Miles Partain and Andy Benesh strike a familiar pose as they celebrate winning the Gstaad Elite16/Volleyball World photo
Andy Benesh had reservations about returning to Switzerland this week for the Volleyball World Gstaad Elite16. His previous experience there, playing middle for Lausanne UC in 2018, wasn’t exactly ideal. A back injury suffered at USC was further worsened in Switzerland, to the point that he figured his volleyball career was over. So he flew home and, not knowing what else to do, took an ill-advised job as a financial advisor.
“I wouldn’t do it again,” he said years ago, when he made his professional debut on the beach. “Not in a million years.”
And there was also the matter of those parking tickets. When he left Switzerland, he did so in a hurry, and with no plans to return. So if he had a few outstanding parking tickets, then, well, oh well. Only it didn’t take a million years for him to return. Just five.
And he and Miles Partain are now coming home with a Gstaad cowbell, no legal troubles over a parking ticket or two, and perhaps the most monumental international pro beach volleyball gold medal an American men’s pair has won since Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“For sure beach,” Benesh said with a laugh when asked if he enjoyed playing beach or indoors more in Switzerland. “I played middle indoor so I was out half the game so that kinda sucked. It’s beautiful to play in the mountains, and I’m really glad we got a sunny day today. It’s been a dream come true.”
The Gstaad Elite16 men’s podium
It wasn’t just the gold itself that makes Sunday’s win so indelible, but the manner in which they won, and the teams they beat to do it. Twice, they beat Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, once in pool and then again in the finals, a 15-21, 21-11, 18-16 epic, becoming just the second team in history to beat the Vikings twice in the same tournament (the first is Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, who did so in the 2022 Rosarito Elite16).
Sandwiched in between their victories over Norway were sweeps over Brouwer and Meeuwsen, Pedro Solberg and Guto Carvalhaes, and George Wanderley and Andre Loyola, two of whom were once ranked No. 1 in the world in the last two years.
“It’s a dream come true and amazing,” Partain said afterwards. “And not expected.”
To expect this performance, this soon, even with the type of generational talent many have recognized in Partain since he was a teenager and qualifying on the AVP Tour, would have been outlandish. Benesh is still only just coming into his own as a beach player, and Partain adjusting to the international style of play. It was only three months ago that they dropped their first set of the season, an 21-11 puzzler to a Hungarian pair seeded No. 30 in a Challenge qualifier.
Now they own two Elite16 medals and victories over virtually every medal favorite in the world, having now toppled the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner, Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl, David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, Mol and Sorum, Brouwer and Meeuwsen, and George and Andre — plus their AVP Huntington victory, establishing dominance over their American counterparts as well.
It would be wrong to say that their win, and the 1,200 Olympic rankings points earned, has turned the American race into a fight for second. It’s still too early in the process, and Benesh and Partain have only four of the 12 finishes required. But with 870 points per event, they are averaging nearly double that of their peers Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, and Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, both of whom competed this weekend in AVP Hermosa Beach instead.
“Just grateful,” Partain said.
Benesh and Partain will split $30,000 for the victory.
The Gstaad Elite16 women’s podium
Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth win medals at Gstaad Elite16
Entering this weekend, Kelly Cheng’s history in Switzerland wasn’t quite as scarring as, say, Andy Benesh, but it also wasn’t exactly ideal. While she hadn’t sworn the place off for “a million years,” she’d been four times, lost once in the country quota and once in the qualifier. Her best finish was ninth.
This season is, however, unlike any other for Cheng and Sara Hughes. Already, they have two AVP titles and an Elite16 gold medal. After Sunday, they can add a coveted cowbell and a silver medal to the resume.
After winning their morning semifinal matchup against Germany’s Svenja Muller and Cinja Tillman (21-16, 21-18), who had upset them in pool play, Cheng and Hughes fell in the finals to current world No. 1 Ana Patricia Silva and Duda Lisboa 18-21, 18-21.
“For me, Gstaad is a special place,” said Duda, who has now won three straight gold medals in Gstaad. “The girls played very, very well.”
The Cheng-Hughes vs. Ana Patricia-Duda rivalry is the best burgeoning gold medal motif on the Beach Pro Tour. Since reuniting as a team last November, Cheng and Hughes have met Duda and Ana Patricia in three finals — World Tour Finals, Tepic Elite16, Gstaad Elite16. This was the first time the Brazilians have trumped the Americans for gold.
Gstaad was also the first bronze medal to be added to the lengthening resume of Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth. Playing in Switzerland for the second time in their promising careers, Nuss and Kloth topped Muller and Tillman for bronze 21-19, 21-16.
Cheng and Hughes will split $20,000, while Nuss and Kloth came away with $14,000.
Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss celebrate their Gstaad bronze-medal victory/Volleyball World photo
“The Germans are so good, so scrappy,” Nuss said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. I’m just very thankful that this girl right here is on my side of the net because she was absolutely fantastic.”
With the pair of medals in Gstaad, Cheng and Hughes, and Nuss and Kloth further distanced themselves from their American peers in the Olympic race.
Cheng and Hughes are still the No. 1 ranked team in the world, while Duda and Ana Patricia supplanted Nuss and Kloth for second. Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil, who finished 13th in Gstaad, are still only No. 6, not far behind, but the points gap is now nearly 1,000.
Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, who finished ninth, are now No. 15 in the world and are nearly 2,000 points behind Nuss and Kloth.
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All the Gstaad medalists toast after finishing spraying each other with the bubbly.