After five days of competition at the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, the men's and women's gold medal matches will come down to familiar foes: the United States and Brazil.
In the first men's semifinal Saturday, Brazil's Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt made quick work of fifth-seeded Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, 21-18, 21-17. Schmidt said afterward that he was fatigued but feeling much better than Friday night, when he suffered from severe cramps at the conclusion of his quarterfinal match.
"I couldn't be more exhausted, because we're doing our best all the time," Schmidt said. "I'm excited and stoked for tomorrow."
On the other side of the bracket, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena faced an uphill battle against Spain's Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera. The Spanish team dominated the opening set, winning 21-13. The Americans recovered in the next set, 21-19, and finished it off with a 15-13 third set.
"We've got to play a lot better," Lucena said. "Spain, that's the best I've seen them play in a long time. For us to come back and grind it out and pull off the second game and finish the third, I'm proud of us."
The turning point, according to Lucena, came after he tried to motivate the usually even-keeled Dalhausser with an unusual tactic.
"I flicked Phil off when he was about to serve, and somehow he got mad at me," Lucena said. "He got an ace on that play, and we picked up energy. I knew they were playing well. I told Phil that we have to grind this out. We won that set, the energy kind of picked up, and Phil took over and scored a lot of points."
Dalhausser noted that he was inspired not just by Lucena, but also from the DJ blasting some Metallica.
"It was perfect. The stars and the sun aligned," Dalhausser joked.
Dalhausser and Lucena have been successful during their brief tenure as teammates on the AVP tour, but their finals match against Cerutti and Schmidt will present a more difficult challenge.
"I think Bruno is the best defender out there, and Phil and Alison are the best blockers," Lucena said. "They're great inside out, they have great chemistry. It's going to be a good test for us, because I want to see where we're at."
"I can't wait," Dalhausser added. "I love playing them. There's no other country I'd rather play."
Brazil's top remaining women's team, Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca, cruised past Australia's Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy, 21-17, 21-18, to clinch a spot in the gold medal match. Between pool play and the winner's bracket, Antunes and Franca have lost only one set.
Their opponents will be April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who had a tougher time against Germany's Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst, but advanced, 21-19, 21-17, thanks to another strong showing from Ross.
"I kind of want to cry, I just can't stop smiling when I think about how much weight she's carrying and how gracefully she's doing it," Walsh Jennings said of her teammate. "There's just zero hesitation. ... I just haven't seen her play at this level."
Ross was appreciative of Walsh Jennings' kind words, acknowledging her growth as a player.
"It's all stuff that I've done before," Ross said. "I just feel like I have more of the tools to do it better now."
Walsh Jennings, meanwhile, is contributing as much as possible without any power to her game in her first tournament back from a dislocated shoulder. She's not at her peak playing ability, but is nonetheless satisfied with how well she and Ross are doing as a team.
"I get asked the question, 'Why are you still playing?' so often," Walsh Jennings said. "This is why I'm still playing — for challenges like this, learning new things about myself, my partner, my team, and it's the most fun. This is what it's all about, just finding a way."