Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have been a force in the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour since they became partners for the second time in their careers, last November, and the Americans celebrated their fourth title in the last four months on Sunday, at the Tepic Elite16, in Mexico.
Cheng and Hughes continue in spectacular form with Tepic gold
The Americans claim the fourth title after their reunion in Mexico
Published 11:18, 26 Mar 2023
The two dropped their first set in the tournament to Brazilians Eduarda ‘Duda’ Lisboa and Ana Patrícia Ramos in the gold medal match at the Amado Nervo Auditorium, but still managed to overcome the reigning world champions in the tie-breaker (21-14, 15-21, 15-10) and stand at the top of the podium. Australians Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho took bronze.
Cheng and Hughes have been nearly unstoppable in their second stint as partners, having won four of the six Beach Pro Tour events they competed at since their reunion, including the 2022 Beach Pro Tour Finals.
Champions also at both the Challenge and the Elite16 tournaments held in Torquay, Australia, last year, the Americans have won 29 of the 33 international beach volleyball matches they played in the last four months.
“It’s been amazing,” Hughes reflected. “I’m so happy to be playing with Kelly and just working with our entire team. We’re putting together the right strategies and working as hard as we can. We have all the support back home and that’s what makes a good team.”
After a brief point exchange in the first few plays, Hughes started to make a defensive impact in the match and generated and converted several counter-attacks, giving the Americans an 11-7 lead. An ace from her increased their advantage to 13-7 right before the technical timeout. Forcing errors from the Brazilians and maintaining their side out steady, Cheng and Hughes remained in control until the end and won the set 21-14 with a kill from Hughes.
The Brazilians started the second set stronger and jumped ahead at 5-2 with a block from Ana Patrícia on Cheng. The two took a 12-9 lead into the technical timeout and improved their advantage to five points at 15-10 when Cheng made an offensive error. More stable, the South Americans had no issues continuing ahead until the end and tied the gold medal match when Duda put the ball down with a tip to make them win the set 21-15.
Both team’s offences started the tie-breaker in a good rhythm and the Americans got the first break at 6-3, with Cheng blocking Ana Patrícia and Hughes digging the Brazilian blocker and putting the ball down in consecutive plays. A transition kill from Duda and a hitting error from Cheng brought the difference down to a single point at 8-7, but the Americans got back-to-back points to get up 10-7 and secured the title with a block from Cheng that ended the set 15-10.
Clancy and Mariafe stepped on the podium for the second time this season and the fifth in their last six events by taking bronze in Tepic and repeating the finish they got in the season-opening Doha Elite16, held in February.
The Tokyo Olympic silver medallists had to work hard, but downed Italian qualifiers Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi in the tie-breaker (16-21, 21-17, 19-17) to finish third in Mexico.
“I think the key was trusting our side out and our defence,” Clancy explained. “Thanks, Mariafe for standing by my side. Italy are such a great team and it took us a lot of patience to get the win.”
The Beach Pro Tour continues next week, with a Futures tournament set to take place in Coolangatta Beach, Australia, from Wednesday to Sunday. The next Elite16 event will be played in Uberlândia, Brazil, from April 26-30.