The picture you see just below this paragraph is of a young Travis Mewhirter.

He’s 12 years old, plays shooting guard for the North Carroll Panthers, midfield soccer for the North Carroll Comets — God bless those days — and first base and pitcher for the Hampstead Heat. He fights with his brothers, thinks taking girls to movies is the most nerve-wracking experience this world has to offer, and has never played volleyball.

AVP Chicago 2019 qualifier preview-Travis Mewhirter

Take a look at that picture. That’s what I looked like the last time John Hyden played in an AVP qualifier. Now, I look roughly the same age – I will never grow out of this baby face — but since Huntington Beach of 2002, when Hyden was seeded Q5 with Chip McCaw, he has played in 245 professional events. He has won 27 domestic tournaments and one FIVB.

And he’s back in the qualifier for AVP Chicago. The tournament on Lake Michigan starts Thursday with the qualifier. Look for our women’s preview on Wednesday.

These are crazy times in professional beach volleyball. And crazy times for a menagerie of teams, many of whom have broken up and have made new teams, some of which look promising, some of which look like they’ll be, at the very least, a lot of fun to follow.

In any event, we’re back in Chicago, on beaches that may or may not be washed out, with a lot of teams that nobody has seen yet, with the freeze rule out the window for the qualifier, and, yeah, John Hyden is in the qualifier.

It’s going to be one heck of a weekend.

Theo Brunner, John Hyden
I thought Theo was joking when, at practice on Wednesday morning, he said that he and Hyden were going to be in the qualifier. Just a funny little thing to say after a tough go in Manhattan where he was knocked out by Eric Beranek and Bill Kolinske, a team that had come out of the qualifier. But then he was kinda serious, and when the entry list came out on Friday, he was dead serious.

Theo Brunner and John Hyden, a team with 16 combined AVP victories, the most recent of which came a year ago in Hermosa Beach, would be in the qualifier. I can’t think of a better team that has ever been in an AVP qualifier, though my knowledge is limited by the little time I’ve spent in the sport. This is similar to Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan being relegated to the New York qualifier in 2018, though anyone who participated in that one will remind you what happened: They lost, to Delaney Knudsen and Jess Sykora, in the final round.

There are no guarantees in qualifiers.

Bruno Amorim, Gabe Ospina
With Skylar del Sol getting promoted by Ed Ratledge — Rafu Rodriguez has coaching obligations and cannot play; he’s not injured — Amorim was without a partner. And with Paul Lotman and Gabe Ospina stumbling after a successful start to the season, they split, leaving Ospina looking for a blocker and Amorim looking for a defender.

Amorim makes perfect sense for Ospina. If there’s anybody in the qualifier who plays similar to Lotman, it’s Amorim, who, like Lotman, has an excellent indoor background, beats the living bejeezus out of balls, and serves bombs. Ospina is a bit different than del Sol, though not in a bad way. He’s just different, and he does pack a similarly-aggressive serve — his is more about location than heat — and he has a massive window, especially on the packed sand in Chicago.

Paul Lotman, Miles Partain
With Lotman and Ospina breaking up, he, then, needed a defender, and with Marcus Partain starting school at UCLA, Miles, then, needed a split-blocker or just a blocker. Enter Lotman, with whom Partain played in AVP Seattle 2018, losing in the final round of the qualifier to Mike Brunsting and Eric Beranek in what was Beranek’s first main draw.

Both Lotman and Partain have made massive gains since then. Lotman, for one, is far more beachy than indoor now, and Partain has another year of competing at the highest level, getting loads of reps against some of the best in the country. This is a great team, both mentally and physically, as Lotman brings the power while Partain brings the control, Lotman brings the aggressiveness and Partain brings the craft.

Ben Vaught, Logan Webber
This is a team that I hope stays together for more than five minutes, unlike every other qualifier team in AVP history (I’m included in this, too, so I’m not just bashing everybody else). They’re both young, incredibly talented, with ceilings that aren’t even close to being tapped, and they’re as hungry as anyone you’ll meet on the beach. Webber moved to Southern California from Michigan, for goodness sakes. He wants it.

They’re also a good team in that it’s a classic lefty-righty, defender-blocker scenario, with two good jump serves coming from two entirely different angles and trajectories. This will be a fun team to follow if they choose to stick it out and play a few together.

Christian Honer, Lucas Yoder
Honer’s guy in the last few tournaments, Brian Miller, is out with an injury, though Honer’s stock is so high now that he likely had more than a few options after Miller ruled himself out. It’s been fun to see Honer’s rise this season. It was only last year, at this very event, that he made his first main draw, with Ryan Meehan. Now he’s a main draw regular, scooping a great partner in Yoder, who simply hopped off the proverbial couch and made a main draw in Manhattan despite not having competed in an AVP in more than a year. Yoder’s just as good as he was last year, when the only team who knocked him out of the qualifiers was the McKibbins, and Honer has only gotten better.

Chris Austin fully extends for a net serve reception/Jim Wolf photography

Chris Austin, Kris Johnson
I wrote about these guys a while back, so they deserve a refresher after making their first main draw, in Manhattan Beach. They’ve probably improved more than any other team in the qualifier, and they’ve done so slowly, sneakily. They went from first-round knockouts in Huntington to beating Mark Burik and Ian Satterfield in New York to challenging Kyle Friend and Duncan Budinger in Seattle to qualifying in Manhattan. So good on them.

Chicago should be a good site for them. It’s packed sand, so Johnson will be even bigger, and Austin’s good on any kind of sand, so that helps, too.

Mike Boag, Matt Motter
Interesting year for Boag, or Bogart, as he will now be hopefully forever known by the millions reading this story. He’s skipped a bunch of AVPs to travel overseas, hitting the one-star circuit with Timmy Brewster: Italy, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, as well as a NORCECA in Nicaragua. The three AVPs he has played, he’s had success: Losing final round in New York and Seattle, both to Lotman and Ospina, and qualifying in Manhattan with Motter.

Motter, by the way, hits the ball as hard as anyone you’ll see, with this vicious, snappy swing that goes angle, and angle, and always, as Riley McKibbin likes to say, more angle. In main draw in Manhattan, they took Troy Field and Tim Bomgren to three, so they can compete with the best, even on tired legs. And in the qualifier, they won’t have tired legs.

Jon Ferrari, Garrett Wessberg
Ferrari is one of those guys that has to make everyone who trains super hard but doesn’t progress too fast really mad. He no longer lives in Southern California, so his training regimen isn’t the Ben Vaught 10-day-a-week program, and yet he’s still so, so good. Every tournament he plays in, he’s good. He was straight into main draw in Huntington Beach with Brian Miller, and in Manhattan, he lost 14-16 in the third set to Kacey Losik and Spencer Sauter. Now he has Wessberg, a partner with whom he won’t have to split-block, and who has recently made a main draw, in Hermosa Beach.

Training or not, here they come.

Kyle Radde-AVP Chicago 2019 qualifier preview
Kyle Radde teams with verteran Ty Tramblie in the AVP Championships/Ed Chan,

Ty Tramblie, Kyle Radde
Volleyball is just so much better with Tramblie in it, even if he’s the 106th seed in the qualifier, as he was in Manhattan. It was four years ago when he won his first AVP, at this very event, with Brad Keenan.

“Find a way city” is what he calls it, and he’ll be joined in Find A Way by Kyle Radde, who had enough points to get the two into the capped qualifier. Radde’s coming off two consecutive main draws, in Hermosa and Manhattan, one straight in, one through the qualifier, and he’s had four different partners, so picking up chemistry with another shouldn’t be much of an issue at this point.

They’ll, ahem, find a way.

Michael Groselle, Justin Phipps
You know that game people like to play, the two degrees of Kevin Bacon game? You could do the same thing with Justin Phipps. This guy has played with more partners than maybe the rest of this qualifier field combined. He’s also won more tournaments than most people in this qualifier combined, so there’s that, too. Which is why I’m writing about them. Phipps is still cagey old Phipps. Guy just gets it done. And Groselle is a quickly-improving blocker who, with Phipps’ tome of volleyball knowledge, could improve from point to point in the qualifier.

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