BPT Elite 16 Torquay Men-  AUSvsITA-1-2

Thomas Hodges celebrates

Two teams that had never made it this far at such a high level on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour will meet in the Torquay Elite16 men’s final on Saturday. Sixth-seeded Frenchmen Youssef Krou and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, who had never advanced to the final four at any level on the Tour, and seventh-seeded Australians Thomas Hodges and Zachery Schubert, who are playing their first Elite16 tournament, will go head to head for the gold at 20:00 local time (09:00 UTC) in the Australian coastal town.

· Watch the matches at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite16 event in Torquay live on Volleyball TV.

Fifth-seeded Italian Olympians Adrian Carambula and Alex Ranghieri, who won the Torquay Challenge silver last week, will try to add another medal to the collection from their first Beach Pro Tour trip together as they meet USA’s Paul Lotman and Miles Evans for the bronze.

BPT Elite 16 Torquay Men -  FRAvsUSA-12

Arnaud Gauthier-Rat dives in defence

In Friday’s first semifinal, Krou and Gauthier-Rat dominated the first set against eighth-seeded Lotman and Evans, but had to dig deep into overtime in the second to be able to finish the match in two – 2-0 (21-16, 30-28). 37-year-old Lotman produced the match high of 22 points. Gauthier-Rat scored 21 for the winning side, while Krou contributed four kill blocks and three aces, including the match winner, towards an 18-point tally.

Four points in a row gave Krou and Gauthier-Rat the first wide margin, 6-3 in the first set. The Americans battled their way back to level it at 11-11 on a monster block by Lotman, only to let their opponents jump in front again, this time for good. Another three-point run highlighted by an ace from Krou put the French at a 17-13 lead.  They kept the pressure on until two back-to-back monster blocks by Krou finished the set at 21-16. Lotman and Evans broke away with a 5-2 advantage after taking three consecutive rallies in set two. Krou and Gauthier-Rat caught up at 7-7 and the gap, one way or another, never went wider than two points through the rest of the match. The Americans were the first to reach set point, but then, as the set went deep into overtime, they had to deny as many as seven French match points before Krou converted the eighth to a 30-28 win with a short-serve ace.

Krou & Gauthier-Rat vs Lotman & Evans 2-0 (21-16, 30-28): match highlights

“Nothing to say, indeed! We really found our best form at these two tournaments,” Krou said after the match. “We have 24 hours to recover and we’ll give everything tomorrow.”

“I think it’s the pleasure of playing here. We like it so much! I am thankful to everybody who is making so much effort to deliver this enjoyable experience,” Gauthier-Rat added.

The French pair made it to their first Beach Pro Tour semifinal after a 2-0 (23-21, 21-16) quarterfinal victory over last week’s Torquay Challenge winners Daniele Lupo and Enrico Rossi of Italy earlier on Friday. In their quarterfinal, Lotman and Evans met another French pair, Calvin Aye and Quincy Aye, and overcame their resistance to gain a 2-0 (21-17, 22-20) win. It is only the third world-level tournament for Lotman, who debuted on the Beach Pro Tour just a few weeks ago with Taylor Crabb in Dubai. They earned bronze at the second of two Challenge tournaments there and he will now try to get another one at his first appearance with Evans, who has previously medalled twice on the Tour at Futures events.

BPT Elite 16 Torquay Men -  FRAvsUSA-1

Youssef Krou of France

In a hard-fought second semifinal, Hodges and Schubert came back from a set down against Carambula and Ranghieri to delight the Australian fans with a 2-1 (19-21, 21-18, 21-19) victory and make it all the way to the final at their very first Elite16 appearance. Previously, their best results on the Beach Pro Tour were three quarterfinals at the Challenge level and two Futures podiums. Ranghieri was the best scorer of the match on 31 points, including six blocks and two aces, while both Australians reached the 20+ mark. Also with six stuffs to his name, Hodges tallied a total of 26 points, while Schubert finished with 20, including two aces.

A nip-and-tuck battle unfolded in the first set of the match. The lead went back and forth between the two teams several times in the set and the gap never went wider than two points. After 19-19, Carambula delivered the set point with a successful swing and then the Italians capitalised on a long shot by Hodges to close the set their way at 21-19. Inspired by the support of the home crowd, the Australians scored three in a row to jump into an early 4-1 lead in the second set and they never let go. With Hodges dominating at the net, they pushed on to level the match at 21-18 on their second set point, converted by the blocker with an off-the-block hit. The tie-breaker was really tight throughout and the first time the margin went beyond a single point was at the end of the set, deep into overtime. In the epilogue, the Italians kept gifting their opponents one match point after another with serving errors, and then kept denying them. Finally, on the Australians’ seventh opportunity to close the game, a monster block by Hodges put an end to it all at 21-19.

Hodges & Schubert vs Carambula & Ranghieri 2-1 (19-21, 21-18, 21-19): match highlights

“The feeling is incredible, because we get to do it on home soil with this amazing crowd. We couldn’t thank Torquay enough for putting this event on for us,” Schubert said and added that he would have to skip his best man’s duties at a Saturday wedding because of this.

“It’s absolutely amazing! There is nothing quite like playing in front of friends and family. We are just speechless,” Hodges added.

BPT Elite 16 Torquay Men-  AUSvsITA-2-2

Zachery Schubert in reception

To advance to this semifinal, Hodges and Schubert managed a 2-0 (21-18, 23-21) upset of top-seeded Christopher McHugh and Paul Burnett in an all-Australian quarterfinal battle, with Hodges mastering as many as eight kill blocks in the process. Carambula and Ranghieri, on the other hand, disposed of third-seeded Norwegians Mathias Berntsen and Hendrik Mol with a 2-0 (21-15, 21-17) shutout, off of seven stuffs from Ranghieri.