Bracket leaders Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng lived up to their status of number one seeds at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Torquay Challenge to claim the women’s gold after winning all their six matches in Australia in straight sets. During their impeccable run, the Americans never allowed their opponents to score over 16 points in a set. The pair of 27-year-old athletes, whose first period together started some 10 years ago and lasted through early 2018, reunited recently and topped the Torquay podium for an emphatic Beach Pro Tour debut.
Hughes & Cheng complete impeccable Beach Pro Tour debut
Torquay women’s silver and bronze off to China
Published 03:27, 27 Nov 2022
· Watch all matches at the Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in Torquay live or on demand on Volleyball TV.
The silver went to 10th-seeded Yuan Lvwen and Dong Jie of China. After collecting three medals – two golds and a bronze – at the Futures level, 26-year-old Yuan and 21-year-old Dong celebrated their first podium at a Challenge tournament.
Another Chinese duo, third-seeded Xia Xinyi and Lin MeiMei took home the bronze. It was the fifth Beach Pro Tour podium for Tokyo 2020 Olympian Xia and her current teammate Lin, and second at the Challenge level, after their silver at the first Dubai tournament. The pair of 25-year-old players have also picked up a full set of hardware at Futures events.
Hughes and Cheng found the empty spots on Yuan and Dong’s side to break away with an early 4-1 lead in the first set of Sunday’s gold medal match. Completely dominating on the court, they kept the pressure on and stretched the gap wider and wider until Hughes nailed the set winner at 21-11. The Americans stormed the second set on a 4-0 run and never looked back. However, holding the situation under complete control, they allowed their opponents to go past 15 points within a single set for the first time in the tournament. Cheng hammered her 22nd point of the game to close it off at 2-0 (21-11, 21-16).
“I think the chemistry is just there between us. We’ve been working really hard this past month since we got back together and we just showed it right there. It was so much fun and I’m so happy to be bringing home the gold with Kelly,” said Hughes. “I think we have a high ceiling, so we are going to keep improving every single day, every single tournament. We’re really happy with this win, but we have the Elite16 next week, so we have to refocus, go out there, play our best and bring home another gold.”
“We are a force to be reckoned with. We wanted to come out here and make a statement and I think we did that,” Cheng added.
Earlier on Sunday, the bronze medal match between Xia and Lin and second-seeded Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft of USA offered a very tight first set. The lead went back and forth several times until 12-12, when three in a row by the Americans set off a momentum which gradually led them to a 19-14 lead. The Asians made a last-minute effort to change the course of the set and got back to within one at 19-18, but the Americans kept their cool and finally an off-the-block hit by Kraft finished the set at 21-19 their way.
The momentum, however, was now on Xia and Lin’s side and they quickly picked up speed in the second set. When they filed it away on a wide shot by Stockman at 21-14, the gap was as big as seven points.
The Chinese went on to gain a slight early lead in the tie-breaker. The Americans caught up at 5-5, but after 7-7, a four-point run for Xia and Lin distanced them from their opponents and they cruised on to close the match at 2-1 (19-21, 21-14, 15-9). Lin and Stockman shared the top scorer honours on 28 points apiece.