Our complete coverage of Thursday’s happenings at AVP Austin follow, but first a recap from the inimitable Travis Mewhirter. Mewhirter and partner J.D. Hamilton lost in their qualifying match to Brian Miller and Brett Ryan. The good news for VolleyballMag.com is that it freed Mewhirter up to write this piece:
AUSTIN, Texas — There’s something undeniably beautiful about watching a crowd full of wonderfully well-lubricated Texans chanting “512! 512! 512!” (the Austin area code) while an AVP volunteer runs laps around a beach volleyball court at 9:30 p.m., waving the iconic Texas flag as the local darlings of the AVP Austin Open qualifying tournament, Francisco Quesada-Paneque and Troy Schlicker, turned in one of the most impressive performances out of the 66-team beast of a qualifier.
A Texas group called the Sand Wannabes called it.
As soon as the preview for the qualifier went up, they messaged me, writing “Oh, and our local favorite Rafaa ‘The Cuban’ Quesada and Troy Schlicker are gonna surprise some teams Thursday!”
Heck. I didn’t know. I’d only been to Texas once, and that was when I drove from Florida to California and took a pit stop in El Paso, and all that pit stop did was assure me that I will never go back to El Paso.
It’s a long-winded way of saying that I didn’t even know there was a beach volleyball scene in Texas.
But there is, and The Cuban and Schlicker appear to run it.
Not one team took a set off of the local boys, who could not be any more different both in playing style and appearance. Rafaa looks like the Texan Adrian Carambula – smaller, stout, entirely unassuming — and plays similarly, with crafty shots, slick digs and deceptive athleticism. Schlicker appears carved out of granite, and hits like he is.
They only had one close game, a 22-20 second-set win in the third round, which was preceded by a 21-11 drubbing.
Four matches. Eight sets.
One main draw.
And good for them.
They beat a fine team from Seattle in Brian Miller and Brett Ryan — gotta love a guy with two first names — who had upset the second-seeded Dan Buehring and Matt McCarthy.
They did so in front of an excellent home crowd, in the final match of the night, under the lights, and in convincing fashion, 21-14, 21-18.
In a sport dominated by Californians, it was a breath of underdog fresh air to see a final round between the hometown favorites and a couple Seattle fellows playing in their first ever AVP.
Match of the day goes to…
Ian Satterfield-Orlando Irizarry vs. Ben Vaught, Branden Clemens
“When you talk to me, I only get better.”
Orlando Irizarry shook his head, wagged his finger, as if he were scolding a puppy. Silly fans, calling his hands.
He deep-dished, they said. Doubled it for sure.
“Double?” Irizarry asked. He put his hand to his ear, asking for more, and he would get it. “I run clinics. I don’t double.”
The ref didn’t seem to mind, though Irizarry did serve one mighty deep-dish. Satterfield put the ball away and the score was tied 8-8 in a frenetic third set that sent Vaught’s poor sister, Emily, bless her heart, into an unenviable nervous breakdown.
Half an hour earlier, a passerby would have been forgiven had they thought the match would have been over long ago. Vaught and Clemens claimed the first set, 22-20, and leapt out to a 9-2 lead in the second.
Game, set, match, right?
It would have been the latest in Satterfield’s endless saga of near-misses, another final-round heartbreaker. Until it wasn’t. Suddenly Irizarry was picking up everything Satterfield wasn’t putting his 6-foot-6 roof over. Suddenly they were getting one ace, then another.
That 9-2 deficit became 13-8, then 15-13, and then it was theirs, 21-17, a 19-8 run to end the set.
The third set was for a main-draw spot, yes, but more than that, it was for sweet, sweet validation. Clemens and Vaught, the Cinderellas of Huntington Beach, had to prove their run through the gauntlet two weeks prior wasn’t a fluke.
Lord knows they heard enough of that all day.
For Satterfield, it would be the opportunity to alas shed the qualifying monkey off his back.
That third set would turn when the crowd grew the loudest. Irizarry was cramping, though he seemed to find some mental electrolytes in the friendly banter. Half the crowd was talking in Spanish, half in English. Everyone was enjoying some beverage or another.
It was really quite magnificent.
Irizarry cranked up his serve and delivered, breaking the 8-8 tie into a wide gap that when the score froze on match point at 14-10, it really only delayed the inevitable.
It’s a shame the match, a lively, raucous, competitive affair, the type that make qualifiers so gosh darn fun, ended the way it did. The ref called a double on Vaught that was, as more than one player watching would say, one of the worst calls they’ve ever seen.
Truly, it was awful.
But here’s what they missed: Irizarry won that call.
He worked the refs, one play after the next. He has a full deck of yellow cards to show for it. And he worked them just enough to seal up the final point of a long day in Texas heat and swirling, gusty winds.
Most of all, he worked the crowd.
He runs clinics, you know?
Take your wild card, we’ll make it anyway
Eric Zaun and Ed Ratledge have more combined AVP points than Reid Priddy and Maddison McKibbin, yet it was Zaun and Ratledge in Thursday’s qualifier, not Priddy and McKibbin.
Priddy and McKibbin were given a wild-card bid, a pass straight to the main draw. The merits of the wild card are a bit ambiguous. It could be because Priddy is one of the most decorated American volleyball players of all time, or that Maddison would have been automatically in the draw with his brother, Riley, who is out with an injury.
Either way, Zaun and Ratledge got the short end of the stick, and all four teams in their path on Thursday paid quite dearly for it.
Their biggest stress of the day seemingly came between matches three and four. They were doling out nicknames for various players on Tour, and they were stumped on a few.
It was awfully troubling.
Seriously. That’s as stressful as their day went.
Only once did a team score more than 16 points in a set.
So sure, take the wild card, Reid and Maddison.
Ratledge and Zaun are just fine without one.
Losing a bet, winning a qualifier
For three consecutive years, Piotr Marciniak has been awarded the NVL’s best offensive player. So when he texted Raffe Paulis last Tuesday, asking to play in the qualifier for AVP Austin, it was a no-brainer for Paulis.
Aside from having an excellent chance at making the main draw, he’d also be the guy who introduced Marciniak to the AVP Tour … right?
He even bet Mark Burik that Marciniak had never made an AVP main draw.
“Shane Donohue,” Marciniak said. “Cincinnati, 2012,” when he beat Christopher Austin and a 7-foot kid named Robbie Page in a wild three-setter to get in.
So Paulis gets to be the second guy Marciniak qualifies with on the AVP Tour.
True to form, they didn’t lose a set, beating Jorge Martinez and Spencer Sauter in the final round, 21-19, 23-21.
It’s odd to see teams seeded 13, 11 and 7 make it in, but that’s the beauty of a qualifier in which the top three teams have slipped into the main draw because of the four-star FIVB event in Rio de Janeiro.
It is likely a foreshadowing of what’s to come in the main draw this weekend.
There’s Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena…
And everyone else.
The parity from seeds two through 13 has little precedent. But this is Austin, home to Dalhausser and Lucena’s first AVP Tour victory, in 2005.
It would be stunning if it isn’t home to another.
And now back to regularly scheduled VolleyballMag.com coverage of the AVP Austin:
The AVP returned to Austin this year after a 12-year absence from the Texas city.
And, if you measure it by participation in the qualifier, the move has been enthusiastically received, as 66 men’s teams and 35 women’s ponied up the $100 per player for a chance to make the main draw.
Parity was the word for Thursday, as a strong and balanced qualifier field combined with afternoon winds of 12-14 miles per hour created competitive conditions. Only two of the eight top seeds survived the bracket, Ed Ratledge and Eric Zaun for the men, and Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough for the women. Austin will be Davis’ fifth main draw, Scarbrough’s fourth.
Top-seeded Ed Ratledge and Eric Zaun dropped into the qualifier by wild-cards Maddison McKibbin and Reid Priddy, proved that they belong in a dominant fashion with four straight set wins, only being pushed to deuce once in eight sets.
“We were able to do our jobs today and get back into the main draw,” Zaun said. “Austin is for the boys. It’s an amazing city and the fans and environment are awesome.”
No. 13 Raffe Paulis and Piotr Marciniak battled through the draw in their first event together. The 16-team main draw is Paulis’ third, while Marciniak has competed extensively on the NVL tour since qualifying in Cincinnati 2012, but was sidelined earlier this year with a broken finger. Marciniak now joins his wife Karolina, in the main draw, competing with Kendra VanZwieten.
“It was another insane qualifier, but all in all I’m just happy to be playing the game I love,” Paulis said.
No. 11 Orlando Irizarry and Ian Satterfield came through to make the main draw. The qualifier win was the first for Satterfield, who was knocking on the door forcefully last year, with three 17th place finishes. Irizarry also broke through in New York last year. The duo were fortunate to catch a late break in round 4 via forfeit, when Paul Lotman and Alejandro Parra withdrew.
No. 7 Austin locals Francisco Quesada-Paneque and Troy Schlicker came through in straight sets to make their first AVP main draw, only being pushed to deuce once. Their opponents in the qualifier finals were No. 50 seeded Brian Miller and Brett Ryan, who somehow survived nine games in 90 degree heat, about 40 degrees higher than their home in Seattle. Miller and Ryan were giant killers, taking out No. 2 Dan Buehring and Matthew McCarthy in a 21-17, 24-22 win.
“We didn’t have a specific strategy,” Miller admitted. “Some games I got a lot of blocks and some games he (Ryan) got a ton of digs and aces.”
No. 9 Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler used their USC experience to knock off some of the toughest teams in the qualifier, including under-seeded No. 25 Priscilla Piantadosi-Lima and Maria Clara Salgado (16-21, 21-17, 15-9) as well as No. 1 Bre Moreland and Kerri Schuh (21-17, 15-21, 15-12).
“Allie and I knew we had a tough road ahead of us and we hadn’t played together for a full year, but having played together our first three years of college I think really came through in those tight three setters today,” said Martin, who finished second in the USA Beach Collegiate pairs after winning her third consecutive collegiate team championship. “We just focused on our communication and reset before every play, we were excited to have the chance to get into the main draw of our first AVP out of USC.”
No. 13 Karissa Cook and Lara Dykstra, also from the college game, Cook at Hawaii, and Dykstra at Pepperdine, came through with relative ease. The pair won six consecutive sets with an average margin of more than eight points. Austin marks the third main draw for both Cook and Dykstra.
No. 6 Kimberly Smith and Xi Zhang denied hometown Austin favorites No. 3 Taylor Nutterfield and Claire Smalzer by the scores of 21-18, 21-16. Zhang, a bronze medalist in 2008, finished ninth in Huntington Beach with Nicole Branagh. The main draw is Smith’s second top 16 finish, the last being in Manhattan 2016 with Nicole Bateham.
No. 2 Floridians Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough were the lone top seed to qualify, but were tested with two three-set matches, the last against Pepperdine alumni Delaney Knudsen and Camie Manwill, 18-21, 21-19, 15-8.