Rio 4-Star 2017 Recap

“And suddenly you just know… It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”

~Meister Eckhart


Last week, Melissa and I competed in our first tournament together. In what has probably been the latest start to the season either of us has ever experienced, we traveled down to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the FIVB World Tour 4-Star event. We entered the tournament as the #11 seed, and were so excited to compete again, and to see where we stand among the top teams in the world.

I hadn’t played an FIVB tournament since the Olympics, and I found it quite fitting that the place where I ended the last Olympic cycle would be the same place where I started the next one. Rio is one of my favourite cities in the whole world, and I spent two incredible years playing indoor there. That experience, on top of getting to play in the Olympics there, made me so happy to get to start my journey with Mel in a place that holds such vivid and happy memories for me.

The 3 and 4-star tournaments this year have adopted a modified pool play system.

Modified Pool Play Format

In the old system, there were pools of 4, and every team played each other to determine the pool rankings. The top 3 finishers in each pool moved on to single-elimination playoffs, with the top team in each pool getting a bye in the first round.

In the new modified pool play system, there are still 4 teams in each pool. The first seed plays the fourth seed, and the second seed plays the third. Then, the winners play each other and the losers play each other. The top 3 teams in each pool move on to the single-elimination playoffs, with the top team getting a bye for the first round. It is very similar to the old format, but essentially becomes a double elimination tournament due to the pool format.


  • Pool Match 1 vs #22 USA Claes-Hughes: Won 2-0
  • Pool Match 2 vs #6 AUS Bawden-Clancy: Won 2-1
  • Playoffs Round 1: BYE
  • Playoffs Round 2 vs #18 BRA Juliana-Carol: Won 2-0
  • Quarterfinals vs #2 GER Ludwig-Walkenhorst: Won 2-0
  • Semifinals vs #7 CZE Slukova-Hermannova: Won 2-0
  • Finals vs #4 BRA Agatha-Duda: Lost 1-2


Being the #11 seed, and occupying the second seed in our pool, we took on the #22-seeded USA in our first match. The first match of the season is always a little shaky. There is always excitement at finally starting and competing again after so much time off, but there are also the typical first-match nerves sinking in. I completely trusted in our preparation, but was unsure how we would respond in our first match, especially because most of the teams in Rio had already played a 5-star event in Fort Lauderdale in February. Sometimes it just takes a little while to get into the flow of playing again.

It turns out that I had no reason to be concerned! I was very impressed with our focus and attention to detail, and it didn’t feel like we were in our first match at all. We were very composed and consistent, and won that match 2-0, moving on to determine the winner of our pool against the #6-seeded Australia, who had beaten Poland.

We beat Australia 2-1, and that meant that we had secured first place in our pool and a bye in the first round of playoffs. Winning round 2 against Brazil earned us a spot in the quarterfinals, which ended up being a re-match of my quarterfinal match in the Olympics against Ludwig-Walkenhorst of Germany (who ended up winning Olympic Gold).


Something I’ve written about in the past is the danger of placing value on the teams you are playing. It takes away from your own preparation, and takes the focus away from what you need to take care of technically and tactically. It’s incredible how many teams get psyched out before a match even starts depending on whether they believe their opponents are stronger or weaker than them. You can read that article here.

I am so proud of our team for not succumbing to that mindset trap. The only things we were focused on heading into that match were what we had to take care of on our side, and the tactical approaches we were going to take throughout the match. That was it. By focusing on our own side, and through constant communication and discussion about adjustments, we maintained control throughout the entire match, and ended up winning 21-17, 21-13. The same thing happened in the semifinal match. Even when a match is very close, a never-wavering focus on each individual point and a hunger for victory slows everything down and takes away the stress associated with the score.

In the final we got off to a rough start, and lost the first set 14-21. I think emotion played a big role in that, but once we were able to regain our composure and remind ourselves of our game plan and what we needed to do, things got a lot better. We won the second set 21-13. The third set was very up and down, with both teams taking turns earning a couple points and then giving them up. At one point, we were down 7-4, and took 5 points in a row after the timeout to go up 9-7. We maintained that until 11-9, when the Brazilians did the same thing, and we ended up switching at 12-13. The match ended 13-15, and we ended up with the silver medal.

I have mixed emotions about this result. On the one hand, I am so excited because we did an amazing job in our very first tournament together. A silver medal is very hard to earn, and we played great volleyball all week to make it to the final. I am also happy because I know that this is just the starting point for us, and even though we performed well, there is so much room for growth and improvement for our team, and I can’t wait to see where we end up. On the other hand, being up 11-9 in the third set and letting it slip away is a tough pill to swallow. By all means, we had the gold medal in our hands and we let it go with a couple of errors at bad times.

When I look at this experience objectively, I know that the positives FAR outweigh the negatives. As someone whose sole aim is to win, though, and to know that a big reason that it didn’t happen was due to our team’s errors, the negatives take on more weight. I am not trying to take anything away from Agatha and Duda. They played a great match, and I think that they are an incredibly strong team. I am saying that it is much easier to reconcile a loss when the team you are playing is just on fire and doing absolutely everything right. When a match is decided on a couple miscues and errors, those stick with me.

I can’t dwell on what happened in Rio, though, if “dwell” is even the right word to use. We took home a SILVER MEDAL!! “Dwell” is definitely not the correct word, but I know that we both learned some valuable lessons from those last few points in Brazil. We will take those with us as we carry on on our Olympic journey, and I know that we will be a stronger team because of this event, and being so close to a gold medal.

I am proud to share the court with Melissa, and I can’t wait to do it again. The Moscow 3-Star is up next this week, and we are hoping to continue to build on what we started.

xo, Sarah


1 Comment

  • Julie Fiorelli May 31, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Congratulations Sarah and Mel! So happy for you ladies. Canada is cheering you on, and we are loving watching this new partnership blossom.

    XO Jules


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