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Brazil beach volleyball shakeup breaks up world champions

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Olympic champions Alison and Bruno‘s breakup was quickly felt throughout the top level of Brazilian beach volleyball. The 2017 World champions are no longer a pair as a result.

Alison, the 6-foot-8 blocker nicknamed “Woolly Mammoth” with a matching rib tattoo, will now partner with Andre, a 2017 World champion with Evandro.

Bruno, a 6-foot-1 defensive standout known as the “Magician,” will play with former partner Pedro. Pedro and Evandro made up the other Brazilian team at the Rio Olympics, getting eliminated in the quarterfinals and then breaking up at the end of 2016 as Evandro began playing with Andre.

Andre and Evandro’s announced breakup came days after they won the most recent FIVB World Tour event in Itapema, Brazil, without dropping a set in six matches.

“I’m very frustrated with [Andre’s] decision,” Evandro said, according to an FIVB translation of a Globo story, “but it happened, and I need to move forward.”

Evandro will be reunited with Vitor Felipe, according to the FIVB. Abrupt changes in Brazilian partnerships, sometimes with federation involvement, are common.

The biggest rival to the top Brazilian pairs the last two seasons has been the U.S. team of 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and his 2016 Olympic partner, Nick Lucena.

Dalhausser and Lucena won the first of three majors this season in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in March. They also won the last major of the 2017 season as well as the World Tour Finals, beating Andre and Evandro in the latter final.

The next major tournament this season is in Gstaad, Switzerland, in July. There are no world championships in even-numbered years.

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Olympic beach volleyball champs Alison, Bruno split

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Brazilians Alison and Bruno ended their beach volleyball partnership, less than two years after taking gold at the Rio Olympics, one of the greatest moments for the host nation.

Neither has announced a new partner.

“I’m really proud of what we built together, of our team being an example for many, but it came to an end now,” Alison said, according to the FIVB. “We talked, and we agreed that it’s time for us to look for new challenges. Besides of the good memories, we keep the respect, the friendship and the admiration for each other.”

Alison and Bruno had been a team since 2014 but struggled since their Olympic title. They haven’t made a final of an event outside of Brazil since September 2016.

They were dominant in 2015 and 2016, winning not only the Olympics, but also the world championships, back-to-back World Tour Finals and three FIVB World Tour Grand Slam events.

Other Brazilian pairs have emerged. Andre and Evandro won the 2017 World title as well as last week’s FIVB World Tour event in Brazil.

The top U.S. pair, 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and his 2016 Olympic partner, Nick Lucena, won the first of three majors this season in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in March. They also won the last major of the 2017 season as well as the World Tour Finals, beating Andre and Evandro in the latter final.

The next major tournament this season is in Gstaad, Switzerland, in July. There are no world championships in even-numbered years.

“It’s early to say something, we’ll start from zero,” Alison said, according to the FIVB. “I’ll talk with my coaching staff and think about my future. Olympic qualification is starting soon, and we need to plan well because the goal is to compete in Tokyo 2020.”

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MORE: April Ross finds new partner for Tokyo 2020 Olympic run

Kerri Walsh Jennings pleased by result after longest break in five years

Kerri Walsh Jennings
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Kerri Walsh Jennings returned from her longest competition break since 2013 and, with partner Nicole Branagh, nearly beat the world’s top-ranked team.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh ultimately were eliminated in the round of 16 at the Xiamen Open in China.

“We WILL do better,” was posted on Walsh Jennings’ social media. “We actually had a great showing and learned and battled and improved – sometimes the stats don’t show everything.”

Walsh Jennings and Branagh, a pair of 39-year-old moms, played together for the first time since July 22, when Walsh Jennings’ five-times surgically repaired right shoulder popped out mid-match.

Walsh Jennings, eyeing her sixth and final Olympics in 2020, underwent a sixth shoulder surgery and an ankle surgery and did not return to training on the beach until March (her longest break between hitting a ball on sand since switching from indoor following the 2000 Olympics).

The duo won their opening Xiamen match in three sets last week, then lost a three-setter to the world’s No. 1 team in group play. Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes prevailed 21-15, 22-24, 18-16 en route to the tournament title.

After Walsh Jennings and Branagh swept American qualifiers Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman in the first elimination round, they squandered a one-set lead in the round of 16. Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy eliminated them 19-21, 21-16, 20-18.

Walsh Jennings said before flying to Xiamen that she and Branagh would next play on the FIVB World Tour at the Itapema Open in Brazil in mid-May. In four FIVB World Tour events since partnering last year, they were eliminated in qualifying once, bounced in the round of 16 twice and forfeited a bronze-medal match due to that shoulder dislocation.

Early season partner changes defined the U.S. women’s landscape. In Xiamen, one of those new teams, Kelly Claes and Brittany Hochevar, reached the final, losing to the Canadians.

It marked the first final four appearance on the senior FIVB World Tour for the 22-year-old Claes, an NCAA champion at USC with former partner Sara Hughes, and for the 36-year-old Hochevar, the older sister of former Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar.

MORE: Walsh Jennings documents comeback from surgeries

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