Taryn Kloth, the South Dakotan who never played beach volleyball before completing her All-American indoor career at Creighton and transferring to LSU as a graduate student in 2019, and Kristen Nuss, just 5-foot-6 and who thought all through high school her ticket to playing sports in college was in basketball, won AVP Atlanta on Sunday.
After winning three AVPNext titles this season, the tandem from LSU — who came out of the qualifier and were seeded 14th — won their first AVP event by beating second-seeded Olympians Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in the championship match 21-12, 19-21, 16-14.
Kloth joins rarefied company by winning her first main draw, which has only been done six times previously by Linda Hanley and Nina Matthies (Florida, 1984), Dale Keough (Chicago, 1984), Holly McPeak and Angela Rock (Phoenix, 1993), Elaine Youngs (Clearwater, 1999), Kerri Walsh Jennings (2003, Fort Lauderdale), and Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca (Glendale, 2009).
In the men’s final in the first AVP event of 2021, 41-year-old Casey Patterson, the 2016 Olympian with Jake Gibb, and Chase Budinger, the Arizona standout and former pro basketball player who went full-time on the beach in 2018, beat Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk 14-21, 21-16, 15-13.
The three-event 2021 AVP Tour continues this week at the Manhattan Beach Open, referred to as the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball.”
It also is a true open, meaning that any players wishing to compete can pony up the $100 can compete in the massive two-day Wednesday-Thursday qualifier regardless of points. The main draw by the Manhattan Beach Pier begins Friday.
Kloth and Nuss, who earlier this summer won AVPNext gold in New Orleans, the Waupaca Boatride, and AVPNext Atlantic City, split $20,000 in Atlanta, their largest payday since turning pro after the LSU season ended this past May.
In the final at Atlanta Station, Nuss had 31 kills with only seven errors to hit .522. She also had two aces and 19 digs. The 6-foot-4 Kloth had 13 kills with one error in 25 attacks, two blocks, and a dig. Nuss is 23, while Kloth is 24.
Team Slaes, the youngest Americans to play in the Olympics — Claes is 25 and Sponcil 24 — couldn’t match their opponents’ offensive numbers. Claes had 34 kills, but 11 errors and hit .371. She had a dig, a block, and an ace. Sponcil had six kills, 11 digs, and an ace.
On Sunday, Kloth and Nuss beat Terese Cannon and Molly Turner in the semifinals 21-13, 19-21, 15-5.
In the other semifinal, Claes and Sponcil beat fifth-seeded Crissy Jones and Susannah Muno 21-19, 21-16. Earlier they got out of the contenders bracket with a 21-14, 21-12 win over Megan Rice and Sarah Schermerhorn. Claes and Sponcil won back-to-back FIVB events earlier this summer to claim their USA spot in the Tokyo Olympics, where they tied for ninth. They took home $14,000 from Atlanta as the AVP competed with fans for the first time since 2019.
Nuss and Kloth went into the third set freeze up 14-12 before Team Slaes knotted it up at 14-all. Consecutive digs and transitions by Nuss closed out the championship 16-14 with a deep middle rainbow shot, sending the pair into their first victory on the AVP Tour.
“This has been a long time,” Nuss told Camryn Irwin on the Peacock TV broadcast. “We have trained for about a year, just grinding, and it has for sure paid off. That was a total battle, and it was awesome. I can’t even explain it, I don’t know what words will come out of my mouth, wow.”
Kloth and Nuss are coached by the husband-wife team of Drew and Mary Hamilton. Drew is an assistant coach at LSU.
“I am so honored to play next to Kristen, she’s so unreal,” Kloth said. “But honestly, it was a huge team effort. Drew and Mary, Kristen, all of us, there was so much. It was a grind, to say the least. Playing here was unbelievable. It was fun.”
Patterson and Budinger also split $20,000.
Sunday was tough for the Crabb brothers.
In the semifinals, Brunner, the veteran beach player who played indoors at UC Santa Barbara, and Schalk, who has dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship and started competing as an American in 2019, knocked out sixth-seeded Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb 10-21, 21-19, 15-11. Patterson and Budinger beat Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb 21-19, 21-17.
The win was Patterson’s 16th AVP championship, the last in Hermosa Beach 2019 when he and Budinger won, Budinger’s first.
The pair split in 2020, with Patterson playing with Brunner and Budinger with Schalk, so there were definitely no secrets in Sunday’s finals.
The reunion yielded a championship as Patterson and Budinger’s only loss was to Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb in the second round, coming through the contenders bracket.
Patterson-Budinger scored 38 kills to 31 by Schalk-Brunner, outdug them 20-16, but were out-blocked 6-1 and out-served three aces to one. Schalk-Brunner out-hit Budinger-Patterson .410 to .397.
Budinger and Patterson had the lead heading into the freeze 14-13. They won the match on their first match point when Brunner turned a middle set back to the line that fell into the net.
Patterson, a consummate entertainer, thrives on the fan energy perhaps more than any other player. He also credited Budinger.
“It’s fun to be healthy again, you know what I mean? It’s fun to have a guy that’s ready to go to battle, he’s a winner,” Patterson said. “He stuffed balls when he needed to, he served nasty when he needed to, he covered and pulled and dug, he’s the guy that shows up when it’s championship Sunday.
“It’s the most fun thing in the world. So I just got to leverage my guy with all my heart and be myself again.”
Budinger was asked about a controversial call at 13-13, called for a lift on a block.
“I would actually consider it a slam dunk” Budinger said, the 2006 All-American slam dunk runner-up. It was kind of like a tip, where I went up, held it, and then dunked it. It was the right call, I was just mad because it was kind of a dumb mistake by me.”