the score at 7-7 and a Talita block on Kessy gave the Brazilians the lead.
When Ross was called for a throw later in the set, Lima and Talita moved ahead 9-11.
"I did get it before Talita," Ross said of the play. "The rule is if you get it at the same time you can go open hand, and I thought it was tight enough."
Kessy kills evened the score at 12-12 and then 13-13, as Lima laid out on the back line trying to reach the second smash. As she pushed herself up, Lima lifted the elastic blue fabric of the line, and released it back into the sand in frustration.
A third Kessy kill, this one a cut off another Ross back bump, gave the Americans match point, but Lima rose over Ross for knot the score again.
Again, Kessy earned match point with a kill, and this time she followed it with one more to end the first World Series Cup final.
Said Kessy: "Being in the U.S., and this being the first time is something special."
Gibb gets his stuffings
Jake Gibb owned the second set of the men's World Series Cup final.
Blocks, blocks and more blocks. By the time Gibb was finished, he and Casey Patterson had boosted their 10-5 lead to 15-6 against Latvian pairing Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, all but sealing the victory.
After the Latvians called a timeout following the last Gibb block on Samoilovs, one fan shouted sarcastically: "Jake, let Casey play."
Gibb logged four blocks total in that span as the Americans battled through a tight first set before blowing open the second to win the inaugural World Series Cup, 22-20, 21-11, Sunday in Long Beach. They beat fellow Americans Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal, 21-19, 21-17, in a semifinal that morning.
"I would say that was the biggest match of the weekend for us," Gibb said of beating Dalhausser and Rosenthal. Gibb and Patterson lost to Dalhausser and Rosenthal in the Grand Slam semifinals Friday before watching their fellow Americans win gold.
After playing to a 20-20 score in the first set of Sunday's final, Patterson drilled a spike into the back-right corner, grazing the line, as Samoilovs looked toward the line judge in disbelief.
On the next point, Gibb blocked Samoilovs to take the set. It was a sign of things to come.
"Closing out that first set was so huge momentum wise," Patterson said. "If they win that it makes it a little bit tougher to play that loose, and that free in the second set, and create that big of a point spread."
Five Patterson kills including a tomahawk dig keyed a 6-1 run to make the score 10-5 in the second set. Patterson had the word "BOOM" shaved into the left side of his head before Sunday's matches, and his play lived up to it.
"I can't have 'BOOM' on the side of my head and not play well," Patterson quipped.
Following that run, which Gibb called the most important of the match, Gibb rose to stop Samoilovs for the first time, flicking both his wrists down for a seemingly easy denial.
Another rejection pushed the American cushion to 13-6, then Gibb turned away Samoilovs twice in one play. Patterson turned toward his teammate, and extended his arms like a showman, palms up as he rotated to both sides of the crowd.
"That makes it easy for me to run around and get dirty when they're hitting soft shots," Patterson said.
From there, the Americans cruised. Gibb finished off the tournament with a smash down the right line before he and Patterson celebrated on the court.