The fans at the AVP Chicago Gold Series Championships were treated to some extraordinary volleyball Saturday, as a number of storylines developed.
— The two top teams in the world, April Ross and Alix Klineman and Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, battled it out, with the A-team dominating 21-8, 21-19.
— The 17-year-old qualifier, Miles Partain, advanced to his first Sunday with partner Paul Lotman.
— Maddison and Riley McKibbin, better known as the McKibbin brothers, advanced to their first Sunday and are guaranteed at least fifth place, a career-best finish for the team.
— Betsi Flint and Emily Day avenged an earlier loss to Sara Hughes and Brandie Wilkerson in Manhattan Beach and are in the semifinals.
— And it’s always a great day when you get to see the AVP’s marquee matchup, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena against Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb.
First, Sunday’s schedule (times Central), which can be seen on Amazon Prime. The men’s final is scheduled for 1:30 and the women’s at 3:30:
Sara Hughes/Brandie Wilkerson (3) vs. Melissa Humana-Paredes/Sarah Pavan (8), 9:15 a.m.
Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil (5) vs. Karissa Cook/Jace Pardon (6), 9:15 a.m.
Alix Klineman/April Ross (1) vs. TBD, 11:15 a.m.
TBD: vs. Emily Day/Betsi Flint (2), 11:15 a.m.
Taylor Crabb/Jake Gibb (2) vs. Maddison McKibbin/Riley McKibbin (14), 8:15 a.m.
Match 42: Paul Lotman/Miles Partain (20, Q7) vs. Jeremy Casebeer/Chaim Schalk (6), 8:15 a.m.
Chase Budinger/Casey Patterson (1) vs. TBD, 10:15 a.m.
TBD vs. Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena (3), 10:15 a.m.
Storyline 1: Ross and Klineman and Canadians Pavan and Humana-Paredes have travelled the globe battling each other and establishing themselves as the two best teams in the world. Ross and Klineman currently hold the edge in FIVB rankings points with 6,720 to the Canadians’ 6,600.
Ross and Klineman won gold in Yangzhou, Itapema, and Gstaad, while Pavan and Humana-Paredes won gold in Edmonton, Vienna, and Hamburg, becoming the first team to qualify their country for an Olympic berth.
Saturday the A-team put in an utterly dominant performance with a 21-8, 21-19 win where absolutely everything went right for the Americans in the first set. The win puts their head-to-head 2019 record at 5-2 in favor of the A-team.
Storyline 2: Qualifiers Lotman and Partain made their first Sunday and will compete in the contenders bracket. Lotman, a former USA indoor national team outside, and Partain, a senior at Pacific Palisades High School, are playing only their fourth event together.
Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger dashed their semifinal hopes on stadium court in a pair of deuce sets, 21-19, 23-21.
“It’s a lot of pressure playing a 17-year-old kid who’s got nothing to lose, and has already made his best finish so far,” Patterson told VolleyballMag.com’s Michael Gomez.
“I’ve got to feed four kids, I’m super-nervous, we’re the one seed, there’s a lot of things against us. The crowd didn’t want us to win, they booed when we put balls away.”
Although the popular Patterson isn’t used to not being the favorite, he relishes the opportunity.
“Those are always the most fun to win and the hardest, because there’s so much expectation on our end, where they can just be free as a bird and play for fun. So good for them, they’re playing a great tournament, they’re playing tomorrow. This is fun.
Budinger echoed respect for Partain, spending much of the match serving Lotman.
“He’s very consistent, he passes really well, he’s very smooth in his approach, it’s tough to read his arm swing and what he wants to do, and he’s got a lot of different shots.
“It’s tough to play defense against him, and that’s what makes a good volleyball player.
Patterson believes that Partain’s future is bright.
“He lives in that world of 60-75 percent speed, he’s consistent, he’s never at a full swing or really late to shot. That world that he lives in is the hardest part of the game if you’re a defender, it’s hard to read that. He’s right where he needs to be to be a great player long term.”
Storyline 3: The McKibbin brothers made an exciting run through the contender’s bracket Saturday in a trio of three-set matches, defeating Avery Drost and Chase Frishman 21-12, 20-22, 17-15, Billy Allen and Stafford Slick 21-14, 17-21, 15-12 and Theo Brunner and John Hyden 21-16, 19-21, 15-11.
Sunday they face Crabb and Gibb for a semifinal berth, guaranteed to finish at least fifth. The McKibbin brothers have competed in 25 tournaments together, and have finally broken through their career-best ninth place finish (eight times).
Storyline 4: Flint and Day were seeded second in Manhattan Beach but were sent home early in fifth place by Hughes and Wilkerson 12-21, 21-16, 15-17. This week they were able to use the knowledge gained from that defeat to turn the tables, defeating Hughes and Wilkerson 21-18, 21-12.
“We played them in Manhattan and Betsi and I had talked after the match about what we could have done, better, watched film, just for us to learn, and with those adjustments we made today we were able to come out on top,” Day said.
The biggest adjustment, she said, was to remain aggressive throughout.
“Betsi and I, we play better when we’re playing our game. First and foremost, we decide what we want to do. Playing aggressively is always number one, and I felt like we did that from the start.
“We have had some ups and downs this season, but I feel like that comes when you’re pushing yourselves, and trying to grow and do new things. For us, I think it’s all starting to pay off. We’ve been playing some really good volleyball, and we’re going to take that momentum from today and everything we’ve been working on all year long into tomorrow.”
Storyline 5: Typically we aren’t treated to a Dalhausser-Lucena and Crabb-Gibb match until Sunday afternoons, but Saturday the fans saw Dalhausser-Lucena come out on top in a tough 21-19, 15-21, 15-11 match where both teams scored identical numbers of points.
The match was punctuated by several great rallies, and the blocking and defensive skills of both teams were highlighted by their statistics as Dalhausser scored seven blocks to Gibb’s five, and Crabb made 17 digs to Lucena’s 15.