LIMA, Peru >> The gray skies of the Peruvian capital served as a dramatic but familiar backdrop for Americans Karissa Cook and Jace Pardon, who won the women’s beach volleyball final today at the Pan American Games.
The U.S. beat Argentina 14-21, 22-20, 15-10. Cook and Pardon hugged and waved a U.S. flag when the match ended. Thick fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean blanketed the hills surrounding the sandy venue in Lima, but Cook said it was ideal.
“My hometown is just like this. I love this weather,” said Cook, who played on Hawaii’s sand volleyball team in 2014 and was an All-American. “It was wonderful.”
A capacity crowd also braved the chilly breeze to cheer on their teams, with Argentines waving their sky-blue and white flag. Others joined the U.S. and Argentine party in the stands. Mexicans donned sombreros, Brazilians wore the yellow shirt of their famed soccer team and Peruvians danced to cumbia music.
Cook, who started her collegiate career on Stanford’s indoor volleyball team, and Pardon were unstoppable throughout the Pan Am Games with a split blocking system in which they both spent time defending at the net and in the backcourt. That allowed them to attack from behind the baseline.
In most beach volleyball duos, one player remains as the main blocker at the net, while the other is the main defender in the backcourt. But the Americans had played both positions during their careers, and they decided on the strategy when they first teamed up in May.
It worked: they conceded only one set during the tournament. The Americans said they improved their passing game and switched away from their split blocking system during the last three plays against Argentina to beat the powerful duo, which included Toronto 2015 champion, Ana Gallay, and Fernanda Pereyra.
“I don’t think I ever really felt in rhythm that whole time, but we stuck it out and we won,” said Pardon. “I never doubted that we would win. I just knew it was more figuring out our side, passing forward, staying aggressive, not being timid, staying aggressive on the serve.”
After the final play, Cook celebrated the victory with her mother and her fiancée, who brought her a large flag that she proudly held with her teammate on the sands of Lima.
“I come from a volleyball family so it means a lot to be able to have a win like this internationally,” said Cook, whose brother plays professionally and whose parents met through volleyball.
Pardon recalled her origins growing up in Manhattan Beach, California and dedicated the gold to her family some 4,100 miles (6,500 kilometers) away.
“I kind of grew up in a beach volleyball community, but I’m the middle of five kids and none of them play volleyball,” Pardon said. “We all kind of had really humble upbringings, so it’s like anytime I get the opportunity to play in such a big stage, like I’m sure my mom’s crying right now,” Pardon said.
Cook partnered with Brittany Tiegs in 2014 to finish second in the AVCA Pairs National Championship for Hawaii.