Defense doesn't always win championships in beach volleyball, but it might for Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal at the FIVB Grand Slam in Long Beach.
Tied 11-11 in the first set of their semifinal match against Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson, Dalhausser denied Gibb at the net once, then Patterson, and then Patterson again to win the point. Two plays later, Rosenthal pulled off a flailing, chicken-wing dig on Patterson and finished with a cross-court spike to make it 14-11 and seize control of the match.
"It was a critical part of the match there," Dalhausser said. "It kind of gave us a little momentum and sports is all about momentum. If you switch the momentum to your side, you can make up a couple extra points."
The fourth-seeded Americans blocked and dug their way to a 21-16, 21-19 semifinal victory against No. 1-seeded Gibb and Patterson on Friday. They will face No. 7-seeded Pablo Herrera Allepuz and Adrian Gavira Collado of Spain in the final Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
"It's kind of been like that all year," Rosenthal said. "We haven't been siding-out as well as both of us can, but we're scoring more points than everybody else."
With the ferociously hard-hitting Patterson on the other side of the net, sharp defense, as well as serving primarily to Gibb, helped turn the tide.
After polishing off the first game on a Dalhausser kill, they fell behind, 2-5, in the second set as Patterson heated up again. Dalhausser blocked Gibb to get his team within 6-7, and Rosenthal hit a cut shot to make it 12-12, but they were unable to pull ahead until 18-17, when a Patterson volley went long.
From there, the teams traded off for four points before another Dalhausser block on Gibb made it match point. Standing four or five feet behind the service line, Dalhausser said he decided that his jump serve would either be an ace or go out. "I was going for it all," he said.
And he got it, walloping the ball squarely into the back-right corner, past the outstretched fingers of a diving Patterson.
The same two teams will face off again Sunday in the semifinals of the World Series Cup.
Walsh Jennings debuts
Kerri Walsh Jennings will make her U.S. season debut Saturday, 14 weeks after giving birth to a daughter, Scout, her third child.
Walsh Jennings, who withdrew from the FIVB Grand Slam citing an abdominal strain, will play with Whitney Pavlik in the inaugural World Series Cup.
"I'm so glad the World Series Cup is happening," Walsh Jennings said after practicing with new partner Pavlik on Friday morning. "It's two matches and it's for all the glory."
Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, suffered the injury at a tournament in Switzerland two weeks ago. She and Pavlik will play April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in the U.S. semifinal at 11 a.m., with the winners advancing to face the international finalists Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Summer Ross walked off the court smiling ear-to-ear. Partner Emily Day trudged next to her, eyes glazed in disappointment and frustration.
It was a bittersweet afternoon Friday for the rising American stars. Sweet because the 15th-seeded pair logged their best FIVB finish at the Grand Slam — and the best of any U.S. women's team. But bitter because they squandered two late-game leads to miss out on a medal finish.
Ross and Day lost to No. 2-seeded Taiana Lima and Talita Antunes of Brazil, 17-21, 21-13, 21-17, after going up 18-15 in the second set with a spot in the gold-medal match on the line. Then they fell to seventh-seeded Germans Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler, 21-18, 25-23, after leading 19-16 in the second game.