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Porec country quota matches feature beach volleyball elite

Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar, who won a Swatch Major Series country quota match Monday, celebrate a point at the Fort Lauderdale Major earlier in the 2017 FIVB World Tour season.
Porec, Croatia, June 26, 2017 - It was not a typical day of preliminary competition at a FIVB World Tour event here Monday as beach volleyball Olympians were playing not to be eliminated from the Swatch Major Series event at the Valamar courts in this Croatian seaside resort.

With three-time Olympic and FIVB world champion Kerri Walsh Jennings playing in the third of the three-country quota matches Monday with Nicole Branagh to gain a berth in Tuesday’s qualification tournament at the $600,000 Porec Major, an American and two Brazilian contests were played with the loser exiting the competition and the winner advancing to the next phase of play at the FIVB World Tour event.

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With hundreds of beach volleyball fans and enthusiasts watching the action, Walsh Jennings and 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh lost a 2-0 (21-16, 21-16) country quota decision in 34 minutes to compatriots Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar.  With the win, Day and Hochevar will compete Tuesday in the qualifier while Walsh Jennings/Branagh await the next Swatch Major Series stop next week in the Swiss Alps village of Gstaad.
TWITTER POST-MATCH INTERVIEW with Americans Brittany Hochevar (left) and Emily Day after their Porec Major country quota win Monday.

Tuesday’s match marked only the second time in Walsh Jennings’ FIVB career that she was forced to play in matches prior to a World Tour Main Draw.  The only time Walsh Jennings appeared in a FIVB qualifier was May 18, 2011 when she and Hochevar won two matches to advance to the “money” rounds at a World Tour event in Myslowice, Poland.

When Porec Major “official” play commences Tuesday, qualifying competition will be held on the side courts at Valamar and Laguna where eight men’s and eight women’s pairs will advance to Wednesday’s opening Main Draw pool play rounds.  Starting Wednesday, the main stadium court will be added to the schedule where night matches will be played the first four days of Main Draw play.

The women’s quarter-finals will be played Friday to set the field for Saturday’s “final four” matches highlighted by the evening medal matches “under the lights” where the winning team will share the $40,000 first-place prize.  The men’s “elite eight” contests will be played July 1 with the late morning semi-finals and afternoon medal matches being held Sunday.

Prior to Walsh Jennings and 2008 Olympian Branagh’s match against compatriots Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar, the two Brazilian matches were played starting with Taiana Lima and Elize Maia avenging setbacks to Olympian Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado at FIVB World Tour events in Russia and The Netherlands to post a 2-1 (18-21, 21-14, 15-13) win in 48 minutes.  

The setback eliminated Antonelli and Carolina from the competition after the pair topped the podium two weeks ago in The Hague starting with a 2-1 (21-19, 20-22, 15-13) win in 61 minutes over Taiana and Elize Maia in the country quota round.  A month ago in Moscow, Antonelli and Carolina ousted Taiana and Elize Maia from the event with a 2-0 (22-20, 21-19) country quota win in 51 minutes.

In the men’s CQ confrontation for Brazil with a Rio (Pedro Solberg) and Nanjing Youth (George Wanderley) Olympians on different sides of the net, Pedro and Gustavo "Guto" Carvalhaes scored a 2-1 (15-21, 21-19, 15-9) win in 50 minutes over Vitor Felipe and Wanderley.  Last month in Moscow, Guto and Pedro also prevailed over their Brazilian rivals 2-1 (21-16, 16-21, 15-11) in a 51-minute country quota match.

With the win, Pedro hopes to create the same “magical” run that his sister Carolina did two weeks ago in The Netherlands as she and Antonelli posted a 9-0 match mark starting with two country quota wins and a qualifying victory the next day before winning six-straight Main Draw matches to capture the gold medal at the Dela Beach Open in The Hague.

The gold medal finish marked only the third-time that a team has won a gold medal at a FIVB World Tour event after starting the competition in the country quota rounds.  The first occurrence was 12 seasons ago (June 8-12, 2005) in the Croatian capital of Zagreb where Marcio Araujo and Fábio Magalhaes of Brazil accomplished the feat of advancing from the country quota and qualifying rounds to top a FIVB World Tour podium.

The second happened in Norway at the end of June when Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross advanced from country quota and qualifying matches to win Stavanger gold medals.  While the Brazilian’s feats were accomplished without a setback in the competition, Kessy and Ross had to survive a pair of pool play losses to win the gold medal with five-straight wins.

Host Croatia has already placed three men’s and two women’s pairs in the Porec Major Main Draw with two other teams per gender in the qualifier.  Host country men’s teams in the “money” rounds are Niksa Dellorco/Ivan Perisic, Ivan Djordjevic/Filip Silic and Marin Jercic/Kresimir Karaula.  Main Draw women’s teams for Croatia are Dina Becic/Sara Radanovic and Maja Rosko/Jurja Vlasic.

Playing in the men’s qualifier for Croatia are Matej Cickovic/Josip Pribanic and Matija Gracin/Jegor Zukovskij with women participants for the host country being Luna Becic/Mirna Becic and Marina Coric/Nikolina Jelic.

The Porec Major will also mark the international Beach Volleyball debut for Ivan Perisic, who plays soccer in Italy with Inter Milan where he scored 11 goals and was credited with 11 assists this past season.  For the Croatian National team, Perisic has played in 56 events with 16 goals highlighted by an appearance in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Although Perisic and Dell’Orco will not know their opponents until the Main Draw pairings are determined Tuesday evening following the qualification tournaments, the Croatian tandem will play all their matches on the Center Court. Perisic and Dell’Orco will make their debut together Wednesday at 9 p.m. (local time) with their second match the same time the following day.  The Croatians’ final pool play match will take place Friday at 1 p.m.

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