I honestly don't know where to begin my recap of the AVP St. Petersburg Open. Do I begin with the rain delays, Jake Gibb wearing his "travel" pants to dinner, or Dustin Avol (AVP Tour MC/Host) referring to me as the crocodile hunter because I keep coming across wildlife on my travels this season? (I saw a group of stingrays surfing in St. Pete. It was amazing!)
Actually, I think I'll start with Jen Kessy and April Ross. As some of you may know, Jen and April decided this would be their last season together, but what a lot of people were not aware of was that St. Petersburg was actually their last tournament together. April begins her new partnership with Kerri Walsh Jennings at the Santa Barbara AVP event next week as they start to focus on Rio for the 2016 Olympics. What needs to be cleared up is that Jen Kessy is not retiring and/or injured. (You can hear April talk about this in her interview on The Net Live from 9/17/13. Interview begins at the 30:30 mark.) Jen’s goals have changed and making another run at the Olympics may or may not be in her future, but she will continue to play and will partner with Whitney Pavlik for the final two AVP events of the season.
Knowing this would be April and Jen’s last tournament, I made a conscience effort to watch all of their matches even if they weren't on Stadium Court (I could see all the courts from the DJ booth, which was fantastic). I wanted to see if knowing this was their last tournament would affect their play. From my point of view at least, it didn't seem to. They may have lost early in the tournament and had to fight their way through the contenders’ bracket to get to the final, but their style of play didn't seem to alter.
Once they made it out of the contenders’ bracket and into the semifinals, they were matched up against Lauren Fendrick and Brittany Hochevar, who had been playing a fabulous tournament, and it seemed like they were the team to beat if you were going to win this event. Unfortunately for me, the fans, and of course Lauren and Brittany, we didn't get to see an epic battle. With Jen and April up 2-0 in game one (or set 1, if you prefer), Britt made a move to dig a ball but her body went one way and her knee went another. She actually got the dig, which was a pretty amazing dig by the way, but she wasn't able to put the set away.
After a medical timeout and a massive tape job on her left knee, she wasn't the same the rest of the match. Jen and April came out on top for what turned out to be their last match together, but props to Lauren and Britt for continuing to battle and even forcing a game three.
During the men's final, which had Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson matched up with Floridian Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner for the second time in an AVP final this season, Florida decided to send a fairly significant storm our way which postponed the men's final with Jake and Casey up one game (or set) but down 11-10 in the second. After a few hours and I'm sure many phone conversations with tournament director Jeff Conover (who coordinated a fantastic event by the way), play was officially cancelled. If you plan on being at the Santa Barbara AVP event though, you’re in luck, as Jake, Casey, Nick, and Theo will resume the final match on Thursday, September 26, when the AVP rolls into town.
As for the women's final, which was supposed to have Jen and April match up against names you've been hearing a lot lately, Emily Day and Summer Ross, it has been completely cancelled and all four ladies decided to split the first and second place prize money and points evenly. I'm sure the Santa Barbara fans would have liked to see this final as well, but with Jen and April playing with different partners at that tournament it may have been a little strange.
Not being able to finish the tournament probably didn’t give Jen and April complete closure, and how cool would it have been for them to win their last tournament together, but they had an amazing seven year partnership, complete with Olympic silver medals. I hope they, and the fans, are able to look back and appreciate what the two of them accomplished together.
St. Petersburg was the third event in a row that the AVP was in the Eastern Time Zone. I came back to Los Angeles after the Cincinnati event, but I stayed on the East Coast between Atlantic City and St. Petersburg. That had me on the road for 12 days, and I packed everything I needed into my DJ backpack and one carry-on bag (yes, I know you’re impressed). Even with packing for 12 days, my DJ backpack still weighed more than my carry-on bag. I have been on the road longer than 12 days before (I traveled to Doha, Qatar, for the Arab Games in 2011 and that had me on the road for 16 days), but this trip felt different for some reason. I often get asked if I like all the travel I do, but I actually have a hard time knowing how to answer that question.
I thoroughly enjoy getting to see different parts of our country, and the world, all while getting paid to do what I love, but sometimes the fellow travelers I encounter can really test my patience. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of a people who travel know the rules (no liquids over 3 ounces in your carry-on, pockets must be empty while going through the x-ray machines, and laptops MUST come out of your bags), but think they only apply to everyone else. As Brittany Hochevar commented on during this trip, who carries 35 dollars worth of change in their pockets and thinks they can just walk through an x-ray machine? Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying (out of frustration). So, to answer the travel question, yes, I enjoy the travel and the experiences it provides me, but no, I don’t like the actual act of traveling.
However, traveling a lot does have its perks. Because Brittany flies all over the world, much more than I, she has amazing status with United Airlines and therefore was able to upgrade me to first class. Obviously I enjoyed first class and was extremely thankful she offered to use some of her miles to upgrade me (which she didn’t have to do at all), but being able to pick a world-class athlete’s brain for hours is something I know not everyone gets to do. Having access to our best volleyball players is not something I take for granted. As I’ve stated in past blog posts, it’s these moments that I’ll remember most. The St. Petersburg event was great (even with the rain), the location was fantastic, and the fans showed up to support despite the heat and humidity, but what I’ll remember most, besides hanging with Britt in first class, is Jake Gibb spilling food on his “travel” pants while wearing them to dinner the night before he even had to travel, or walking back to the hotel when Brad Kennan’s new nickname “The Sun Squirrel” manifested itself, and finally seeing Phil Dalhausser bobbing his head to my music while sitting in the players box right before his match was to begin. These are the stories I’ll be telling 10-20 years from now, or in my next blog post.
And with that, I look forward to more memories in Santa Barbara, September 27-29.