HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — You hate them. You love them. You love that you hate them. You hate yourself for sometimes loving them. You once chanted Never Trevor and might now occasionally catching yourself whispering — not loud enough for anyone else to hear, of course — Forever Trevor. You skewered Tri Bourne for roasting both the AVP and Volleyball World structures on a podcast one day — yet also couldn’t help but give him a standing ovation for a second consecutive Manhattan Beach Open victory this past August.
Regardless of your feelings towards Bourne and Trevor Crabb, the VolleyballMag 2022 Team of the Year, one thing was an objective certainty during this 2022 AVP season: You were going to watch them play. Maybe you’d watch them in hopes of them losing, as the cocky, win-guaranteeing Hawai’ians regularly, and voluntarily, placed metaphorical targets on their sandy backs. Maybe you’d watch them in hopes that those guarantees came true, as another one somehow did in Fort Lauderdale, extending Crabb’s streak to three straight guarantees result in wins.
Maybe you’d watch to see the inevitable trash talk, the occasional shoulder check, the relatively meaningless but always crowd-pleasing yellow card. But, again, regardless of your reasoning: You were going to watch. Viewers tuned in for record-setting numbers — record-setting relative to the AVP’s matches on the YouTube livestream — to watch Bourne and Crabb, and fellow Hawai’ian Taylor Crabb and his sensational partner, Taylor Sander, compete this season.
It was a mercurial one for both Hawai’ian-based teams, a slow-starter with a scintillating finish. With Phil Dalhausser and Jake Gibb both retiring from full-time play — Gibb from all play, Dalhausser from international while also abandoning most notions of gunning for as many AVP titles as possible — the question to be answered this season was who would take their thrones atop the AVP as the most dominant players leading the most dominant teams.
Three pairs emerged, with one common denominator: Hawai’i. Bourne and Crabb, both raised on the island of Oahu, were the only team to win multiple AVP events this season, claiming victories in Fort Lauderdale, Manhattan Beach, and Chicago. They entered the post-season Phoenix Championships as the No. 1 seed. Taylor Crabb, another Hawai’i-raised Outrigger rugrat, one of the most talented defenders of this generation, and Sander, the All-World indoor player turned beach rookie, made three finals and another two semifinals in seven AVPs, while finishing the year with a brilliant, gold medal performance at the Phoenix Championships.
While neither Chaim Schalk nor Theo Brunner have any physical roots in Hawai’i — they are about as far from it as possible, as Schalk hails from Canada and Brunner from Connecticut — they did sign with a Hawai’ian apparel sponsor in Laird Apparel, the eponymous brand of Laird Hamilton, who was raised on Kauai and is arguably the most well-known big-wave surfer in the world.
Four of the seven AVP Pro or Gold Series finals featured a matchup between two of those three teams. The season-ending AVP Phoenix Championships were won by Sander and Crabb. Only one event, the season-opener in Austin, didn’t include any of the three, and even in Austin, both Bourne and Crabb and Schalk and Brunner would make the semifinals.
The only other team to consistently perform was young Miles Partain and 2012 indoor Olympian Paul Lotman. The lack of a consistent winner, but four consistently elite teams, made for a fun season, for a variety of reasons: Parity makes for intrigue, every weekend; new names made for new matchups; new matchups made for new rivalries; new rivalries made for must-see matches.
Yet in a season of turnover and change, it was the generation of Hawai’ians — and those associated, however loosely, with Hawai’i — who alas began to take their long-awaited turn atop the AVP throne.
As of right now, it’s Bourne and Crabb who sit tenuously on top.
Note: The Phoenix Championships were not considered for our selection of AVP awards, similar to how the NBA, NFL, PGA, MLB, and NHL, among others, do not factor any post-season performances into their respective awards. The Tour Series events were only lightly considered, namely for the Rookie of the Year and Most Improved, because the AVP does not record statistics at those events. While there is one more Pro Series event remaining, in Central Florida in December, due to its nature of happening after the Phoenix Championships, it wasn’t considered for our AVP awards. Right or wrong, that was our process.
AVP MVP: Miles Partain
This was as close a call as any in recent memory, and any one of three players could have won this award and there wouldn’t have been much of a surprise: Tri Bourne, Trevor Crabb, or Miles Partain. All three had sensational seasons. All three made cases in a variety of ways.
But in terms of which player brings the most value, the enigmatic “I don’t want to play that guy more than anybody in the country,” Partain stands alone. Teams did everything they could to avoid him, but the kid is, simply, unavoidable, and soon the most common refrain heard amongst his opponents became “We couldn’t stop him on two, so we served him, and then we couldn’t stop him on three.”
Rare was the match that began with Partain receiving the serves — and he still finished second on the AVP in attacks, with 1,145, trailing only Taylor Crabb. He’d hit balls that were perfect passes from his partner, Paul Lotman. He’d hit balls that weren’t anywhere close: So long as it was in the proper zip code, Miles Partain was going on the attack, hitting .442 on the year, an absurd percentage given the difficulty of his attacks, many of which also came in transition on any of his 364 digs.
It is no coincidence that the first year Lotman played with Partain full time, he enjoyed the finest season of his career, more than doubling his total career prize money in a single season. Such a problem was Partain that Lotman — although there is no official statistic for this — must have led the AVP in open-net attacks: Blockers simply could not allow Partain an easy option. Partain has that effect on the court, no matter who he’s playing with: He is the defense’s first, second, and third priority. The only event he played without Lotman came in Seaside, where he full-time blocked with his brother, Marcus, and made the semifinals.
He didn’t win as much as Bourne or Trevor Crabb. His only — and first of many — AVP win came in Atlanta. But winning is only a single metric. In terms of value brought to their respective teams, Partain topped the AVP in 2022.
Honorable mention AVP MVP
Best Offensive Player: Phil Dalhausser
He might be 42 years old. He might be occasionally playing with partners for reasons other than winning beach volleyball tournaments. He might just be having more fun playing beach volleyball than in recent memory, split-blocking with Andy Benesh, listening to the Casey Patterson Hype Machine, chatting amiably with fans. But the Thin Beast remains as unservable as ever.
When he and Patterson won in New Orleans, Patterson attacked 198 balls — 198! Dalhausser? Sixty-one. He killed 40 of them. So intimidating is Dalhausser, still, that his highest number of attacks in a tournament didn’t eclipse 100, this in spite of making long runs through a number of events. Granted, those numbers are skewed, as he played an uncharacteristically low number of matches in tournaments he played with John Sutton, but even with Patterson and Benesh, any serve that went his way was almost accidental.
When Dalhausser retires, this award might just be renamed in his honor.
Until then, he’ll probably just keep on winning it.
Honorable mention Best Offensive Player
Best Defensive Player: Miles Partain
For two years in a row, this has been a two-man race, between Miles Partain and Taylor Crabb, who as far as pure defensive volleyball — who is the toughest defender to score against — are in a class of their own when it comes to Americans. In every single AVP tournament this year, Partain averaged more than four digs per set. Defensively, he was as consistent as the sunrise, finishing in the top five in total digs in every tournament save for Chicago, and even in Chicago, his average digs per set was 4.5, which was in the top five of that category. He didn’t have a single bad tournament on the defensive end, a remarkable accomplishment given his youth and experience on the AVP.
Honorable mention Best Defensive Player
Best Blocker: Theo Brunner
Still, one of my favorite anecdotal pieces of evidence that explains how good a blocker Theo Brunner is comes from a pair of years-old interviews with Todd Rogers and Nick Lucena. Both of them played with Phil Dalhausser and Brunner. Both enjoyed success with either blocker.
Both pointed to Brunner as, fundamentally, the better blocker, the man who, when hot at the net, could take over matches. He has, as he always does, the numbers to back it up. He led the field in Atlanta, where he and Chaim Schalk made the finals, with 2.23 blocks per set, and did it again in Chicago with 1.86. Even in Fort Lauderdale, the only tournament in which his blocks per set dipped below one, he and Schalk still made the finals. There is no statistical category for “shots altered” but Brunner’s presence at the net results in plenty.
Honorable mention Best Blocker
Most Improved: Andy Benesh
To see how far Benesh has come from a year ago, I’ll invite you to rewatch the country quota from the Cancun four-star, when he and Billy Allen were smashed inside and out by Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb. Watch that match, then pick virtually any match from this year, and the 2021 Benesh in Cancun will hardly resemble the Benesh of 2022.
Every facet of his game has evolved. Physically, he’s almost unrecognizable from the 26-year-old in Mexico. He plays with confidence and swagger. His block has become one of the most formidable on Tour, as has his offense.
Yes, his first victory on the AVP came with Phil Dalhausser, the greatest player of this generation, but playing with Dalhausser comes with no small amount of pressure. Benesh knew he’d get every serve. Knew if they lost, the burden of that loss would fall squarely on his 6-foot-9 shoulders. And he thrived, winning his first AVP en route to his most successful season yet. He more than doubled his previous career-high in prize money, won his first AVP, won again at a Tour Series in Denver, finished third at the Manhattan Beach Open, won once more in Laguna, and established himself as a dark horse contender to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Honorable Mention Most Improved
Note: Rookies are not eligible to win most improved, as they have no official year of reference upon which to improve.
Most Underrated Player: Paul Lotman
Paul Lotman can side out at a very high efficiency. I promise you. Thing is, he just doesn’t have to. Miles Partain will option balls — and frequently did — from 20 feet off the net, so long as he thought the percentage of success was high enough. But should Lotman ever play with a partner who sets him on a regular basis, the beach volleyball world might just rediscover that, yes, he is quite good offensively.
He has every tool you’d want in an elite beach volleyball player: massive arm, massive serve, imposing block, sets good enough for most any defender to succeed with. He’s well-rounded, and it’s his passing that has allowed Partain to option with such abandon and with such success this season. Yes, Miles Partain is an otherworldly talent, the young Jedi reawakening the American beach volleyball force, but Lotman is perpetually looked over as the world rightfully fawns over Partain (guilty). So here is some overdue love to Paul Lotman, an Olympian for a reason, an AVP champion for a reason, this year’s Mr. Underrated.
Honorable mention Most Underrated Player
Rookie of the Year: Taylor Sander
It’s unfortunate for every other rookie this season that they had to compete with Taylor Sander for this award, because frankly, it just wasn’t close. It’s remarkable, what he has been able to accomplish in just a few months on the beach. In seven regular season AVP tournaments, he made three finals and two additional semifinals. He supplanted Jeremy Casebeer as the AVP’s most formidable server, finishing the year No. 1 in aces in a race that wasn’t even close. His arm is up there with anyone in the world in terms of best hitter, and even Sean Rosenthal admitted that his Vegas Line swing has been supplanted by Sander not once, but twice, as the most impressive bounce he’s seen. He’s still refining the finer nuances of the game — as he should be — but as he does, it’s a wonder how high he’ll be able to go on the beach. Anyone questioning Taylor Crabb’s decision to go with the rookie plucked off the indoor National Team has been thoroughly quieted, particularly with a season-ending victory in Phoenix.
Honorable mention Rookie of the Year
Coach of the Year: Leandro Pinheiro
When Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb received the news that their longtime coach, Jose Loiola, would be leaving them to accept a position at USA Volleyball, they didn’t quite know where to turn for a long-term solution. Leandro Pinheiro, a Brazilian who had been Loiola’s assistant, was an obvious choice for an interim.
Over the course of the season, he made a firm argument as the man for the full-time head coaching job. Under Pinheiro, Bourne and Crabb rediscovered their swagger, winning three AVP events, including two Gold Series, in Fort Lauderdale, Manhattan Beach and Chicago.
Part of the gig of coaching the Hawai’ians is bringing the proper energy, lighting their competitive flames at the right times. Pinheiro’s time as their assistant served him well, as he has gotten to know them on a personal level, stopping by for regular barbeques and drinks, knowing just when and how to push them, at just the right times.
The result? Three wins, a rediscovered sense of urgency, and the 2022 VolleyballMag Team of the Year.
Honorable mention Coach of the Year
Scott Davenport (Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner)
Rich Lambourne (Taylor Sander and Taylor Crabb)
Mike Placek (Miles Partain and Paul Lotman)
The Sinjin Smith Award: Volleyball Man of the Year: Josh Glazebrook
When Kevin Barnett was still running The Net Live, he awarded an annual Man of the Year, to the individual who impacted the game of volleyball — in our case, this is beach volleyball — in the most positive way. I loved that award, and wanted to continue it, naming ours after Sinjin Smith, the man who has done more for the sport of beach volleyball than anyone. The winner of our inaugural Sinjin Smith Volleyball Man of the Year is Josh Glazebrook.
Glazebrook’s official title is Senior Vice President of the AVP. That title, like many titles assigned to the names of individuals, says absolutely nothing about the massive role Glazebrook plays in the world of American beach volleyball. He is Mr. Everything: The most trusted and respected staff member on the AVP from the players, the muscle-bound dude getting in morning lifts with Rich Lambourne, the guy who could be seen with a rake or shovel, building or maintaining the courts one day, to the one on the walkie talkie, solving some problem or other, the next. One moment later, he’s snapping high quality pictures and somehow finding the time to edit, upload, and send them to the players. At some point, I suppose, he must sleep, though how much he works suggests it isn’t a whole lot. If there were an MVP for AVP Staff Members, Glazebrook would be the runaway winner.
Not enough peanut butter in the players’ tent? “Josh!”
Stream’s down on court 1? “Josh!”
The sand on court two in Denver is too packed, and players are getting cut to pieces? “Josh!”
In a volatile year, with new ownership, new systems, new everything, where the players and fans had plenty of questions — many of them not the friendliest — Glazebrook handled it as well as he could have. He answered questions when he could. Sympathized when he could. Helped any way he could.
The beach world owes its gratitude to Glazebrook, the unsung hero of the AVP, the guy who solved — or alleviated, in some way — every problem, whether it was in his job description or not to do so. He isn’t the hero we deserved, but the one we needed.
He is our Sleeveless Knight.
Honorable mention Sinjin Smith Volleyball Man of the Year
AVP Match of the Year:
Chicago final, Tri Bourne-Trevor Crabb vs. Taylor Crabb-Taylor Sander
Note: To qualify for Match of the Year, the match had to take place on either stadium court or court one, as only those matches were streamed. Many matches were therefore — and unfortunately — ineligible for MOY.
How good was this match (see video below)? After Trevor Crabb put the championship-sealing block on Taylor Sander, and they celebrated with a hilarious and perfectly awkward jump-hug, all four of the players on the court hugged. That bears repeating: They hugged. The best rivalry on the AVP Tour, the matchup with the most trash talk, most yellow cards, most heat — and in an instant, all four became friends once more. Typically, that takes some time. A few hours. Some drinks. Not in Chicago. All four knew what a spectacle they had just put on for the city of Chicago. All four knew they had delivered a final the fantastic crowd, which had showed up in the thousands all weekend long, deserved.
All four knew they had just played the 2022 AVP Match of the Year.
“That was a great final. It’s been a little while since a tight, close final on the men’s side,” Trevor Crabb said. “It’s always good for everyone when that happens. It adds that extra feeling when you win a close match.
“It brings energy to the game and it’s great for the game when both sides are doing that. Those are two of the best volleyball players not only in the U.S. but the world. It’s always a battle going against them, especially when it’s your brother.”
Come on Travis, leaving Logan off the list for best blocker is a travesty. His numbers say he is the best blocker, and if you watch him, especially against Myles and Taylor, you can see that he is. But to not make the list? Haha, nonsense.
Logan was awesome, no doubt there. My question is: Who do you take off to put him in? Tri, Theo, Phil, or Andy?
All four of them are better than Webber, without question.