AUSTIN, Texas — Sarah Sponcil, playing in her first AVP tournament, is so fresh off of her college season she still has the spandex tan lines.
Unlike many young players’ first pro tournament, where they finally break through to the main draw after battling through the qualifier after qualifier, Sponcil is living the good life as the partner of Olympian Lauren Fendrick. And, after the conclusion of the first day of competition at the AVP Austin Open, the pair is undefeated.
Thanks to Fendrick’s generous collection of points won during the 2017 season competing alongside April Ross and Lane Carico, she and Sponcil entered AVP Austin as the No. 7 seed in the main draw. Friday, they toppled No. 10 seed Olaya Pazo and Angela Bensend and No. 2 seed Caitlin Ledoux and Kendra VanZwieten.
Saturday, Fendrick and Sponcil will take on Janelle Allen and Kerri Schuh for a chance to advance to the semifinals.
Allen and Schuh entered the event through the qualifier, one of two qualifier teams to make the third round of the winners bracket, joining Sarah Day and Nicolette Martin in that club. Tournament No. 1 seed Alix Klineman and April Ross round out the group of teams still alive in the winners bracket at the end of play on Friday night.
No. 3 seed Ali McColloch and Geena Urango and No. 4 seed Amanda Dowdy and Irene Pollock went two-and-out. The No. 5 seed Brittany Howard and Kelly Reeves and the No. 6 seed Lane Carico and Karolina Marciniak were also sent to the contenders bracket with a first-round loss but lived to see another day.
In the men’s side of the bracket, however, seeding has held for the most part with No. 1 Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, No. 3 Billy Allen and Ryan Doherty and No. 4 Trevor Crabb and John Mayer winning their first two matches.
No. 7 Jeremy Casebeer and Reid Priddy also made it to Saturday in the winners bracket, beating No. 10 Chase Budinger and Sean Rosenthal and No. 2 Theo Brunner and John Hyden. Casebeer and Priddy hopped a last-minute flight back from an FIVB event in Brazil in order to play in Austin.
Fendrick, who played most of the 2017 season with April Ross, had high hopes for a reunion with Brooke Sweat. The two women teamed from 2014 to 2016 and competed in the Rio Olympics as a pair, but this season, they only got one tournament in together, a seventh-place finish at the FIVB Huntington Beach four-star, right after which Sweat went in for rotator cuff surgery.
With only a couple weeks left before the Austin event, Fendrick was back on the partners market.
“At that point, a lot of teams had partnered up and like just partnered up,” Fendrick said, “so I was thinking of someone who wasn’t partnered up.”
Fendrick, who serves as a volunteer assistant to her husband, Andrew Fuller, for the Stanford beach team, thought pretty quickly of Sponcil, the transfer from LMU who set for the UCLA indoor team last fall and helped the beach squad win the recent 2018 NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship.
“I texted Stein (Metzger, coach of the UCLA beach program) like, ‘Hey, would it be OK if I asked Sarah?’ ” Fendrick said. With Metzger’s blessing, Fendrick reached out, and Sponcil couldn’t sign on fast enough.
“I was just on a high from winning the national championship but I completely jumped at the opportunity,” Sponcil said. “I’m just trying to absorb everything that I can. I’m new to this whole thing.”
“(Sarah) said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’ and then had to go through the process of, ‘OK, what is it to do this?’ We have to register, we have to have matching bikinis, gotta get a flight and hotel,” said Fendrick, who qualified for her first AVP tournament 14 years ago. “I enjoy teaching and helping the younger generation, especially with stuff like that, logistics.”
Fendrick, who lives in northern California, came down to LA for two training sessions with Sponcil before wheels up to Austin.
“The caliber of play right now is crazy,” Sponcil said. “I feel like in college it’s like not as hard of hits, just the shots. People have their shots that they love, but here everyone’s banging, everyone’s mixing it up. And you can’t be like, ‘I can lose this one because my team is going to help me.’ It’s like, ‘OK, it’s on right now, so it’s me and you.’”
Fendrick wouldn’t say whether she saw a future for a Sponcil-Fendrick partnership beyond this weekend, but a 2-0 start certainly bodes well.
The biggest surprise of the day was Troy Field and David Vander Meer, a team out of the qualifier who came oh-so-close to toppling Hyden and Brunner in the first round, eventually losing 16-14 in the third, and then sent Budinger and Rosenthal packing with a 16-21, 21-16, 15-6 decision in the contenders bracket.
Field, a 6-4 24-year-old Mission Viejo native, qualified for his first AVP main draw last year and played three NORCECA tournaments with Reid Priddy in April, winning two silvers and a bronze. Vander Meer, a Grand Rapids, Michigan, native and 26-year-old former Ball State libero, played his first AVP qualifier at the age of 13 in 2005, but Austin marks his first time in the main draw.