Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! Don’t let the changes in point systems and qualification procedures of the FIVB World Tour drag you down, dear reader. Aunt Lauren is here to explain it all. So let’s get down to business!
At the start of the 2013 season, shortly after Ary Graça was elected as president of the FIVB, the federation passed some major changes to their beach volleyball tournaments in an attempt to save money, give more power to confederations and national federations, and allow for countries to develop new talent closer to home.
One of the major changes for the 2013 season was the elimination of the on-site country quota matches. This change limited the number of teams per country that could potentially compete in each tournament, but it allowed for athletes to avoid the dreaded “Let’s spend $2,000 on a flight to Rome, play a team we practice against in Hermosa Beach, maybe lose, and fly home the next day” scenario.
Another major change for the 2013 season was the allocation of FIVB points for continental tour events (NORCECA for North and Central American countries) and, although very minimal, for approved national tour events. The point structure is staggered in an attempt to create a pipeline for teams to work their way up from continental events to FIVB Opens and eventually FIVB Grand Slams.
Additionally, the FIVB changed the entry-point system so that the combined points of your best six finishes of your last eight tournaments is used to grant entrance into FIVB events. Previously, entry was based on the best four out of your last five. One downside to this is that it will take more tournaments to create movement in the rankings.
This year, to help open the qualification process, USA Volleyball has introduced four NORCECA playoff events to determine which American teams will compete at the NORCECA events.
Up to eight teams per gender can compete in each of the NORCECA qualifiers, with the teams seeded according to their USAV beach rankings. The winner (and possibly the runner-up, depending on the NORCECA promoter) of each playoff will get the opportunity to compete at three or four NORCECA events this year.
For FIVB Open events, USA Volleyball will nominate teams based on FIVB technical ranking. It is unlikely that all top teams will attend FIVB Open events due to the lower prize money and points, obscure dates and locations, and the sheer number of total tournaments those players are juggling.
USAV has also created two Grand Slam playoffs, which will determine the fourth team to compete at several of the FIVB Grand Slams. (The other three slots will be based on points.) The Grand Slam playoffs are limited to four teams, and each team must have a combined minimum of 600 FIVB points. The winner of the playoff snags the fourth spot in the designated Grand Slam tournament.
Nominating teams based on technical ranking allows for movement in the rankings to happen organically based on teams’ finishes. The staggered point structure should reward teams that do well in Opens and allow them to surpass teams that do poorly in Grand Slams. As of early April, the FIVB website showed the U.S. will have the No. 1, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 8 teams competing on the women’s side in the first FIVB Open in Fuzhou, China. The No. 1, No. 7, and No. 9-ranked American men’s teams will compete. Gaps in the ranking demonstrate that some higher-ranked teams elected not to go, giving the next registered team in ranking the opportunity. During the same week as the Fuzhou Open, two other teams per gender will compete and earn FIVB points at the NORCECA event in Grand Cayman.
As of now, the 2014 season includes 10 dual-gender Grand Slam events (counting the Fortaleza, Brazil, event originally scheduled for May 13-18 and currently in the process of being rescheduled), nine Open opportunities for men and women, 13 NORCECA events, and seven AVP tour stops.
Scheduling a playoff is a complex business. For instance, the FIVB sets registration deadlines 30 days from the tournament’s start date. A maximum of seven teams per country can be entered into any one tournament, and national federation ranking issues affect which countries can nominate teams into the tournaments. On top of that, it’s not easy finding an open weekend in the schedule without disrupting consecutive international tournaments while still accounting for shifts in the rankings between consecutive events, leaving time for the playoff team to purchase an international plane ticket, etc.
Phew! No doubt you’ve gained a new appreciation for Sean Scott’s job as manager of national beach teams.
On March 20, the first NORCECA playoff took place at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. Both the women’s and the men’s qualifiers had several new partnerships competing together for the first time. On the women’s side, after winning their first two matches, Jennifer Fopma and Whitney Pavlik were defeated by Brittany Hochevar and Lane Carico in the final. On the men’s side, Tri “Tip” Bourne and “Uncle John” Hyden escaped on top following a close second round match versus Derek “Oregon Trail” Olson and Kevin McColloch, then went on to win the playoff by defeating Will “Sauce” Montgomery and Stafford “My Given Name Is Enough” Slick.
Fopma/Pavlik def. Ledoux/Hester, 20-22, 21-17, 15-10
DiCello/Hunkus def. Weamer/VanZweiten, 21-12, 21-16
Engle/Hughes def. Dowdy/Stubinski, 21-17, 21-13
Hochevar/Carico def. Lafigliola/Peterson, 21-16, 21-18
Fopma/Pavlik def. DiCello/Hunkus, 19-21, 21-16, 15-13
Hochevar/Carico def. Engle/Hughes, 21-14, 21-18
Championship: Hochevar/Carico def. Fopma/Pavlik, 21-17, 21-16
Third Place: DiCello/Hunkus def. Engle/Hughes, 19-21, 21-18, 15-11
Rogers/Brunner def. Kolinske/Roberts, 21-18, 21-18
Montgomery/Slick def. Casebeer/Jennings, 23-21, 21-17
McColloch/Olson def. Keenan/Mayer, 22-20, 21-19
Hyden/Bourne def. Drost/Tramblie, 21-17, 21-13
Montgomery/Slick def. Rogers/Brunner, 15-21, 21-13, 15-6
Hyden/Bourne def. McColloch/Olson, 18-21, 21-13, 15-13
Championship: Hyden/Bourne def. Montgomery/Slick, 21-8, 23-21
Third place: Rogers/Brunner def. McColloch/Olson, 18-21, 21-19, 15-12
The following weekend, on March 26, the first grand slam playoff was held at Annenberg Community Beach House. This playoff determined the fourth team to compete at the Shanghai Grand Slam and was intended to determine the fourth team for the Fortaleza Grand Slam as well, before that event was postponed. In some very tough, windy conditions, this event repeated the NORCECA playoff results on both the men’s and the women’s sides. Carico and Hochevar and Bourne and Hyden came out on top again.
Hyden/Bourne def. Rogers/Brunner, 21-17, 21-17
Montgomery/Slick def. Mayer/Keenan, 23-21, 21-12
Hyden/Bourne def. Montgomery/Slick, 21-19, 21-13
Fopma /Pavlik def. Day/Daley, 18-21, 21-16, 15-9
Hochevar/Carico def. Hughes/Engle, 21-16, 21-14
Hochevar/Carico def. Fopma/Pavlik, 21-16, 21-17
On May 14, USAV will hold another Grand Slam playoff at the Annenberg Community Beach House to determine the fourth team for the FIVB Grand Slam tournaments in Moscow and Berlin.
It is a mouthful to explain, but USAV came to these decisions after putting a ton of thought and effort into shaping these playoffs and scenarios to best account for all the complexities involved.
A final takeaway: American players are fighting tooth and nail for the opportunity to represent their country abroad on this year’s FIVB World Tour, and ultimately for the chance to represent you at the Olympics in Rio! Please support all of the athletes on May 14 at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica.
Originally published in June 2014