Cape Town Elite 16 provides big opportunity for new teams at the highest level

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The itineraries from a special circle in hell — LAX to Istanbul to Cape Town; total time: 36 hours — have been navigated. The penguins at Boulder Beach have been seen. The local porridge eaten. The delectable South African coffee shops discovered.

The tourism at the Volleyball World Pro Beach Tour Cape Town Elite 16 is over for now. On Wednesday morning in Cape Town — very early morning in California, less early for Central and Eastern-based beach volleyball fans — the seventh Elite 16 on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour schedule begins.

And it begins, technically, in an auspicious way for the Americans.

Taylor Sander, left, and Taylor Crabb with their AVP Phoenix trophies/Rick Atwood photo

Taylor Crabb, coming off a fifth and a bronze medal in back-to-back Challenge events in Dubai with Paul Lotman, is reunited with his usual running mate, Taylor Sander. Crabb’s points haul from Dubai bumped him and Sander into the No. 1 seed of Wednesday’s qualifier, which also bumped them into a first-round bye. They’ll play the winner of England’s Issa Batrane and Freddy Bialokoz and Swiss youngsters Jonathan Jordan and Immanuel Zurcher.

The only other American team in the qualifier is Cody Caldwell and me, a duo thrown together with a dash — OK, a big heaping scoop — of spontaneity.

Caldwell was slated to play alongside Adam Roberts. I was supposed to be in the Dominican Republic with JM Plummer. Roberts had to pull out, which left Caldwell partnerless in the first Elite 16 of his career. He gave me a call, and after some quick math — simply showing up to an Elite 16 awards you more points than winning a NORCECA in the Dominican Republic — I bought a flight, had a ghastly itinerary in front of me, and my first Elite 16 of the season. We play England’s Bello brothers, Javi and Joaquin, at 2 p.m. local, 5 a.m. Pacific.

As for the women, well, they can continue doing any touristy activity they so choose.

It seems nearly impossible, but there wasn’t enough teams to fill out the qualifier. Every team who signed up earned a spot straight into the main draw, which features four American pairs — Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman, Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil, Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn — and a number of notable international teams. Topping that list would be the World Champs, Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil.

But making her debut since COVID derailed her Tokyo Olympics is the Czech Republic’s Marketa Slukova, now playing with Helena Havelkova. Another making her debut since a rather significant life event is German 2016 gold medalist and the all-around lovable Laura Ludwig.

Like Slukova, Cape Town also marks Ludwig’s first event since Tokyo — and the first since she gave birth to her son, Lenny, roughly six months ago. The four-time Olympian has picked up Lippmann, a 28-year-old who starred on the German National Team as an outside hitter and is making her first appearance on the Beach Pro Tour.

That, however, can wait for the women, who can enjoy one more day off. Perhaps a trip up Table Mountain, or another quick cup at a local coffee shop.

For the men, it’s time to make those itineraries worth the trip.

You can watch all matches at Volleyball TV

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