By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – In Thursday's tough round-of-eight play, the two remaining U.S. beach volleyball teams fell short, moving into consolation brackets.
The men's 6 seed, Mike Bruning and Eric Vincent, faced third-seeded Rushan Dayanov and Maxim Selyutin of Russia, who beat them in straight sets, 21-12, 21-10.
The pressure was on the remaining American women's team, Michelle Skowzgird and Shana Lehmann, to win a medal.
The women faced another Russian team – this time, No. 4 seeded Ekaterina Kireeva and Elizaveta Alexeeva.
Despite fighting hard, Skowzgird and Lehmann weren’t able to pull out the win, and Russia advanced with a final score of 21-12, 21-13.
Fortunately for both U.S. teams, their Deaflympics weren’t over.
Teams who lost in the round of eight moved to the consolation bracket to compete for fifth through eighth places.
Bruning and Vincent took on Jacek Patola and Jakub Kupczalojc of Poland.
The U.S. duo lost by two points in a tight first set, 19-21, but rebounded to win the second set by two points, 22-20. In the third and deciding set, Bruning and Vincent came out on top, 15-11, and advanced to the fifth-place place match at noon (5 a.m.) Friday against Jussi Ahola and Antti Ropponen of Finland.
Skowzgird and Lehmann faced the No. 1 team, Veronika Chladova and Oldriska Zidkova of the Czech Republic, who were coming off an unexpected upset and had something to prove.
The Americans, though, upset the Czechs in the first set, 21-17.
“Skowzgird and Lehmann played absolutely great – that was probably one of their best sets of the tournament,” Kovacs said. “They seemed more at ease and were just playing their own game.”
However, the Czechs wouldn't be sent packing that easily - they won the second set, 21-15.
The third set featured nail-biting rallies with diving digs and beautiful hits. However, the U.S. was unable to pull out the win and lost, 14-16.
“The whole tournament, especially today, felt like it was an eye-opening experience for me, really,” Lehmann said. “I got to see the high international level of competition. I now know what skills we’ll need to work on and prepare for if we do continue with beach volleyball.”
Skowzgird and Lehmann play for seventh place at 9 a.m. (2 a.m.) Friday. They’ll face Kezban Ates and Yeter Yalcin of Turkey, who defeated Americans Nancy Moore and Charity Sanders in the round of 16.