SAQUAREMA, Brazil — There is much that will look the same this week on the Beach Pro Tour. This weekend’s Saquarema Challenge, which begins with Thursday’s qualifier, is held not far from last week’s in Recife — a few-hour flight to Rio de Janeiro, a two-hour drive to the sleepy surf-town that is Saquarema. The language is the same, the faces the same, the food the same delicious dose of acai and picanha.

The field, too, is mostly the same.

Key word: Mostly.

Absent from this weekend’s Saquarema Challenge is Arthur Mariano and Evandro Goncalves, winners of last week’s Recife Challenge, owners of one of the most dominant individual performances in recent memory. The field will not have to deal with the 37 aces pumped in from Evandro last weekend, nor the 60-plus-percent side out from Arthur. The Brazilians collected their gold medal, stashed away their 800 points, and though they are the defending champions here in Saquarema, they have opted to take the week off.

The same line of thinking seems to have applied to Latvians Tina Graudina and Anastasija Samoilova. They, too, collected their gold medal in Recife. They, too, stashed away 800 points. They, too, have opted to take the week off.

Saquarema, then, is open.

Or so it can seem.

Heather Bansley, left, and Sophie Bukovec at the 2023 Edmonton Challenge/Volleyball World photo

Medalists back in qualifier for Saquarema Challenge

Both of the silver medalists made the trip from Recife to Saquarema. Cubans Noslen Diaz and Jorge Alayo are the top seed for the first time in their partnership. Sophie Bukovec and Heather Bansley are also the top seed… in the qualifier.

The entry points earned last week in Recife have not yet taken hold for the Canadians, who danced their way from the qualifier to the gold medal match in Recife. So they’re back to where they began, in the qualifier where they’ll meet Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez in the first round, and likely New Zealand’s Alice Zeimann and Shaunna Polley in the second should they win. Brooke Sweat and Kennedy Coakley match up with Puerto Rico’s Allanis Navas and Maria Gonzalez.

Bukovec and Bansley can find empathy from Lithuania’s Monika Paulikiene and Aine Raupelyte. They, too, won a medal in Recife, a bronze. It was the first Challenge or Elite16 medal of their partnership. Their reward? Heading right back into the qualifier in Saquarema.

Nasty affairs, these qualifiers.

The women’s side has been made so because of the addition of China’s Xinyi Xia and Chen Xue, Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Louise Lippmann, and Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain. The only team on the men’s end who flew in just for Saquarema is Australia’s Zach Schubert and Thomas Hodges, bruisers who will more than atone for Evandro and Arthur’s absence. Where the American men’s teams start is unaffected by the introduction of the Aussies.

As they did last week in Recife, Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk open up qualifier play with the Czech Republic’s David Westphal and Tadeas Trousil, whom they beat 21-11, 21-16 in Recife. Logan Webber and Hagen Smith will meet eleventh-seeded Austrians Phillipp Waller and Martin Ermacora. Beginning in the main draw are Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, and Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, who finished ninth and fourth, respectively, in Recife.

That fourth brought Budinger and Evans to within 340 points of Brunner and Crabb in the Olympic race. Such a margin can be erased in a single tournament, let alone when accounting for the eight remaining in the Olympic qualifying period.

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