Olympics

Brazilian teams capture men’s, women’s titles at SWATCH FIVB World event

BY FABIAN LYON

Special to the Miami Herald

Fort Lauderdale native Nick Lucena looks up in frustration after losing a point to Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Alison Cerutti of Brazil during the men’s final of the world championships.
Fort Lauderdale native Nick Lucena looks up in frustration after losing a point to Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Alison Cerutti of Brazil during the men’s final of the world championships. Sun Sentinel

Brazilian expats and nationals turned out in force to exhort their world-ranked men’s and women’s beach volleyball teams to a sweep of the inaugural SWATCH FIVB World titles on Fort Lauderdale Beach on Sunday.

Fueled by the vocal support of that flag-waving and dancing contingent, the Brazilian women’s team of Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca emerged victorious with a 21-17, 21-18 victory over Germany.

The tournament featured the top eight teams in the world, according to the FIVB World Tour rankings, two wild cards and 19 Olympians.

The Brazilian men’s team, led by Alison Cerutti and rising superstar Bruno Oscar Schmidt, beat the United States 21-13, 21-15 in a gold-medal match that was much closer than the score indicated.

“In my opinion, the crowd was cheering for both sides,” Schmidt said. “One side for Brazil and one for United States. It couldn’t have been more fantastic for this event and especially for us.

“The crowd showed we are not alone here, not at all.”

Superior setting, spectacular returns by Schmidt and Cerutti’s domination at the net helped Brazil put a slight damper on the homecoming of the United States’ Nick Lucena, a Fort Lauderdale native and Cooper City High School product.

“It’s awesome coming back here,” Lucena said. “We haven’t been back in five years. To get to the final is something special. We came up a little bit short.

“But Brazil played the best I thought they played the whole weekend. They played perfect, and they served tough and didn’t make too many mistakes. Playing in front of my friends and family was great.”

Lucena and the 6-9 Phil Dalhausser were trying to carry over the momentum of winning the Xiamen Open in China, their first international event as a duo, last Saturday.

Lucena turned in some brilliant moments of his own, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Brazilians from upping their head-to-head record against the United States to 32-30.

In a highly anticipated rematch of the U.S. Grand Slam championships in August, which Cerutti and Schmidt won, Brazil got off to a fast start to win the first set and then weathered a rally by the Americans to close out the championship.

Lucena came up big in the second set to help keep things interesting. Brazil went up 16-11 on one of Cerutti’s signature booming returns, but Lucena answered with a shot beyond the outstretched arms of Schmidt to pull the United States to within 16-12. Cerutti dded three more scores before Lucena staved off match point at 20-15. Ultimately, Schmidt turned in a winning power shot of his own to close the game 21-15.

In the women’s final, it was a historic tournament for Antunes and Franca, who ran their international winning streak to 27 matches to garner a record $100,000 purse, the richest in women’s beach volleyball.

The world’s hottest women’s beach volleyball duo wrapped up their 11th championship since becoming a team 15 months ago and seventh this season for a record $435,000 in earnings.

By any measure, the excitement and overwhelming turnout for the six-day tournament should go a long way in deciding if it returns to Fort Lauderdale next season.

Fans who were unable to get into the 4,000-seat stadium on Sunday stood in line for hours, waiting for the next available spot to open up.

Unfortunately, that proved to be a futile wait as those fortunate to get into the free event celebrated each spike and kill with fervor reserved for soccer matches.

Antunes said the game-day chemistry which helped them dispatch German on Sunday was a work in progress. Antunes said it took a while for her to learn how to communicate with her one-time arch rival.

“We have played together for about a year and two months so we are still a baby,” Antunes said. “Now it’s really good. We support each other. I played against her for many years. She was on the other side. Now she is on my side. She wasn’t easy to play with at the beginning because I didn’t know how to talk to her, how I had to be with her. Now we are happy together.”

The victory allowed Antunes and Franca to avenge a loss to the German team of Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst which beat the Brazilians in the Japanese Grand Slam quarterfinals in July 2015.

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