Top-seeded Americans Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes had a strong first day in the 2023 Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour La Paz Challenge and were among the six women’s teams that won their pools in the event held in Mexico.
Hughes wins first duel with former partner Kolinske
The American and partner Kelly Cheng are in the Round of 16 of the La Paz Challenge
Publicado 05:39, 18 Mar 2023
At the conclusion of the first day of the main draw in the first Challenge event of the season, 16 of the 24 women’s teams that got to compete in the main phase of the tournament remain in contention as the elimination rounds are set to begin on Saturday.
Cheng and Hughes, who won three of the four international events they played since they reunited, in November, ended the day as the best team in Pool A, securing one of the first spots available in the Round of 16 in La Paz.
“It feels good,” Cheng told Volleyball World. “We’re very excited to be here. The fans have been incredible and the setup is amazing. We’re happy to have two wins under our belts and excited to keep that momentum for the rest of the tournament. We just need to keep focusing on our side to be ready to capitalize on the opportunities we create.”
The two started their campaign in Mexico with a two-set (21-17, 21-17) victory over Lithuanian qualifiers Monika Paulikiene and Aine Raupelyte. Their second Pool A match reserved a special encounter for Hughes as Cheng and her got to play her former partner Kelley Kolisnke and new teammate Hailey Harward.
Hughes and Kolisnke were partners for most of the 2022 Beach Pro Tour season, appearing in six events and taking gold at the Itapema Challenge. In their first encounter as opponents after their split, Hughes and Cheng had the better of Kolisnke and Harward, winning in two sets (23-21, 21-17).
“It was really fun playing against another USA team and coming out with the victory,” Hughes added. “I have nothing but good things to say about Kelley. She’s an absolutely great player and played so well today. There’s nothing but respect when we play each other, but I’m obviously very happy that we got the win.”
One of the six undefeated teams in La Paz, Cheng and Hughes will now face Spain's Maria Carro/Angela Lobato in the Round of 16.
The 2022 Beach Pro Tour winners weren’t, however, the only American team to win their pool in La Paz. Pool B also had an all-American final with second-seeded Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss overcoming Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman in the tie-breaker (22-20, 15-21, 15-10). The two will now play against Lithuania's Monika Paulikiene/Aine Raupelyte in the Round of 16.
A third American team dominated their group with qualifiers Savvy Simo, 24, and Toni Rodriguez, 26, finishing atop Pool D. The two had a pair of big wins in La Paz, beating Italians Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi 2-1 (18-21, 21-13, 15-11) in their first match and Germans Karla Borger and Sandra Ittlinger in two sets (21-11, 21-19) later. The Americans will now face Mexico’s Abril Flores/Atenas Gutierrez in the Round of 16.
The other three pool winners in La Paz were Czechia’s Barbora Hermannová/Marie-Sara Stochlova, who will play China’s Jinjin Zeng/Meimei Lin, Brazil’s Talita Antunes/Thamela Coradello, whose next opponents are Menegatti and Gottardi, and Brazil’s Victoria Lopes/Tainá Bigi, who will cross the path of Borger and Ittlinger.
The remaining two Round of 16 duels will have USA’s Megan Kraft/Emily Stockman against Austria’s Ronja Klinger/Dorina Klinger and Kolisnke/Harward versus France’s Alexia Richard/Lézana Placette.
Besides the Round of 16 matches, which will start at 13:00 local time (20:00 UTC), the La Paz Challenge quarterfinals of the women’s tournament will also be played on Saturday. The semifinals and medal matches will all be held on Sunday.