HUNTINGTON, Calif. – When the time arrived to sign up for their first AVP tournament together, Miles Partain and Andy Benesh jumped at the chance.
Or rather, they jump-set at the opportunity.
Flashing one of the latest worldwide trends, Partain and Benesh used their tricky jump-set, fake hit, fake set and hit and several other beach volleyball permutations to capture the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open on Sunday with a dazzling display.
It was more than enough to score a 20-22, 21-11, 15-12 championship victory over top-seeded Chaim Schalk and Tri Bourne at the Huntington Beach Pier.
It may be hard to believe that a rookie team can win on the tour, but these guys are now batting 1.000.
“I can believe it because Miles is a very unique talent, we’ve been working very hard in the offseason,” the 6-foot-9 Benesh said. “But he just brings a new style to the beach. It’s really difficult to deal with. I had to deal him last year and the year before and I know what it’s like.”
The 21-year-old Partain can make blockers look silly with his array of jump sets. Benesh likes the system so much, he’s getting into the act himself.
“It’s great,” said Partain, featured here this past week. “He’s such a fun player to play with and our coach is awesome so it’s a real dream come true with the environment that was with us so it’s awesome.
“Andy learned a bit. He was already pretty good at it. The jump-setting stuff, he could already do it but he never really tried a lot. He’s been able implement it in high-pressure moments, which is a testament to his ability.”
It’s an attacking system initiated by Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Piotr Kantor in the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Now, it’s a trend that has been taken into orbit by Swedish 21-year-olds David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig.
Partain and Benesh, who already have won on the FIVB Volleyball World tour when they went undefeated to take the 2022 Dubai First Challenge, are ready to take their show on the road again when they resume their schedule in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in a week and a half.
After pushing Schalk and Bourne in the first set, Partain and Benesh changed their strategy for the second, on defense and in the serving game, and the top seeds saw errors begin to creep in.
“I think I didn’t handle it as well as I could have personally,” Schalk said. “Their short serves were pretty good. That’s how it goes sometimes; we didn’t play our best, we were still battling, though, and we gave ourselves a chance to win that match so I’m proud that. There’s more stuff to work on and we’ll get it back.”
The fifth-seeded Partain and Benesh got off to a fast start in the third set but Schalk and Bourne pulled to 10-9. They just couldn’t catch them.
“It’s so rad to be up one point instead of down one point is the way I look at it,” Benesh said. “These games are always close so it’s decision-making and execution that makes the difference.”
“The mentality is just one point at a time and trying to keep it within our team and keep the focus on the present point,” Partain added. “Especially as the match gets later and later.”
It was a rematch from Saturday’s third round, when Schalk and Bourne scored a three-set win after dropping the first.
Partain and Benesh split the $14,000 winner’s prize, with Schalk and Bourne sharing $8,500.
Schalk, a 2016 Rio Olympian from Canada with Ben Saxton, is now trying to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics representing the USA with Bourne, who got a taste of the Olympics in the 2021 Tokyo Games when he replaced Taylor Crabb.
“It’s hard to adjust to, especially the Swedes, they’re jump-setting like crazy,” Schalk said. “The system’s a different style, a little more high risk. When we beat them yesterday, it looked like they got into a little trouble with it.
“It’s a younger style, it’s a new system and it’s just something that we’re starting to figure out more and more. The more times we get to play them, the better for us because we can just figure it out.”
(Good timing by VBM: Click here to read the feature this past week by Travis Mewhirter about Miles Partain).
Benesh looking like the American Stoyanovski. Wow!