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Andy Benesh, Miles Partain regain formidable form with Ostrava bronze

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Miles Partain, left, and Andy Benesh strike a familiar pose/Volleyball World photo

On April 26, Andy Benesh and Miles Partain hosted Italians Sam Cottafava and Paolo Nicolai for an exhibition match at Wave Beach, the San Diego-based facility that serves as their training center. For the first time of their careers, Benesh and Partain beat the Italians.

Benesh was, he said later with an exhale, just glad they didn’t get blown out again.

In their previous two meetings with Cottafava and Nicolai, in Paris and Doha, both in 2023, they hadn’t scored more than 17. But the win, relieving as it may have been in front of a sold out crowd of 500-plus, wouldn’t go down on any ledger. It was light, as exhibitions go. Nicolai hit a skyball. The players pandered to the crowd. Cottafava played a set with Partain, the lefty defenders matching up with their right-handed blockers. Timeouts weren’t spent strategizing or breathing, but picking out raffle tickets and thanking the crowd for supporting them.

It mattered, but it didn’t matter.

Saturday at the Ostrava Elite16 mattered.

Quarterfinals. Partain and Benesh vs. Nicolai and Cottafava.

There would be no skyballs hit in this one, no raffles drawn. A must-win match between two teams struggling to regain their formidable forms of the previous season, when they combined for six medals and 13 top-five finishes.

Ever since a silver medal at the Montreal Elite16 last July capped off a scintillating stretch of three medals in as many weeks, Partain and Benesh hadn’t so much as made a semifinal. They went winless at the season-ending Beach Pro Tour Finals and in three tournaments this year, they boasted just a single win over a team that didn’t come out of the qualifier or was wild-carded into the main draw.

A significant win, yes, over Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot in Brasilia, but it was just that: a single win.

And then the wins piled up.

Significant ones, too.

In the final round of pool in Ostrava, they beat Germans Nils Ehlers and Clemens Wickler for the first time, a win that was followed by another pair of firsts over Qatar’s Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan, and then Nicolai and Cottafava.

Unlike the exhibition at Wave, this win over the Italians mattered a good deal.

Suddenly, USA’s slumping leader was slumping no longer.

But the exclamation point was saved for the end. A hard-fought semifinal loss to Boermans and de Groot (18-21, 21-23) put them in a bronze medal match with Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, the third-seeded Norwegians who were coming back from a three-month break while Mol rested with a foot injury.

Benesh and Partain are one of just two teams in the world currently holding a winning record against Mol and Sorum. They’d done the unthinkable last year in Gstaad, stunning them twice in one tournament, then nearly did it again two weeks later, in Montreal, falling in an excellent gold medal match. 

The matchup promised compelling theater. Here was a Norwegian team that for six years was as dominant as any beach volleyball team in recent memory, yet one whose grasp over the claim of world’s best pair was becoming increasingly tenuous, with Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig making an exponentially more compelling case every week, especially after adding another gold medal in Ostrava over Boermans and de Groot. And here was an American team who had won three straight medals in a torrid honeymoon phase yet hadn’t landed any hardware in nearly a year.

Who would return to form first?

The answer was given loud and clear, in a win that was remarkable in its ease: Benesh and Partain.

They swept Mol and Sorum, 21-15, 21-14, extending their record to 3-1 over the Norwegians. It is a win, and a medal, that is as valuable tangibly as it is intangibly. The entry points gained will keep them directly into Elite16 main draws for the foreseeable future. The $14,000 in prize money is nice, too.

But it is the three straight wins over teams they hadn’t yet beat, and another over Mol and Sorum, and the intangible benefits of a regained confidence heading into the most important summer of their careers that will be far more valuable in the months to come.

“I’d like to say welcome back to the Beach Volley Vikings,” Benesh said, referencing the moniker given to Mol and Sorum and their Norwegian teammates, Hendrik Mol and Mathias Berntsen, “The beach volleyball world missed you. They’re great ambassadors for our sport and we’re lucky to have them back.”

David Ahman, Jonatan Hellvig win third straight gold in Ostrava

While Anders Mol and Christian Sorum were taking three months off to rest the foot injury Mol suffered in training camp after March’s Doha Elite16, Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig were happy to seize the gap left at the top of podiums. For the third straight tournament, Ahman and Hellvig won gold, beating Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot, 21-19, 21-18, extending their winning streak to 10 consecutive matches.

Perhaps more remarkable, Ostrava marks nine straight finals made by Sweden, extending back to last year’s Ostrava Elite16, where they finished fifth after forfeiting the quarterfinal when Hellvig injured his hand against Andy Benesh and Miles Partain.

“Of course they played super good the last time we played them,” Ahman said of Boermans and de Groot, who whipped them in the finals of the Doha Elite16, 21-11, 21-10. “We wanted a rematch and we got it. That feels amazing.”

The post Andy Benesh, Miles Partain regain formidable form with Ostrava bronze appeared first on Volleyballmag.com.

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