May-Treanor hangs tough

HERMOSA BEACH — While celebrities tried to play volleyball under the sun on Saturday afternoon, the biggest name in the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals Nivea Tour hit the ball behind the main stadium.

Misty May-Treanor went relatively unnoticed while she and her partner, Nicole Branagh, warmed up.

When the likes of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield stopped punching the ball, it was time for May-Treanor and Branagh to swing away. The duo's third match at the Hermosa Beach Open looked like a sure knockout.

Angela Lewis and Priscilla Lima went into the match winless against any team May-Treanor played on. The Newport Harbor High product no longer plays with Kerri Walsh, so Lewis and Lima went in with a fighter's chance.

The two punched their way into today's quarterfinals after rallying from one game down to upset the second-seeded May-Treanor and Branagh, 15-21, 21-17, 17-15. The outcome stunned the crowd.

Keep in mind that Lewis and Lima did not even have their names on one of the scoreboards for the first two games. Only before they forced a decisive third game did someone place "Lewis" and "Lima" up.

Talk about disrespect. Lewis and Lima earned something better, an easier path to today's finale.

If they reach the title match, Lewis and Lima are likely to see former Newport Harbor standout April Ross and her teammate, Jennifer Kessy.

Ross and Kessy advanced to today's quarterfinal match against Angie Akers and Tyra Turner at 9:15 a.m. The top-seeded team, which won its first three matches, is trying to claim a fourth straight victory on the AVP Tour.

Lewis and Lima weren't looking that far ahead. The seventh-seeded team looked elated after greeting May-Treanor and Branagh near the net after the match.

Lewis said their opponents said, "Good job. Good luck" before Lima, who is from Brazil, kissed each player on the cheek.

May-Treanor and Branagh were not in a friendly mood. They decided against talking to reporters afterward.

The two cooled down and walked underneath a huge tent to discuss what just happened. They planned to play three matches Saturday, but a fourth was now on the schedule.

"Errors by us and focus," May-Treanor said were the reasons why they fell apart. "The best we could do is bounce back and win and live to see another day."

May-Treanor and Branagh are still in the hunt. The road gets a lot harder, though.

May-Treanor and Branagh swept Jenny Kropp and Whitney Pavlik, 21-16, 21-14, in the contender's bracket. They have to win three times today in order to reach the championship match.

Another loss and May-Treanor and Branagh can say goodbye.

If the two had won their third-round match, three victories today result in their second title on the AVP Tour this season. May-Treanor and Branagh can only look forward as they play Dianne DeNecochea and Brittany Hochevar today at 9:15 a.m.

"We're not in a tough spot because we're still in the tournament. We just got to play an extra match," May-Treanor said. "We played them in the past. We know what they do. We just got to come out and execute."

At times, with May-Treanor's new teammate, the execution part has not been as consistent.

"Chemistry doesn't happen overnight," May-Treanor said. "People grow together and that's what we're doing. She's playing the left side. When she was with Elaine [Youngs], she played the right side. I sat out a whole year [after suffering an Achilles injury]. [I] didn't touch a volleyball, didn't watch volleyball.

"We're just learning about each other as we go. I think we're doing extremely well for a new team. I can't imagine another new team being in the position we are."

May-Treanor said she considered not returning to the game after her injury.

Lewis and Lima joined forces for the first time this season. They played well together in Games 2 and 3. They just hung around before making moves.

May-Treanor and Branagh fell behind for the first time in the match, when Lewis and Lima went ahead, 16-15, in the second game. The closer the games got, the better the underdogs performed.

After Branagh blasted a kill in the corner to tie the final game at 15-15, Lewis recorded a kill to give her team a chance to close it out. Lima served, and a few touches later, May-Treanor hit a shot wide, allowing Lewis and Lima to pull off the shocker.

"You know, Kerri and I, we won once in our first year together. It takes time to build these things," said May-Treanor, adding that playing in international tournaments during the AVP Tour can affect the team. "Mentally and physically, people don't realize from the outside how draining and tough that can be."

One player who understands the grind of playing overseas and in the states is Matt Fuerbringer, a former Estancia High star.

Fuerbringer is playing with Nick Lucena in the men's event at the Hermosa Beach Open. The third-seeded team went 3-0 Saturday and qualified for today's quarterfinals, where it meets Matt Olson and Jeff Nygaard at 8:30 a.m.

"Every week the AVP is not playing, we're [overseas] playing," Fuerbringer said. "It's a lot of travel, a lot of play. It makes days like this much more challenging, but that much more rewarding.

"It's like a crazier scene here [in the states] and we also know these players so well. There are no secrets. You've got to bring your A game."

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