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Bumming out Rio

Italians Viktoria Orsi Toth (left) and Marta Menegatti celebrate a point during their upset win over Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca of Brazil Friday at the Rio Grand Slam on Copacabana.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 11, 2016 - Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth, you just bummed out an entire city, if not country.

You’d better believe that makes the duo from Italy smile almost uncontrollably.

Menegatti and Orsi Toth strolled onto center court at the $800,000 Rio Grand Slam on Friday like they were facing indomitable lions at the Colosseum. And to the surprise of everyone but themselves, emerged victorious against a team that many expect to win Olympic gold in August on the same sand.

They stunned second-seeded Brazilians Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes, 2-1 (21-17, 19-21, 16-14) to reach the quarterfinals of the FIVB World Tour event. A raucous crowd that was pleading for Larissa and Talita to come through was suddenly silenced.

“We are just very happy because they are a really strong team with a lot of experience,” Menegatti said. “But we beat them in their home, so we are proud of ourselves.”

Even as the third set unfolded, no one in the building expected the 13th-seeded Italians continued to apply pressure on the team that closed the 2015 season with four consecutive gold medals and five in the final six events of the year.

But suddenly, Orsi Toth put up a block that stuffed Talita and it was over.

“We were just focused, focused, focused and thinking point by point and keep fighting to the end,” Menegatti said. “And it worked out, so we are very very happy.”

“We didn’t play well in the first set and the tiebreak was even,” Talita said. “Give them credit for winning, but we know we are in the right direction. We always learn from defeats.”

And at what point of the match did the Italians realize they could pull this off?

“Every part of the match, during every moment,” Orsi Toth said. “We had a high confidence of winning because the energy and our focus on our side was really high for all the match.”

While Larissa and Talita falling this early in a tournament might be a bit of a shocker, the rise of Menegatti and Orsi Toth has pretty much eluded the radar. They’re pinging pretty brightly at the moment.

From June through August in 2015, the Italians finished no higher than ninth place in five consecutive tournaments, then they pounced. They went undefeated to capture the FIVB Sochi Open, then followed up with finishes of third and second. Two weeks ago in Maceio, Brazil, they placed fifth as their Olympic qualifying points began to pile up.

In fact, they currently lead the world in the FIVB women’s point standings.

In Rio, they lost twice in pool play before bouncing back in the knockout round to top Australians Mariafe Artacho and Nicole Laird prior to taking on Larissa and Talita.

They won’t be overlooked any more.

“We are thinking about the Olympics because we have very high ambitions,” Orsi Toth said. “We have to win these kinds of matches to realize our goal for the Olympics.”

In Saturday’s quarterfinals, they’ll face 10th-seeded Germans Karla Borger and Britta Buthe, who just happen to be undefeated in Rio.  

“It feels amazing,” Menegatti said. “We are preparing well and we have to keep our focus like we did today and be confident like in this match.”


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