AUSTIN, Texas — t’s hard to call Sarah Day qualifying for the main draw of the 2018 AVP Austin Open an underdog story, but you can certainly call it a comeback. Austin marked the first appearance since September 2016 for the 10-year AVP veteran and her first pro tournament since the birth of her second child, son Parker.
Seeded first in the women’s qualifier alongside former USC beach standout Nicolette Martin, Day defeated the local Austin team of Chrissy Glenn and former LSU standout Katie Lindelow in three sets to make it to Friday.
“My first comeback was with my daughter Piper. This is my son Parker here,” Day said, holding a crying and hungry Parker in her arms after her final match of the day. “This one has been really hard. I’m loving the journey, but two kids on the road with a little baby that still doesn’t sleep through the night, you’re kind of at a disadvantage.”
The 5-foot-10 Day typically plays defense and has partnered with elite blockers such as Christal Engle, Kim DiCello, and Sheila Shaw in the past, but with the scrappy 23-year-old 5-9 Martin, she plays the role of the big blocker.
Martin checks all of the other, more intangible, requirements Day has for a partner, however. They live close to each other, which helps Day stay close her kids while she’s still breastfeeding Parker. And of course, Martin brings championship experience gained at USC, a competitive fire and top-notch skills.
“I like the approach that I have with Nic as a leader,” Day added. “I feel like it’s a new role for me, but nothing too crazy considering I have to lead two children, so I feel like I’m just adding her into my little nest sometimes. She’s part of the family.”
Brothers Riley and Maddison McKibbin, the No. 1 seed in the men’s qualifier, also earned a spot in the main draw, managing to do so without dropping a set — a significant feat when playing in 90-plus-degree Texas weather and having to turn around and face main draw opponents in a little over 12 hours.
Although none of their alumni advanced to the main draw, two schools from opposite sides of the country were well-represented in Thursday’s qualifier.
Eight Long Beach State alums competed in the men’s competition, and a handful more came along for the ride to offer their heckling services and moral support.
“Once you go to Long Beach, it’s like of like a brotherhood that you’re always together, no matter what age,” explained one particularly enthusiastic heckler and former 49er, who preferred to remain unnamed.
The Long Beach State contingent included long-time professional beach volleyball veteran Matt Prosser (LBSU Class of 2000), as well as 26-year-old Ian Satterfield, who made his first AVP main draw in last year’s Austin Open, and indoor Olympian Paul Lotman, who is in his second season playing beach volleyball full-time.
The pro beach 49ers also welcomed a new member to their crew with three-time Olympic middle blocker David Lee making his beach volleyball debut. A three-set loss to the local Austin pair of Troy Schlicker and Rafaa Quesada-Paneque cut Lee and partner Tal Shavit’s tournament short, but Lee stayed optimistic.
“This was kind of a test event for me, just to see how I would enjoy it and see how I would do,” Lee said. “Obviously it wasn’t the best debut, but I’ve only trained for two weeks and I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. It’s just a different game. It’s hard to make that transition quickly, especially [at] 36.”
Not many athletes stretch their indoor careers into their 40s, but that’s certainly an option on the beach, where Lee can look to the example of 45-year-old John Hyden, 43-year-old Ricardo Santos, 41-year-old Ed Ratledge and 40-year-old Reid Priddy, who are all in tomorrow’s main draw.
Maddie Ligon, a rising senior who helped lead the Tigers to their second-consecutive NCAA Beach appearance earlier this month, and her partner Kate Privett, a Southlake, Texas, native headed to Florida State in the fall, knocked off the No. 2-seeded Briana Hinga and Bre Moreland in the second round, but eventually lost to Falyn Fonoimoana and Alexa Strange, who advanced to the main draw.
Lindelow, who lost to Day and Martin in the final round, played in the first three seasons of LSU beach volleyball (2014-2016), and had a significant role in establishing the Tigers on the national stage. As she and partner Glenn pushed Day and Martin to a third set, Ligon sat on the sidelines cheering on her former teammate.
“Katie’s such a great player,” Ligon said. “She’s the same person every game, which is great because there are a lot of players that will come in and own one game and then the next it’s like completely different.”
But for the success of the Tiger program overall, Ligon credited head coach Russell Brock. “It’s really fun to see the program grow in the way that it has because Russell, Drew [Hamilton], and Trey [Cruz] have put a lot of effort into making us great.”
Also moving on to Friday’s main draw were No. 5 seed Janelle Allen and Kerri Schuh and No. 6 seed Priscilla Piantadosi-Lima and Jessica Sykora.
On the men’s side, No. 11 seed Troy Field and David Vander Meer, No. 12 seed Bruno Amorin and Chris Luers, and No. 10 seed Raffe Paulis and this publication’s very own Travis Mewhirter rounded out the men’s delegation advancing to the big show.
Friday’s brackets can be found here. The tournament will be streamed on Amazon Prime for the first time, and can be viewed by Prime members here.