BPT Challenge Itapema - NEDvsUSA_9684

Hughes and Kolinske became the second American team to win a Beach Pro Tour event

It took Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske just three tournaments to get to the top of a podium on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour. One of several new teams competing in the inaugural season of the international beach volleyball circuit, the Americans put on a tremendous performance to win the Itapema Challenge, in Brazil, on Sunday.

After finishing ninth at the Tlaxcala Challenge and fifth at the Rosarito Elite16 last month, the 27-year-old Hughes and the 29-year-old Kolinske showed great progress over the weekend at the Meia Praia Beach and capped it off with a stellar straight-set (21-18, 21-18) victory against Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam in the gold medal match in Itapema. The Dutch have been the sensations of the season so far, having appeared in all three finals and won gold in Rosarito and silver in Tlaxcala and Itapema.

· All the matches of the Itapema Challenge are available to watch on Volleyball TV.

The Americans started the gold match well and controlled the first points, securing a 7-4 lead. Stam started to have an impact and had an excellent run from the service line, helping her team take the lead at 9-8 with an ace. A few plays later, she blocked Kolinske to increase the Dutch lead to two points at 11-9. The Americans tied the set again at 15 points with an ace by Hughes and managed to create a two-point separation at 20-18 with Kolinske hitting on two. The Americans also won the next point, with Hughes concluding a great transition play with an inch-perfect pokey near the end line to take the set 21-18.

BPT Challenge Itapema - NEDvsUSA_9540

Hughes hits around Stam's block during the gold medal match

USA started the second set in strong form too, with Kolinske blocking Schoon. After some lead changes in the first half of the set, Kolinske came up big at the net again, this time stopping Stam to score 10-7. The Dutch came close at 10-9 with Stam firing an ace, but after that point, the Americans took control and never looked back. With an electric Hughes in the backcourt and Kolinske winning the battle at the net, they forced the Dutch to errors that gave them a five-point lead at 15-10. Schoon and Stam pushed back again near the end, but a perfect roll shot by Kolinske closed the set and match at 21-18.

Gold medal match highlights: Stam/Schoon vs. Kolinske/Hughes

A product of the reshuffle that affected several American teams following last year’s Tokyo Olympics, Hughes and Kolinske made a strong case to be considered among the top teams in the country and even the world this week in Brazil. The two were consistently brilliant on court and ended the tournament undefeated with six wins and a single set dropped.

“It was a lot of fun playing here, especially on the centre court,” Kolinske commented. “The fans were awesome and it was so fun to play in front of such an active and lively crowd. We fought so much and we’re so happy to bring the gold home. Hopefully there are more of these to come. We know we can play any team in the world and I am confident we can win multiple medals this season.”

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Dutch, Americans and Brazilians smile on the podium

It was the second medal won by Hughes in Itapema in just six months as the American defender stepped on the podium in the Brazilian city last November, at the final event on the FIVB World Tour, when then-partner Terese Cannon and her won bronze. It was also her fourth international victory and Kolinske's third.

“This is amazing,” she reacted. “This is just our third tournament together but after working so hard in the off-season, it feels like we’ve been partners for years. To come home with the gold from this tournament really means a lot to our team. Our goal was to play as one and I think we did a good job in just taking a deep breath and kept going when we faced difficult moments.”

Hosts Brazil also took a place on the podium, represented by Andressa Cavalcanti and Vitoria Rodrigues. The two, who had won bronze in an FIVB World Tour event in Prague last August, finished third again in Itapema and made the home fans happy.

Andressa Vitoria vs. Borger Sude - Match Highlights

The 25-year-old Andressa and the 22-year-old Vitoria claimed bronze with a solid 2-0 (21-11, 21-17) victory over German Olympians Karla Borger and Julia Sude, the winners of the 2019 FIVB World Tour Finals.

“We leave Itapema with the feeling that we accomplished our goal,” Andressa commented. “To be among the three best teams in such a competitive tournament isn’t easy. We’re happy with our team and the progress we made here this week. To be on the podium means a lot to us. It was really nice to play here in Itapema, we felt at home this weekend.”

The Beach Pro Tour will have a two-week break following the tournament in Itapema and will return with another Challenge event, this time in Doha, Qatar, from May 5-8.