AVP Chicago: No age boundaries as Hyden-Doherty, Claes-Hughes win titles

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Sara Hughes throws sand in celebration/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

CHICAGO — Father Time must have been shaking his head Sunday as he watched the finals of the AVP’s The Championships unfold.

First, the oldest man ever to win an AVP title, 44-year-old John Hyden, celebrated victory with 33-year-old teammate Ryan Doherty after they beat a pair of 37-year-olds, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, 21-19, 21-19.

And then in the women’s final, two kids whose ages combined — 21-year-old Kelly Claes and 22-year-old Sara Hughes — don’t equal Hyden’s, beat 24-year-old Summer Ross and 31-year-old Brooke Sweat 21-17, 21-18.

Both winning pairs split $22,000, with the losers getting $16,000 as the 2017 AVP season came to an end.

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At age 44, John Hyden becomes the oldest AVP champion/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

In the semifinals, 12th-seeded Claes and Hughes beat second-seeded Lauren Fendrick and April Ross 21-14, 21-19 and third-seeded Ross and Sweat ousted top-seeded Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar — who won the previous two AVP events — 21-14, 21-19.

The men’s semifinals saw seventh-seeded Doherty and Hyden eliminate fourth-seeded Billy Allen and Stafford Slick 21-16, 21-19 and top-seeded Dalhausser and Lucena beat eighth-seeded Jeremy Casebeer and John Mayer 19-21-21-17, 15-9.

Claes and Hughes, who won four national championships at USC, this summer finished third, seventh and ninth in AVP events. On the FIVB Tour, they finished fifth twice and ninth twice.

“I don’t think I would be here without USC, honestly,” Hughes said. “My coaches, Anna (Collier) and Dain (Blanton) and everyone else who helped out, they really prepared us. We trained like professionals at USC. That’s why we were able to come out so early and compete with all the rest of the professionals. I can’t thank them enough.”

Claes talked about their transition from college.

“I think anyone coming out is going to have a rough start but we’ve been making adjustments all year, we’ve been communicating so much, and we’re just so happy to finish like this,” Claes said.

Hughes said she hadn’t had time to fully absorb what they had accomplished.

“It doesn’t really feel real,” Hughes said. “I just don’t know what happened. It was so surreal, especially that last point. I’m just so happy we got to do this, and finish the season like this, it’s so amazing.

“We came out here and made history and I’m so proud of Kelly. I’m glad I got to do it with her. I can’t thank the AVP enough for what they’ve given us since we came out on tour. We love it so much.”

Claes and Hughes were not only undefeated here, but were only pushed to three sets twice.

“Everyone out here battles so hard and we had such a fun run and we just focused on playing together one point at a time,” Claes said. “We don’t really worry about the score, we just keep working on every side out. That’s what we did and we broke through and we made it.”

This marked the end of a long year for them. They went right on the pro tour after the NCAA season ended.

“It’s our first real offseason,” Claes said. “We’re still kind of adjusting because we’ve never done this before. So we’re going to take three to four weeks off and just rest and really recharge.

“We’re just going to relax and actually have personal lives,” she added with a laugh, “and then we’re going to come back and grind through and tailor it to figure what we want to do, but we’re just going to enjoy this one right now.”

Doherty closed out the men’s final with two stuff blocks.

“That was a good win,” Doherty said. “We’ve played Phil and Nick a lot, to top a team as world-class as those guys are means a lot for both me and Johnny.”

Doherty and Hyden started off 2017 hot, with a fourth-place finish at the FIVB Fort Lauderdale five-star event in February, and followed it up with a second-place finish at the AVP opener in Huntington Beach. The middle of their season wasn’t as consistent as they would have liked, but they finished second at FIVB Olsztyn in Poland.

“You just try to be as consistent as possible and obviously there’s going to be some ebbs and flows,” Doherty said. “Unless you’re an absolute dominant team like Phil and Nick that win pretty much year-round, there’s going to be that lull in the season and I’m really proud that John and I worked hard to make sure that we grind through it and we were able to end the season with a win.”

Hyden is the oldest player to win an AVP event at 44 years, 9 months, a month older than Karch Kiraly was when he last won.

“This one’s special,” Hyden said of his 26th victory. “It’s fantastic as long as nobody comes to beat you. I’ve been following Karch for years. He went to indoors and won gold, I didn’t, then he went to the beach and won gold. I didn’t, so it’s nice to have something on him.

“He’s always been the best and now that’s one goal I could reach right now and I took it, so I’m pretty happy.”

Maintaining a high level of play into his mid-40’s isn’t a one-person job, Hyden said.

“I’ve got a couple of wizards behind the curtain. My wife Robyn, she helps out enormously. And my trainer. Without them, I’m not doing what I’m doing. People don’t know that that’s a big part of my success. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be able to do what I do. I have such good people behind me that it helps me every day. It’s not easy. People don’t know how hard it is and I’m thankful that they’re there for me.”

Dalhausser and Lucena elected to split block in Chicago.

“I thought this would be a fun tournament for us to try, have Phil go for his serve and see what I can do up there,” Lucena said. “We made it to the final, were competitive in the final and it was fun the whole weekend.

“Hats off to John and Ryan, they played well.”

Dalhausser said blocking is more challenging than playing defense.

“Blocking, for sure,” Dalhausser said. “I’m not wanting to be one of those big guys that wants to play defense. We just figured we would switch it up a little bit to have some fun and somehow we ended up in the finals, and we had a great time doing it.”

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