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U.S. sweeps beach volleyball events at World Beach Games

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Siblings Karissa Cook and Brian Cook led their teams to gold medals at the four-player beach volleyball competitions Wednesday at the World Beach Games in Qatar.

Each team avenged a loss in pool play. The women lost to Brazil in straight sets but took a convincing 21-16, 21-9 win in the final. The men lost to host Qatar, one of its two losses in pool play, before charging back to win the rest of its matches in straight sets, including a 21-18, 26-24 win in the final.

Karissa Cook, who played as a setter for Stanford’s indoor volleyball team and played for Hawaii’s beach volleyball team as a graduate student, had five kills and five blocks in the women’s final. Former Hawaii indoor player Emily Hartong also accounted for 10 points with six kills and four blocks. Geena Urango, who played indoors and on the beach at Southern Cal, had eight kills.

Cook, Hartong and teammates Allie Wheeler and Katie Spieler played together to win a snow volleyball competition in Moscow over the winter.

Brian Cook, who also played at Stanford and has played for the U.S. indoor team, led the U.S. men with nine kills and six blocks in the final. Taylor Crabb, who played at Long Beach State and recently won the AVP Hawaii Open with Jake Gibb, had 11 kills and a block.

Elsewhere on the last day of the World Beach Games, the U.S. women’s 3×3 basketball team shot just 34% from the field in a 14-12 loss to Brazil.

The U.S. finished the inaugural edition of the World Beach Games with four gold medals and four bronze.  Spain had the most gold medals with seven; Brazil had the most medals with 12.

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Crabb brothers, once beach volleyball partners, now rivals for Olympic spot

Taylor Crabb, Trevor Crabb
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Trevor Crabb and Taylor Crabb began this Olympic cycle as beach volleyball partners. The brothers are now rivals, competing against one another for an Olympic berth.

“It’s a good story, how it ended,” Trevor said of their breakup.

The climax came at the first AVP event after the 2016 Olympics (the Crabbs didn’t qualify for Rio). Trevor, 26, and Taylor, 24, reached the semifinals in Chicago, two match wins from their first title together.

Trevor said they were required to attend a sponsor-thrown player party on the Saturday night before the final four. He left the gathering early to rest before the last day of the tournament.

“Taylor ended up staying out all night and partying,” Trevor said, laughing. “I show up the next morning to the player tent, and I see him, and I could just tell that he was completely hung over.”

Taylor confirmed the story. They were swept out of the semifinals 21-12, 21-16 in what turned out to be their last match as partners.

“That was kind of the tipping point right then,” Trevor said. “We just got annihilated in the semis and were totally just yelling at each other the whole match.”

The Crabbs flew back to Redondo Beach, Calif., where they share a home.

“[Trevor] was sitting on the couch, and I walked to him,” Taylor said. “I said, hey, I think we should play with separate partners going forward. He says, yeah, sounds good. That was it.

“At that point we weren’t talking at all. While we were playing together, we strictly played volleyball together and that’s it. We didn’t hang out. We didn’t do anything together.”

They broke the news to their parents.

“I was disappointed that they chose not to [keep playing together], but I think it’s helped them grow,” said Paula Crabb, a longtime champion canoe racer who just started her 44th year as a physical education teacher at Honolulu’s Punahou School, which produced Barack Obama.

“I was there when he was,” she said of Obama, who graduated in 1979. “He was on the basketball team. I didn’t teach him, though.”

Though Taylor was out too late in Chicago, he won the breakup.

After that AVP event, he connected with three-time Olympian Jake Gibb, who was looking for a new partner after playing with Casey Patterson in Rio. Though Gibb was 40, he was still one of the best U.S. blockers and, importantly for Taylor, had a bevy of FIVB points to earn automatic entry into events.

Trevor had no partner immediately lined up. He played with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal and John Mayer before teaming with childhood friend Tri Bourne, with whom he’s now making a Tokyo 2020 run.

Paula, who has the summers off from teaching, now splits time watching each son’s matches. Sometimes they play at the same time on different courts. She doesn’t keep close track of Olympic qualifying, but she knows both are in the running.

“It would be great if both of them did,” get to Tokyo, she said. “Both following their dreams. If one did, that’s great, too. I’ll take anything right now.”

This weekend’s season-ending FIVB World Tour Finals could prove critical for the Crabbs and their new partners. They are among three U.S. teams chasing a maximum of two Olympic spots.

Olympic qualifying, which began last year, runs into June, but the 2020 season schedule hasn’t been set yet. The World Tour Finals, which award the maximum qualifying points among annual tournaments, could be the last five-star-level event before the Tokyo Games.

Right now, Trevor and Bourne lead the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings with 5,600 points in 11 tournaments. In second place: 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and his partner, Nick Lucena, with 4,880. In third: Taylor and Gibb with 4,260.

A caveat: Trevor and Bourne have played 11 tournaments. Dalhausser and Lucena and Taylor and Gibb have each played nine. Come the Olympic qualifying cutoff in June, each team’s 12 best results are counted. Going by average points gained so far, Dalhausser and Lucena are in the lead (542 per event), followed by Trevor and Bourne (509) and Taylor and Gibb (473). The U.S. teams must also attain a certain international ranking to qualify. That’s not guaranteed and could create more complications.

Taylor and Gibb were in better position at the start of 2019, but they haven’t made any semifinals this international season. Meanwhile, Trevor and Bourne made a stunning run to the world championships semifinals to boost their stock.

But last month, Bourne broke his right hand celebrating a match win. He hit the referee stand with his fists, but it wasn’t padded like he expected. They had to forfeit out of the five-star event. Bourne is playing left-handed this week. They lost their first match 21-13, 21-13 on Thursday.

The Crabbs could become the second set of brothers or sisters to play on different beach volleyball teams at an Olympics, according to Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen. German twins Christoph and Markus Dieckmann had different partners in 2004.

Two sets of Olympic siblings played together with decent success — the Austrian Schwaiger sisters and the Swiss Laciga brothers, the latter known for not talking to each other during a decade-long run.

“Because every time one made a suggestion to the other, they’d imploded, they figured it was best not to say anything,” Misty May-Treanor wrote in her book.

Taylor and Trevor said they have been on good terms for the last year and a half, once things cooled over.

“Our relationship’s better than it’s ever been,” Taylor said. “It’s great for both of our careers and our games that we don’t have that extra baggage and tension and stress from playing with each other.”

And if only one of them can make the Olympic team?

“If it does come down to us two battling it out for that last spot, I’m happy that it’s with them,” Taylor said. “If they do happen to get it, I’ll be proud of them either way. I grew up with Tri, too.”

Gibb, at 44, is in the twilight of his career. Taylor could very well be looking for a new partner after Tokyo. Both brothers said they are open to partnering up again. It would certainly make it easier on mom flying from Hawaii to watch their matches.

“I’m just hoping there’s still a day where they can get back together,” Paula said.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

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Race for Olympic beach volleyball spots heats up World Tour Finals

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April Ross and Alix Klineman can all but wrap up an Olympic beach volleyball berth this weekend. For Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, a strong finish at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome may prove crucial for Tokyo 2020 hopes.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live coverage Saturday (6 a.m. ET quarterfinals and 12 p.m. semifinals) and same-day finals coverage Sunday at 12 p.m. NBCSN airs coverage Sunday at 11 p.m.

The international season ends with a bucket of Olympic qualifying points available. There will be more tournaments in the fall, winter and spring before the Olympic qualifying cutoff date of June 14, but the majority of next season’s schedule has not been announced.

“It’s so uncertain right now,” NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong said. “You need to lock in points as soon as possible. We don’t know how many events there are going to be next year.”

And there might not be any events with as many Olympic qualifying points at stake as the World Tour Finals, which carries five-star-level status. Only the biennial world championships, which took place earlier this season, had greater ramifications.

A maximum of two U.S. pairs per gender can qualify for the Tokyo Games.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman, her new partner as of two years ago, are ranked No. 1 in the world. With the World Tour Finals, they will reach the requirement of 12 events played to be eligible for the Olympics.

They already have 8,160 Olympic qualifying points, which is 1,280 better than the next-best U.S. team of Walsh Jennings and Sweat.

Walsh Jennings, a triple Olympic champion who split with Ross after their Rio Olympic bronze medals, paired with Sweat about a year ago. They have been up and down but grinded through qualifying matches to reach main draws all season.

They have a 580-point lead for the second and final U.S. Olympic spot over the No. 3 American team of Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil.

Both pairs have met the 12-tournament requirement, which means each is playing to replace their lowest-scoring result so far. Teams can play as many tournaments as they like in the Olympic qualifying window, but only their 12 best points results count.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat are looking to drop a 480-point score. Claes and Sponcil want to drop a 240-point score, which means they can finish lower than Walsh Jennings and Sweat this weekend and still gain on them in the qualifying standings.

The World Tour Finals winners get 1,200 points, a significant increase over a four-star event (800 points) and a three-star event (600 points).

On the men’s side, three pairs are also in the running for two Olympic spots. The teams include 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and brothers playing with different partners — Taylor Crabb with Jake Gibb and Trevor Crabb with Tri Bourne.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

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