Rachel Wacholder rallies for pro beach volleyball title

Rachel Wacholder and Barbara Fontana overcome a height disadvantrage and rally to win the AVP pro be
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Rachel Wacholder had a relaxing trip from California to the Capital Region, and a laid-back approach to her championship match Wednesday night.

It added up to a victory in front of family and friends at the AVP Hot Winter Nights pro beach volleyball tournament at the Times Union Center.

While the rest of the compet­itors flew in on Tuesday, Wacholder traveled a few days early, spending time with the family of her uncle, Mike Wacholder, who is the twin brother of Rachel’s father.

Heading into the women’s championship match, she was paired with 42-year-old Barbara Fontana against two physically imposing players, top-seeded Tyra Turner and Jennifer Boss.

Wacholder and Fontana battled back from a 14-12 deficit to score four straight points and win,

16-14.

After the match, Wacholder received hugs from several relatives while men’s player Sean Scott batted a beachball around with some of Wacholder’s little cousins on the sand court.

“I was just having a good time,” Wacholder said. “I was happy to be here. I was lucky I got to spend a couple of days and spend some time with everyone and just relax. If I could take any of these [tour stops] to win, this would be the one I would want, so I’m happy.”

Men’s winner Jake Gibb echoed that, telling the crowd of 4,400, “I like this place”; he won the exhib­ition tournament when the AVP made its Albany debut last year, and teamed with Stein Metzger to defeat Scott and Sean Rosenthal on Wednesday.

With one spot on the U.S. team pretty much locked up by Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor for the Beijing Olympics, Wacholder and her regular partner, Turner, will be vying for the second spot over the next six months.

The AVP winter tour serves as a fun tuneup for the international tournaments that will will determine who goes to the Olympics.

The 6-foot-1 Turner was 3-0 during round-robin play and picked the 6-foot Boss as her partner against Wacholder, 5-9, and Fontana, 5-6.

Their height advantage was evident early in the championship match, as Turner tipped a winner over Wacholder for a 6-4 lead, and Boss won a tip at the net to tie it at 8-8.

Another tip by Turner made it

14-12, but they made two mistakes that got Wacholder and Fontana back in it. Boss was wide right with a shot, and Turner spiked one long to make it 15-14. Wacholder scored the game-winner by placing a shot into an open court on the right side.

Facing the clear disadvantage in height, Wacholder and Fontana went into the championship with a loose attitude.

“That’s why we said, you know what, let’s just have a good time,” Wacholder said. “Barb and I have never won together, because we’re both smaller defensive players. But it was good.”

Wacholder is looking forward to making a run at the Olympic team with Turner. They were the fourth-ranked team on the outdoor tour last year.

“You can see how physical she is,” Wacholder said. “Misty and Kerri have locked up that one spot, and all the rest of us are fighting for that one spot, so we have to play well and be consistent, and I think we can do it.”

Gibb is also in a position to make his first Olympic team, but he and his partner, Rosenthal, are essentially tied with Metzger and Michael Lambert in the national rankings.

Like Wacholder, he wanted to keep the mood light for the final, and as the top seed after going 3-0

in round-robin play, he picked Metzger as his teammate.

“I picked him because I thought it would be a more fun final, and Stein and I played together in the past and I really enjoy playing with him,” Gibb said. “This is a fun event for us. If I play with Sean, it takes it to a place where we’re more ser­ious.”

One of Gibb’s most valuable commodities was his net defense, where he was able to score several winners off blocks.

He blocked a Rosenthal spike to go up, 5-3, scored off another block to make it 8-4, then set up his own spike point with a deep serve to make it 9-4.

Scott and Rosenthal were able to tie it at 12-12, but Gibb closed out the match, 15-13, with another block winner, on Scott’s spike.

“I got a few blocks, and the biggest part was Sean Rosenthal didn’t stuff me on any, because he was telling me before the match that he was going to stuff me,” Gibb said. “He didn’t get any, so I was happy about that.”

Once the AVP tour ends in a month, Gibb and Rosenthal will team up again and continue their quest to make the Olympic team.

MEN

Round-robin: Jake Gibb-Stein Metzger def. Sean Scott-Sean Rosenthal, 19-17; Gibb-Rosenthal def. Metzger-Scott, 15-12; Gibb-Scott def. Metzger-Rosenthal, 15-10. Championship: Gibb-Metzger def. Scott-Rosenthal, 15-13.

WOMEN

Round-robin: Rachel Wacholder-Tyra Turner def. Jennifer Boss-Barbara Fontana, 15-10; Boss-Turner def. Wacholder-Fontana, 15-12; Fontana-Turner def. Wacholder-Boss, 15-12. Championship: Wacholder-Fontana def. Turner-Boss, 16-14.

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