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Esmée/Zoé (SUI) vs. Vergé-Dépré A./Mäder (SUI) - Round 2 #15867757

Vergé-Dépré celebrates a point in the nerve-wrecking qualifier match between Swiss teams

The Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Espinho Elite16 featured one of the most dramatic matches of the Olympic qualification period on its opening day on Wednesday and Tokyo Olympic medalists Joana Mäder and Anouk Vergé-Dépré made the most of it to keep their hopes of qualifying for the Paris Games alive.

A three-set victory over compatriots and fellow Olympic contenders Esmée Böbner and Zoé Vergé-Dépré in the second round of the qualifier sent their opponents back home empty-handed and placed Mäder and Vergé-Dépré in the main draw, where they can earn valuable points in the FIVB Olympics Rankings.

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With just three tournaments left in the qualification period, Mäder and Vergé-Dépré (7,440 points) need to make a move now to catch Esmée and Zoé (7,900) and their 2-1 (19-21, 21-12, 15-9) triumph in the Espinho Elite16 qualifier was a great start.

Besides sending their compatriots home, the Olympic bronze medalists can now also earn up 1,200 points at the Praia da Baía. Mäder and Vergé-Dépré need to finish at least in third place to pass their opponents this week, but will add points to their total and cut their lead if they finish ninth or higher.

“This is obviously a very important result for us,” Mäder told Volleyball World. “We came here knowing what we had to do and now that the tournament is on, we play for every point, regardless of the Olympic race. We know that if we get good results we’ll go to Paris, so we’re focusing on each moment and not on what’s to come. It was tough because the wind changed a lot here during the day and we had to adapt to it.”

The Swiss internal race has been particularly brutal for the Vergé-Dépré sisters Anouk, 32, and Zoé, 26, who find themselves battling each other for a single spot at the Games. In Espinho, they played each other for the third time during the qualification period, with the most experienced of the two taking the win for a second time.

“It’s obviously not the greatest feeling when every time you accomplish something it’s bad for your sister,” Anouk reflected. “We’re very close and I’m sure this feeling goes both ways. It’s not an easy situation, but for today, I’m really happy that we made it. At the end of the day, we’re both fighting for our teams and our dreams and I think that we do a good job of separating this from our personal relationship, which is a good thing.”

In the main draw, Mäder and Vergé-Dépré, who topped Canada’s Heather Bansley/Sophie Bukovec 2-1 (22-20, 19-21, 15-9) in the first round of the qualifier, will be in Pool B, alongside USA’s Kelly Cheng/Sara Hughes, China’s Chen Xue/Xinyi Xia and Germany’s Cinja Tillmann/Svenja Müller.

Raupelyte/Paulikiene (LTU) vs. Ittlinger/Borger (GER) - Round 2 #15872171

Paulikiene and Raupelyte pose after their victory in the qualifier

Lithuanians Monika Paulikiene and Aine Raupelyte also took an important step in their Olympic push as they advanced to the main draw in Espinho with a 2-1 (19-21, 21-15, 15-11) victory over Germans Karla Borger and Sandra Ittlinger.

Currently occupying the 16th spot in the Olympic Rankings, the two not only earned a huge opportunity to add to their total of 6,900 points, but also saw many of the teams ranked right below them, including Canada’s Sarah Pavan/Molly McBain, Spain’s Liliana Fernández/Paula Soria and Finland’s Taru Lathi/Niina Ahtiainen, all lose in the qualifier. Trailing France’s Lézana Placette/Alexia Richard, who also lost in the qualifier, by just 20 points, the Lithuanians need to finish ninth or higher to pass their fellow Europeans.

Espinho Elite16 – Match Schedule and Results

Also making it to the main draw in Espinho were Spain’s Daniela Álvarez/Tania Moreno and Brazil’s Tainá Bigi/Victoria Lopes.

Budinger and Evans ready to increase their lead

On the men’s qualifier, Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, who won the NORCECA Continental Tour Finals last week and jumped to second place in the American internal race, had the most to celebrate, as they not only advanced to the main draw as also saw their rivals Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb go down.

Budinger and Evans started the Espinho Elite16 with a 240-point lead (8,100 to 7,860) over Brunner and Crabb and could see that increase if they manage to finish ninth or better at the Praia da Baía.

The Americans defeated two sets of brothers in the qualifier, beating Portugal’s Tomas and Gonçalo Sousa 2-0 (21-14, 21-15) and Argentina’s Nicolas and Tomas Capogrosso 2-1 (19-21, 21-18, 15-12). In the main draw, they will face Brazil’s Andre Loyola/George Wanderley and Evandro Gonçalves/Arthur Lanci and Portugal’s Hugo Campos/João Pedrosa in Pool D.

Evans/Budinger (USA) vs. G. Sousa/T. Sousa (POR) - Round 1 #15861384

Evans digs during the qualifier in Espinho

Australians Thomas Hodges and Zachery Schubert will also have a unique opportunity to get closer to the Paris Games in Espinho after they topped France’s Julien Lyneel/Remi Bassereau 2-0 (21-17, 21-18) and England’s Javier Bello/Joaquin Bello also 2-0 (21-16, 23-21) in the qualifier. The third team above the cut-off line with 7,520 points, they can widen the gap between them and Austria’s Julian Hörl/Alexander Horst and Chile’s Marco Grimalt/Esteban Grimalt, who both have 7,260 points and won’t play in Espinho.

Another qualifier result with potentially huge Olympic implications was the upset of Dutch veterans Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, who fell to the Bello twins 2-0 (21-18, 21-14) in the first round. The Rio Olympic bronze medalists are currently the top Dutch team in the Olympic Rankings with 8,600 points, but could be passed this week by compatriots Steven van Velde/Matthew Immers (8,380) and Stefan Boermans/Yorick De Groot (8,000), who will both play in the main draw in Espinho.

The two other men’s teams to advance from the qualifier at the Praia da Baía were Australia’s Izac Carracher/Mark Nicolaidis and Norway’s Hendrik Mol/Mathias Berntsen.

The tournament continues on Thursday and Friday with pool play. The elimination rounds will be held on Saturday and the semifinals and medal matches on Sunday.

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