Betsi Flint, Julia Scoles ace Montreal Elite16 qualifier, clinch World Champs bid

Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles celebrate a point/Volleyball World photo

One ace, two aces, three aces, four, five aces, six aces, seven aces — well, no more, but you get the drift. It was at the service line that Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles punched their ticket into the main draw of this week’s Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Montreal Elite16.

In their final round alone, against Brazil’s Vitoria De Souza and Andressa Cavalcanti, Flint notched four aces and Scoles added another three, sealing a 21-17, 21-19 win. That victory came on the heels of a shockingly smooth 21-11, 21-8 win over New Zealand’s Alice Zeimann and Olivia MacDonald, scores you don’t often see in an Elite16, even in a qualifier.

Wednesday marked a critical qualification for Flint and Scoles, extending their perfect streak in qualifiers together as a team as well as their momentum gathered from last weekend’s Challenge event in Edmonton. They were the top finishing American team in Edmonton, closing with a fifth, matching their best finish of the season.

Montreal presents another massive opportunity, as, incredibly, they find themselves in a pool with two other American teams: Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon, and Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss. Rounding out Pool C is Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain, the former Florida State standout in her rookie season on the Beach Pro Tour. Currently, Flint and Scoles trail Nuss and Kloth by 880 points in the Olympic standings, and are 400 behind Sponcil and Cannon.

Regardless of what happens in Montreal, however, Flint and Scoles assured their spot as the fourth USA team in this fall’s World Championships, as only the Hamburg Elite16 remains in the World Championships qualification period. Neither Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft, nor Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez will have enough points to enter Hamburg.

All of that, of course, is in the distant future. For now, Flint and Scoles have more beach volleyball to play in Canada, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Pacific, against Sponcil and Cannon. Thirty minutes later, Nuss and Kloth will play Pavan and McBain, who were wild-carded into the main draw.

Betsi Flint hits a serve at the Edmonton Challenge/Volleyball World photo

Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, meanwhile, are on an island, the only American team in Pool B. They’ll begin their tournament against Barbara and Carol, the hottest team in the world who is currently riding a three-tournament winning streak, with back-to-back gold medals won in Challenges in Espinho and Edmonton (the other is the South American Continental Championships, which offer the points equivalent of a Challenge gold medal).

Batting leadoff on Thursday for the USA will be Miles Evans and Chase Budinger, who played a phenomenal two matches in Wednesday’s qualifier, beating the Netherlands’ Leon Luini and Christiaan Varenhorst (21-18, 14-21, 15-11) and Spain’s Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira (21-16, 21-19). They’ll play Chile’s Marco Grimalt and Esteban Grimalt at 7 a.m. Pacific and get back on the court at 11 against France’s Arnaud Gauthier-Rat and Youssef Krou.

For Budinger and Evans, the qualification was critical, more important than the main draw made by Scoles and Flint. After losing two straight matches in Edmonton, Budinger and Evans, who are currently ranked No. 28 in the Olympic race, needed a big finish in Montreal to keep their World Championships hopes alive. Had they not qualified, their World Championships hopes would have been dashed.

Yet here they are, more than alive, in a pool replete with good matchups for a team that played some of its best volleyball on Wednesday. Such is not the case for their countrymen and rivals, Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, who suffered a first round loss to Australians Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher (26-28, 24-22, 14-16). Bourne and Schalk are in little danger of missing out on World Championships, but the opportunity to amass points in the lightest Elite16 of the season was a big miss for a team that has yet to sniff its potential.

The same can’t be said for Kyle Friend and Paul Lotman, good friends and former college teammates at Long Beach State who played because, well, why not? They, too, fell in the first round, to Italy’s Sam Cottafava and Paolo Nicolai (20-22, 15-21) though solid volleyball was played. Friend will remain in the tournament, however, as a commentator for Volleyball TV.

Lotman’s former partner, Miles Partain, now with Andy Benesh and coming off a gold medal at the Gstaad Elite16, will play a slapdash Dutch team of Matthew Immers and Yorick de Groot at 3 p.m.. The pair of Dutch defenders are only playing together because their normal partners — Steven van de Velde and Stefan Boermans, respectively — are out with injuries. It is, suffice it to say, as good of a draw as one will get in an Elite16.

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