Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint discussed it early in their partnership, and they’ve since discussed it often: “We want to dominate the World Tour.”
That’s the seven-word mission statement that Cheng relayed to reporters on Sunday afternoon, in the wake of a weekend that was more dominant than any team in the world. Six matches they played at the Volleyball World Hamburg Elite 16 this weekend in Germany, and six matches did they win.
They lost only a single set en route to a gold medal in as commanding a form as you’ll likely see all season on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour.
“Everybody’s good out here and everyone can have good weekends but we discussed a lot: We want to dominate the World Tour,” Cheng said after a 21-19, 21-18 championship-match victory over Switzerland’s Tanja Huberli and Nina Brunner. “That’s what we’re working towards and we have the capabilities. It’s just about being consistent and taking care of the opportunities we create for ourselves and having fun along the way.”
It’s always easier to have a bit of fun when you’re winning, and winning is all Cheng and Flint did this weekend in Hamburg. They won against teams they’d never won against, upsetting Brazil’s Talita Antunes and Rebecca Cavalcanti in the first match of the tournament. They won against Karla Borger and Julia Sude, the team who knocked them out of World Championships, in front of a raucous home crowd that packed the Rothenbaum 10,000-seat arena. They won against Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam, the Dutch pair who flew up the rankings this season, beginning in the qualifier and racing, briefly, to No. 1 in the world.
They won against everyone.
“I want to win a gold medal every tournament I go to so this is great,” Cheng said. “It’s also very nice getting to see all of our hard work pay off. We’ve been working on so many different things and when all the pieces get together it’s exciting. Now it’s just cleaning up a few things, the consistency, and trying to beat everyone on tour all the time.”
Consistency. That’s the word that came up, in various forms, four times in just a two-minute interview. They’ve proven, since the first tournament of the season, with a fourth-place finish in an Elite 16 in Rosarito, Mexico, that they can beat anyone in the world. They proved, in New Orleans, they can cruise through an AVP tournament without dropping a single match. But the question, with a seventh in Atlanta and two straight Volleyball World finishes outside of the quarterfinals on the ledger, was could they perform at that level on a consistent basis? In Hamburg, they showed they could sustain their dominant form over four straight days, against the world’s best, losing only a single set while outscoring their six opponents by 44 total points.
“We put in a lot of work behind the scenes and it’s fun to be in this stretch of tournament after tournament but we’re wanting more and we want to be more consistent,” Flint said. “Less ups and downs and continuing to go up and get these finishes consistently.”
Bigger than simply Cheng and Flint medaling is the fact that Hamburg marks the first Elite 16 medal for the United States of the 2022 season. After virtually every top partnership was switched up in the wake of the Tokyo Olympics, it was expected that many would take a step back before climbing the world ranks once more, with Olympic qualifying for the 2024 Paris Games set to begin early next year.
“Our goal is Paris, so this is an awesome stepping stone and a great international win because that’s the focus,” Flint said. “It’s incredible and it’s fun to celebrate but we have a ton of work to do going forward.”
If Cheng and Flint are looking for models of consistency when it comes to winning gold medals, they can do no better than the men with whom they shared the top of the podium at the Hamburg Elite 16. Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl defeated Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands in an epic final, winning 21-18, 16-21, 29-27, marking their fourth gold medal of the season.
“It was a crazy final,” Bryl said afterwards. “This was the dream. I still don’t believe it.”
“Both teams showed in the tiebreak really incredible beach volleyball,” added Losiak, a two-time Olympian. “I have no words to say. I’m very happy and I hope we will keep this performance next week.”
He was speaking for his own team, who will be traveling to Munich for the European Championships, but he could have also been saying the same for Cheng and Flint, who will head back to the United States for the biggest event on the AVP calendar: The Manhattan Beach Open.
They’ve proven they can dominate the World Tour, as they sought to do, at the highest level.
The question, then: Can they do it consistently, and can they do it at home?
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