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USA vs. USA for Women’s gold at FIVB U17 World Championships

USA's Haley Hallgren double-pumps her fists as she and Joy Dennis held of Turkey Sunday morning to advance to the gold medal match late Sunday afternoon at the inaugural FIVB U17 Beach Volleyball World Championships.
Acapulco, Mexico, July 20, 2014 — Getting an early start to another picturesque Acapulco Bay morning, the semifinals netted two women’s teams from the United States advancing to the gold medal match later Sunday afternoon at the inaugural double-gender FIVB U17 Beach Volleyball World Championships being held in Acapulco. The teams meeting for the final podium spot Sunday afternoon are from Turkey and Latvia.

The final four developed from an original total field of 29 women’s teams representing each of the five FIVB Confederations that started competing Wednesday at Playa Tamarindos in Acapulco Bay.

The semifinal winners now advance to the women’s gold medal match at 5 p.m. local time while the two semifinal losers will meet at 3 p.m. local time for the women’s bronze medal match.

In the All-USA women’s gold medal finale, USA’s Haley Hallgren/Joy Dennis will challenge compatriot training partners Morgan Martin/Kathryn Plummer. USA’s Hallgren/Dennis has earned a 6-1 record heading into the finale while their USA opponents are undefeated in Acapulco with a 7-0 record so far.

In the women’s bronze medal match, Turkey’s Duygu Nur Dogan/Pelin Ilgin will battle another top European team in Latvia’s Tina Graudina/Linda Gramberga. Turkey’s Dogan/Ilgin enters the bronze medal match with a 5-3 record in Acapulco while Latvia’s Graudina/Gramberga is 6-1 so far.

The road to the championship continued Sunday morning with the semifinals at Playa Tamarindos.

With the sun shining brightly, the temperature rising and the humidity percolating, USA’s Hallgren/Dennis  held off the strong challenge from Turkey’s Dogan/Ilgin, winning in two sets, 21-17, 21-19 in 32 minutes to claim their place in the women’s gold medal match.

In Sunday’s other women’s semifinal on Acapulco’s center court with Mexican music pulsating and the crowd activated by the music and the masterful play by youthful opponents in a matchup of two undefeated teams, USA’s Martin/Plummer came out strong against but had to use grit and determination to hold off the comeback charge by Latvia’s Graudina/Gramberga eventually taking the three-set sand-burner, 21-15, 17-21, 15-12 in 51 minutes to earn their spot in the women’s final.

In the USA’s match against Turkey, USA kept the pressure on throughout the two-set match in earning the victory. The second set was much closer throughout with ties late in the match at 15-15 and 18-18 before USA’s Dennis scored on a kill and teammate Hallgren added another on a deep kill to go up 20-18. After a Turkish kill by Dogan saved the set, Hallgren ended the set and match with a poke shot to just inside the back line.

The USA semifinal again Latvia was very tight through most of it with both teams scoring in bunches and battling back and forth.  After splitting the first two set, the third was another beach volleyball classic. The game was tied at each point to 8-8 when the USA ran off six straight points to take a 14-8 lead before Latvia rallied again with four of their own to save off match points before USA won the set and match when Latvia’s Graudina served an ace and then tried to back it up and it went long to end the match in the favor of the USA.

USA’s two teams that are now set to meet in the women’s gold medal finals of the inaugural FIVB U17 World Championships, had plenty to say following their semifinal victories Sunday morning.

USA’s Dennis, from Cypress, Calif., reflected, “We have been training for a USA vs USA final the whole year. And it’s really an exciting moment at this our first international event. We started a little slow but we just need to come out swinging hard at every match. I think that one of our strengths is that we can put the ball away.”

From her perspective, USA’s Hallgren, from Southlake, Texas said, “We had a bit of struggle yesterday in our quarterfinal match but now it went well. What we highlight the most about the Turkish team is their passing, it is really consistent. And of course, the fact that they never gave up on any ball during the whole match. Now we get to do what we do every day in practice, play against our friends and training partners Morgan (Martin) and Kathryn (Plummer).”

Almost breathless after her team’s three-set semi-final, USA’s Martin said, “The Latvian team is a very good team, they have a very good serve. I mean, I knew that we were going to win, but I started to panic a little bit on the third set because I didn’t thought that it was going to be that close, but it came out well. We are now playing the finals against another USA team and we know them really well and we can’t take anything from granted.”

With her own comments, Plummer stated: “It was hard to catch up, but we did it. USA against USA is what we wanted since the beginning of the competition. It is going to be a close battle but I think that in comparison we are better defenders. We know how to play volleyball so now we just need to relax and go for it.”

USA’s Hallgren/Dennis duo is 6-1, losing in pool play to a team from Russia in three sets and in the elimination rounds, defeating teams from England, Boliva and Turkey.

USA’s Martin/Plummer tandem is standing with a perfect 7-0 record. They also won their pool with a perfect 4-0 record before defeating teams from Mexico, Poland and then Latvia in the elimination rounds to book their ticket to the gold medal match.

Turkey’s Dogan/Ilgin tandem overcame two pool play losses to teams from the Czech Republic and Mexico, before firing up in the elimination rounds to eliminate teams from Canada, Puerto Rico and then Greece before the semifinal loss to USA’s Hallgren Dennis to compile a 5-3 record so far.

Latvia’s Graudina/Gramberga tandem was undefeated in pool play with a 4-0 record and extended it with elimination wins over teams from Italy and the Netherlands before the hard-fought loss to USA’s Martin/Plummer in the semifinals to hold a 6-1 record going into the bronze medal match.

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