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BEIJING 2008 : BEACH VOLLEYBALL

A partnership that can adapt

August 17, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- The pink, blue, yellow and green ponchos that appeared early Sunday morning at a rainy Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground gave Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh's quarterfinal match a rainbow backdrop.

And the second-seeded American duo continued its march toward a second pot of gold with a 21-18, 21-15 victory over third-seeded Ana Paula Conelly and Larissa Franca of Brazil.

"When we saw the matchup, it steeled us because the Brazilians are so talented," Walsh said.

The match -- the American duo's 67th straight international victory -- served to underscore May-Treanor and Walsh's rare longevity as this sport's most successful partnership.

A knee injury suffered by Brazil's Juliana Felisberta da Silva on Aug. 6 forced three-time Olympian Conelly into action at the last minute. She arrived Aug. 8, practiced once with her new partner and began the tournament Aug. 9.

"It shows how amazing they are individually, to get thrown together and make it to this round," Walsh said.

Equally amazing is the bond between May-Treanor and Walsh, going on eight years strong now and headed for a hiatus following these Games. Both players have aspirations to begin families.

The partnership got tested shortly after its gold-medal performance at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

"In 2006, we had our roughest year together; we hit a lull," Walsh said. "It wasn't an [Olympic] qualifying year. It wasn't the year after Athens so the excitement had died. Our fire together wasn't on. We were winning on AVP but not internationally. That period showed some cracks.

"A lot of people were saying we were terrible and should break up. That got to us. We had a couple heart-to-hearts and we realized how silly that is. We certainly have something special. We know how lucky we are."

A coaching change during that period from Dane Selznick to Troy Tanner helped. Tanner designed the game plan to take advantage of Franca's setting style, which is more suited for Da Silva than Conelly.

Walsh executed it with five blocks in five attempts. Walsh then ended the 41-minute match with a spike, propelling herself and May-Treanor into an undetermined semifinal match on Tuesday.

"You get surprised sometimes," May-Treanor said. "But new partnerships happen all the time in this sport."

Except to May-Treanor and Walsh.

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