05_BPT Rosarito - Women Main Draw USAvsBRA

Smiley Flint and Claes celebrate a productive day in Rosarito

Facing the Tokyo Olympic bronze medallists and a team formed by two savvy veterans from Brazil in their first time playing as partners wasn’t exactly a dream path for Kelly Claes and Betsi Flint, but the Americans showed they were up to the challenge on Thursday.

Playing on the opening day of the main draw of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 tournament in Rosarito, Mexico, the 26-year-old Claes and the 29-year-old Flint secured a pair of remarkable victories on Pool C and are guaranteed in the elimination round of the event.

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A Tokyo Olympian, Claes decided to join Flint after the end of the 2021 season. Despite having practised together for just two months, the Americans showed excellent chemistry to dominate Swiss Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre to an emphatic 2-0 (21-13, 21-15) victory in their debut.

The two returned to the court some hours later to face Maria Antonelli, a London 2012 Olympian, and Fernanda Alves, a silver medallist at the 2015 FIVB World Championship, and continued to impress with another straight-set (21-15, 24-22) win against the Brazilians.

Flint/Claes vs. Maria Antonelli/Fernanda - Match Highlights

“It feels really good,” Claes commented. “We just wanted to go on the court together. We had a few scrimmages, but it’s really fun to get out and compete. It’s a totally different energy than practise. It was awesome to be on the court with Betsi and fight together.”

With their two victories, the Americans are guaranteed in the quarterfinals, as are Talita Antunes and Rebecca Cavalcanti. The Brazilian qualifiers started the day prevailing over their compatriots in two sets (21-13, 21-19) and did the same against the Swiss, with a 2-0 (21-15, 21-19) triumph. Americans and Brazilians will play for the top spot in the pool on Friday.

The scenario is different in Pool A, which also had each team completing two matches on the first day of the tournament. First-time partners as well, Brazilians Eduarda ‘Duda’ Lisboa and Ana Patricia Ramos are the best team in the pool so far with two wins.

The winners of the 2014 Youth Olympics defeated compatriots Barbara Seixas and Carol Salgado, the champions of last weekend’s Tlaxcala Challenge, 2-0 (21-17, 21-16) in their first match as partners and repeated the two-set (21-15, 21-17) victory against Latvian Olympic semifinalists Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka later.

“The first matches of the season are always difficult because the only way to get in competition rhythm is playing,” Duda reflected. “We had some camps and scrimmages, but being on the court for a real match brings a lot of feelings and we're still figuring out how to handle them together. We prepared well and it was great to have a good start to our team today.”

01_BPT Rosarito - Women Main Draw BRAvsBRA

Ana Patricia sets Duda during the first day of the main draw in Rosarito

Barbara and Carol rebounded on their second match, securing a 2-0 (21-19, 22-20) victory over Germans Cinja Tillmann and Svenja Muller. As the Europeans had started their campaign with a three-set (21-19, 23-25, 15-10) win against Graudina and Kravcenoka, all four teams enter the last day of pool play with chances of advancing.

The other two women’s pools of the Rosarito Elite 16 event had only one match for each team. Pool B had as many as three American duos and two of them were up to a good start in Mexico. Tokyo Olympic champion April Ross and new partner Emily Day had a strong display against the reigning European champions Tanja Huberli and Nina Brunner of Switzerland, coming from behind to win 2-1 (13-21, 21-19, 15-7).

01_BPT Rosarito - Women Main Draw USAvsSUI

Day digs during the match against the Swiss

Qualifiers Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske emerged victorious in the first of three all-American meetings set to happen in the pool, downing compatriots Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon in straight sets (21-17, 21-17).

Olympic teams from Canada and the Netherlands got a head start on Pool D. Reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes had no trouble imposing their game against Mexicans Atenas Gutierrez and Maria Quinteros to secure a 2-0 (21-15, 21-14) while Dutch qualifiers Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam upset Tokyo Olympic silver medallists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho of Australia with a three-set (21-18, 9-21, 15-12) win.

Pavan/Melissa vs. Gutierrez/Quintero - Match Highlights

Pool play will be completed in Rosarito on Friday, when the eight teams that will move forward to the elimination round will be known. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played on Saturday while the medal matches are scheduled for Sunday, the last day of the tournament in Mexico.