Miles Partain, Andy Benesh “hang in” to win pool at Montreal Elite16

It’s always strange to hear the hottest team in the world describing a pool-play match as just trying “to hang in there as long as possible and see what happens.” Yet that’s exactly how Miles Partain described the 54-minute belter — the second-longest match of the Montreal Elite16 thus far — against Australian qualifiers Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher on Friday afternoon.

After dropping the first set 21-23, squandering a 19-17 lead in the process, Partain and his 6-foot-9 blocker, Andy Benesh, responded well enough, winning the second, 21-17 before jumping out to a 5-2 lead in the third. It was a three-point edge they maintained all the way to 14-11. At this stage for Partain and Benesh, a team that had won eight straight matches heading into the match with the Australians, three match points would seem more than enough cushion.

They’d have needed five.

Carracher snatched two straight blocks, one on a Partain option, another on a Benesh line swing, and then delivered a float that dropped straight down in front of an outstretched Benesh for an ace. Suddenly, unbelievably, it was the Australians who had a match point of their own.

But this was the week that wasn’t meant to be for the Aussies. They’ve had a grinder of a year, Carracher and Nicolaidis, with just a single top 10 to their name in six events. After winning a pair of qualifier matches to make the main draw, the third sets eluded them. It eluded them in the first round of pool play against Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, dropping 12-15, and it eluded them again in the second, against Yorick de Groot and Matthew Immers, losing 13-15.

It would elude them once more, as Benesh and Partain just “hung in there,” winning 18-16 after consecutive errors from Carracher and Nicolaidis.

“They played really well,” Benesh said, in what might be the understatement of the season from the understated Benesh.

They hung in there long enough to earn a first-round bye and a ticket straight into the quarterfinals, where they will meet the winner of France’s Youssef Krou and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, and Brazil’s Vitor Felipe and Renato Lima.

Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, in their first Elite16 main draw of the season, broke pool and will play, incredibly, Evandro and Arthur Mariano for the fifth time in six tournaments. The last time the two played one another was in Espinho, where Budinger and Evans won, 19-21, 21-19, 15-9 for their first victory over the Brazilians.

Three out of the four USA women’s teams remain in the hunt, though only Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth earned a bye, doing so with three blowout wins over Molly McBain and Sarah Pavan (21-13, 21-12), Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil (21-17, 21-12), and Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles (21-8, 21-18). Their gift for not dropping a set in pool play? Meeting the winner of Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, and Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes, the 2 and 4 seeds, respectively.

Kristen Nuss digs at the Montreal Elite16/Volleyball World photo

The draw isn’t much better for Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, who play Australians and Olympic silver medalists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho. The winner of that match feeds into world No. 1 Ana Patricia Silva and Duda Lisboa of Brazil.

Overall, it is a successful start to the Montreal Elite16 for the Americans. Only Cannon and Sponcil failed to break pool, losing all three matches, the final being a wild, topsy-turvy 21-23, 19-21 loss to Pavan and McBain that saw back-to-back 10-3 runs in the second set.

You can watch all matches of the Montreal Elite16 at Volleyball TV. 

Andy Benesh hits at the Montreal Elite16/Volleyball World photo

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