CHICAGO — The Canadian shuffle took center stage Friday as the AVP Gold Series Chicago Open got underway, but in the end it was the unheralded pair of ninth-seeded Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend stealing the spotlight.
In what both called the biggest victory of their respective careers, Brewster and Friend knocked off top-seeded Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk 21-19, 18-21, 15-10 to move into the final four of the winners bracket.
They’ll play fourth-seeded Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, while second-seeded Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb play third-seeded Paul Lotman and Miles Partain.
On the women’s side, top-seeded Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske play fourth-seeded Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint in a rematch of the Manhattan Beach Open final. Second-seeded Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil play sixth-seeded Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, who overpowered the new pair of third-seeded Canadian Olympians Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes.
“It’s our biggest victory,” Friend said, “without a doubt. We only started playing together two months, three months ago, and we just kind of grind and scrap. We’re not the biggest team, but we just better the ball.”
Undersized might be understating it. Friend is liberally listed at 6-foot-4, but the 33-year-old who played indoors at Long Beach State more than held his own against the tall team of Brunner and Schalk.
“We had a couple of blocks today. Being undersized I have to be better with my hands and better with my feet and we can still compete with the big guys,” Friend said. “We’ve got to play smart volleyball.”
And the 22-year-old Brewster, a left-handed defender, is listed as a 6-footer. But he’s really quick and it certainly showed as the first day of play wound down in the stadium court.
“He makes my job very easy,” Friend said. “With my blocking deficiencies as an undersized blocker, he can pick me up … he touched so many balls and that was the turning point of this match.”
Brewster, who didn’t play college volleyball, is from the Woodland Hills/Sherman Oaks area of Southern California.
“Super exciting. This is our biggest win and my biggest win ever,” said Brewster, who graduated last fall from UCLA, where he volunteered and helped the beach team. “This is my first year in a main draw.”
Crabb and Sander beat fifth-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Casey Patterson 21-17, 18-21, 15-13.
“They’re both legends. They’re both on top of the game,” Crabb said, who added he was hardly surprised they went three.
“A normal battle against Phil,” Crabb said. “Someone’s gotta go pull the stats in the last six years to see how many times we’ve gone three. I think it’s 80 or higher. I’m positive.”
Dalhasser and Patterson and Brunner and Schalk are in the second round of the contenders bracket with Evan Cory and Dave Palm and David Lee and Reid Priddy.
The women’s contenders bracket has the other new pair of intrigue, Canadian Olympian Sarah Pavan and Latvian Olympian Tina Graudina. They lost to Cheng and Flint 16-21, 21-14, 15-13. Graudina and Pavan opened with 21-14, 17-21, 32-20 win over Carly Kan and Kaitlyn Malaney. It was the highest set-three score in AVP history.
Pavan, who had been playing with Humana-Paredes, needed a partner for this event and asked Graudina to join her. Graudina has played AVP events this season with former USC teammate Hailey Harward.
“I love this atmosphere and being able to play in North America,” said Pavan, who has had a full international schedule this summer.
And all things considered, “We played great. Our first practice ever together was yesterday, so considering we’ve played together for a total of two days now, I think it was pretty good.”
“I’m like a free agent in the AVP because I really don’t have a set partner,” Graudina said. My Latvian partner (Anastasija Kravcenoka) cannot play in the AVP. And Sarah was also free for this tournament.”
What was interesting was the the 6-5 Pavan blocked, of course. But the 6-foot Graudina, normally a blocker for Kravcenoka, played defense.
“It feels like a completely different game,” Graudina said. “Playing defense, I feel like I’m learning volleyball over again. I was feeling really out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoy it. It’s something different and gives me a new perspective on volleyball.”