April Ross is the VolleyballMag.com women’s pro beach player of the year for the third time, while among the men, Taylor Crabb broke the stranglehold that Phil Dalhausser had on the award the past two years.
Ross and Crabb are also the top defenders, Ross and Alix Klinemen are the top women’s team, and Crabb and Jake Gibb are the top men’s team.
This is the third annual VolleyballMag.com All-Pro Beach Awards, and in addition to the men’s and women’s MVPs and Best Defenders, we have awards for Best Blocker, Rookie of the Year, Breakthrough Wild Card, and for the first time, Team of the Year and Breakthrough Team of the Year.
The All-Pro beach team consists of five first-team blockers and five first-team defenders, five on the second team, and three honorable mentions.
The VolleyballMag.com voting panel included AVP Director of Competition Marty Suan, three-time Olympian Holly McPeak, all-time great Randy Stoklos (who has 122 domestic and international wins), Amazon Prime broadcaster Camryn Irwin, VBM contributor and pro beach player Travis Mewhirter, and VBM Co-Publisher/Director of Photography Ed Chan.
Eligibility for the awards was limited to American pro beach players who competed in at least five AVP or FIVB events (representing the USA), leaving Canadians Sarah Pavan, Melissa Humana-Paredes, and Brandie Wilkerson ineligible.
“I’m super flattered to win the MVP again this year,” Ross said. “Alix and I put in so much work this past preseason and it really felt like we were able to grow as a team. I have to thank my coaches, Jen Kessy, Guilherme “Fiapo” Tenius, and Tyler Hildebrand for pushing us outside our comfort zone and helping us improve.
“Winning a best defender award has been a huge goal of mine ever since I switched to full time defending! I’m so honored VolleyballMag felt I was deserving of this award. I’ve worked really hard at defense and it makes me even hungrier to keep growing as a defender.”
In Crabb’s opinion, the MVP award should have gone to Gibb. The Best Defender award is Crabb’s second, while the MVP award is his first after narrowly finishing second to Phil Dalhausser in 2018.
“The Best Defender award is a goal of mine every year. I pride myself on hustle and effort. So I am very excited and honored to have won this award,” Crabb said. “I don’t win this award without Jake and Rich (Lambourne, his coach). The confidence, trust and belief they have in me enables me to be able to play freely, and when you’re able to do that and not have to worry about your teammate or coach wondering ‘what is he doing back there’ it makes me play at my best. They are the two greatest teammates I could ask for.
“As for the MVP award, I honestly thought it should have been Jake. This guy continues to get better even when everyone else is counting him out because he’s getting ‘older.’ He does everything right on and off the court and it’s truly an honor to play on the same side of the court with him.”
Ross-Klineman won three gold (Yangzhou, Itapema, and Gstaad) and two silver medals (Hamburg World Championships and the Tokyo test event) on the world stage this year, ranking second in 2020 Olympic qualification.
Domestically they won AVP titles in Huntington Beach, New York, and Chicago, finishing second twice to Pavan and Humana-Paredes in Manhattan Beach and Waikiki. She dominated the MVP discussion for the third consecutive year.
Ross’ received four of the six top votes for Best Defender. BVBinfo’s stats listed her second in aces per set, fifth in hitting percentage, and 11th in digs per set.
McPeak acknowledged not only Ross’ physicality, but her competitive edge.
“April Ross is the MVP because she is the best all-around player on the AVP tour right now and she knows how to win,” McPeak said. “April is a leader and is helping develop and teach Alix how to win on the world stage. She has a great jump serve and is very strong offensively, but what makes her the best is her mental toughness.”
Crabb’s stats for 2019: an impressive 5.27 digs/set along with a .437 hitting percentage.
“Taylor’s speed is what separate him from all the other players on the AVP,” the AVP’s Suan said. “It allows him a variety of options on offense. When combined with his decision making, this results in him being clinical.
“Defensively he makes the court small for his opponents, He has an uncanny ability to make quality digs when required and is excellent at controlling the tempo of very difficult plays.
Crabb earned Mewhirter’s Best Defender vote as much for his mental game as his physical skills.
“For a long time, it was really only Phil Dalhausser who had multiple identities on the AVP Tour. There was Phil, and then there was Sunday Phil, the most dominant player in the world. So confident was he that he’d make it to Sunday that he didn’t really need to go full Sunday Phil until, well, Sunday,” Mewhirter said.
“Taylor Crabb entered that stratosphere this year. Coach Rich Lambourne often chided Crabb and Jake Gibb for being so slow starters, though the flip side of that coin is this: They were electrifying finishers. Lose in the second round in Huntington Beach? No problem. They’d win out. Lose first round in Austin? No problem. They’d win out. Lose third round in Chicago? No problem. They’d win out. Go down 15-20 in the finals at the freeze in Hawai’i? No problem — Sunday Taylor to the rescue.
“This year, more than any, Crabb just adopted a killer mindset on the AVP Tour.”
At the net, the voting was much tighter as Dalhausser edged Gibb to three-peat as Best Blocker, while Klineman dominated the voting, outdistancing Emily Day and Kerri Walsh Jennings by nearly a 2-1 margin.
Dalhausser topped the domestic field with 2.02 blocks per set and boasted the men’s highest hitting percentage at an impressive .522.
“The one aspect that makes Phil Dalhausser the Best Blocker is the area that he covers and has done so for over a decade, imagine lining up against that guy at every tournament and knowing that he is in your face,” said Stoklos, one of the most impressive blockers of his era. “Height, jump and long arms put him in the list of the very best.”
Similarly, the 6-foot-5 Klineman’s ability to take over a match at the net earned her the Best Blocker nod. She boasted an impressive .487 hitting percentage and blocked 1.32 balls per set. Klineman has become one of the world’s elite blockers in only her second full year on the beach.
“Internationally, volleyball is about the ability to alter an opponents’ game and make them uncomfortable,” Chan said. “Nothing changes the conversation more than a 6-5 blocker with decent hops. Klineman, along with Pavan, are the two most feared blockers in the world, and she continues to improve going into 2020.”
The 2019 Rookies of the Year were Miles Partain and Zana Muno. Both have UCLA ties, as the 17-year old Partain is a UCLA men’s volleyball commit as an opposite/setter, and Muno a two-time UCLA beach national champion.
Partain came out of the Chicago qualifier to finish fifth with Paul Lotman, while the 5-10 Muno shocked the field with a third place finish with Crissy Jones at AVP Hermosa Beach.
“Watching Marcus play, his skills are smooth as silk,” Chan said. “He never looks stressed, he’s always balanced, making him difficult to read. Those traits will be invaluable as his game continues to progress.”
Muno and Jones started the year in the qualifier.
“Zana (and Crissy’s) journey this year has been incredible,” Suan said. “To start the season lacking the points to play in the qualifier in Austin or NYC, and then having the resourcefulness to play and win an AVPNext in Denver. This win propelled them into the qualifier in Seattle, and from there, the last four main draws of the season. Their third place in Hermosa Beach showcased her excellent technical skills, that she is a great teammate and that she is mature beyond her years.”
Muno was also voted the women’s Wild Card Player of 2019, while Eric Beranek received the corresponding men’s award. Troy Field, Terese Cannon, and Karissa Cook also followed closely in this category.
“From Terese Cannon to Kim Hildreth and Sara Schermerhorn, a lot of names were in this conversation,” Irwin said. “Crissy and Zana exploded onto the scene this year, and continued to perform at an impressively high clip through multiple competitions.
“No one wanted to run into them. They both display skill and outrageous grit. However, the ability of Zana to fight off serve after serve, and find transition kills after heavy heat coming her way particularly stood out to me this season.”
Beranek built himself a fan base in Manhattan Beach, where he finished third with Billy Kolinske, while Muno parlayed her UCLA beach experience into a third in Hermosa, a trio of ninths in Manhattan, Chicago, and Waikiki, and a 21st in Seattle.
Mewhirter, himself a grinder, was impressed by Beranek’s path.
“Beranek’s year is one of the most fascinating in a while. He made the first two main draws of the season, then had to skip New York and Seattle with an injury, popped over to Pottstown and made the finals on the grass, failed to qualify in Hermosa — and then breakthrough,” Mewhirter said.
“A third in Manhattan Beach pushed him and Billy Kolinske into the main draw in Chicago and Hawai’i, where Beranek, who had never previously earned a top-10, again made it to the quarterfinals, falling just short of Sunday. It’s a lesson in productive patience: Don’t just wait for your time to come. Grind and grind and grind — and then breakthrough.“
This year VolleyballMag.com debuted two team awards: Team of the Year and Breakthrough Team of the Year. Other men’s teams receiving significant votes were Dalhausser and Lucena, and Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger. On the women’s side, Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, and Emily Day and Betsi Flint had a following.
Internationally, Crabb and Gibb finished the year with a bang, pulling down a fourth place at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome. They earned fifths in Las Vegas and Sydney, ninths in Xiamen, Hamburg, Gstaad, Vienna and Moscow.
They dominated at home, winning AVP stops in Huntington Beach, Austin, Chicago, and Waikki, finishing second in Seattle and third in New York.
Stoklos remembers when the award was entitled “Kings of the Beach”.
“Congratulations to Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb on being named Team of the Year. Once it was called the Kings of the Beach, for the team that won the most in a calendar year, I call it King Crabb and King Gibb,” Stoklos said.
Ross and Klineman were a lock for top team.
“Talk about a no-brainer,” Chan said. “Ross-Klineman, along with Pavan-Humana-Paredes, took a step forward in 2019 to separate themselves from the domestic and international fields. Klineman has continued to improve every aspect of her game, and they have all but locked up an Olympic berth.”
Troy Field and Tim Bomgren and Karissa Cook and Jace Pardon pulled down the respective Breakthrough Team of the Year awards. There was plenty of competition in this Olympic qualification year, with Patterson and Budinger, Jeremy Casebeer and Chaim Schalk, Zana Muno and Crissy Jones, Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn, and Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman challenging for the award.
Field and Bomgren came out of the gates in 2019 firing, with thirds in Huntington and Austin, and a second in New York.
Cook and Pardon were truly a breakthrough team, earning their first win in Austin, and remarkably never finishing lower than fifth.