CHICAGO — Fatigue? No doubt. They all talked about it.
This has been a long pro beach volleyball season.
But in the end, the marathon ended Sunday with the A Team, April Ross and Alix Klineman, and Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger sprinting to the finish at Oak Street Beach to win the respective titles at the AVP Chicago Open.
The pairs put a bow on the third of the three post-Olympic AVP tournaments and we could not have asked for more on a near-perfect day on the shore of Lake Michigan. It capped a weekend that saw the emotional end of the line for veterans Phil Dalhausser and Jake Gibb and great crowds, both in the stadium and around the outside courts.
It’s almost hard to believe that Ross, 39, and Klineman, 31, had no letdown after the Olympics.
“I was thinking before the semis just how long this year has been,” Ross said. “All the way back to Doha (in February), and the three tournaments in Cancun were a grind. In my head it only goes back to Tokyo, but this morning I was thinking back on the whole season and we are so tired.”
Ross and Klineman, the Tokyo Olympics gold medalists, swept Brazilians Larissa Maestrini and Liliane Maestrini 21-16, 21-18 to win back-to-back AVP titles. They didn’t play in AVP Atlanta and two weeks ago won AVP Manhattan Beach.
Patterson and Budinger, who won AVP Atlanta and lost to Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb in the MBO final, turned the table and beat them in the Chicago final 21-18, 21-14.
Ross and Klineman didn’t lose a set in their five matches, although they did win one 40-38 over Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss in the second round.
They beat Nuss and Kloth again in the semifinals 21-17, 21-11, and then overpowered Larissa and Lili, the married couple who live in Orlando with their young son, Gael. They have applied for U.S. citizenship.
“Personally, it wasn’t great volleyball on my part and April really carried us,” Klineman said. “She played amazing the whole tournament. There’s just a level of exhaustion, physically and mentally, I think we were feeling. But we know how much better this year would feel to end on a win.
“All the fans were expecting to see high-level volleyball and we didn’t disappoint them. We’re just so happy that we fought through.”
A Team coach Angie Akers: “They’re just laser-focused. They have a goal and work so hard and have that inner drive to get better and better. I think they have this tireless attitude. Nothing gets in their way. It’s who they are. They love to win and they love to grind.”
The A Team will compete at the FIVB World Tour Finals in October in Italy, but rest? Klineman is headed to Italy this week for the wedding of a former pro teammate. Ross sounded like she might take it easy.
“I’m just so stoked,” Ross said. “I think right now I’m so glad to get some rest. But I’m so grateful that we were able to stick together and find a way to win. It just feels so much better to end the AVP Tour on top after the Olympics. And to be playing in front of fans now, it means more to win these tournaments.”
The 39-year-old Larissa, one of the greatest women’s players ever, 33-year-old Lili, and coach Doug Nascimento were thrilled with what they accomplished this year.
“Last tournament at Manhattan Beach (finishing third) was really good for us to see what we could do,” Lili said. “We came here to do our best but were taking it one match at a time.”
They started in the qualifier, winning three matches before getting into the main draw. There, they lost on Friday to Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil before clawing their way back with contenders-bracket victories over Megan Nash and Brittany Tiegs, Annika Rowland and Teegan Van Gunst, Terese Cannon and Molly Turner, and then Sarah Hughes and Brandie Wilkerson, not losing a set along the way.
Then in the semifinals Sunday they beat Kelley Kolinske and Susanna Muno 21-18, 14-21, 15-10.
“We really enjoyed playing here in Chicago,” Lili said. “We had a big crowd and it was wonderful. My mom, my dad, Gael was cheering for us.”
Nascimento, who goes by Dougie Fresh, said “after this event we’re going to be in the main draw. We’ll be one of the top-10 teams all of next season. That’s huge for us.”
Sunday, Patterson, 41, and former NBA standout Budinger, 33, beat Gibb and Taylor Crabb 19-21, 21-17, 15-7, and then Billy Allen and Andy Benesh in the semifinals 13-21, 21-16, 15-12.
Bourne and Trevor Crabb beat Paul Lotman and Miles Partain in the semifinals 21-19, 21-17.
In the final, “Casey was careering,” Bourne said with a smile. “The momentum just stayed on their side.”
Patterson and Budinger were not a typical team. They only practiced a couple of times a week because Patterson has a job and had to drive an hour and a half to get there.
“We weren’t able to get on the sand very often but when we did our transition and our chemistry came back very fast,” Budinger said. “When tournaments came we knew how to get out there and compete and feed off each other with our energy. My guy shows up when the lights turn on and the crowd gets going.’
“It’s unbelievable, because you watch him practice and he’s a completely different player … He kind of gets his body going, he kind of just goes through the motions. But when he gets on that court with the fans and the crowd, he knows how to entertain, how to be a baller. It’s been a pleasure to play with him.”
Patterson was, as always, the ultimate showman and, as Bourne said, was playing his best.
Winning twice “was incredible,” Patterson said, “because I didn’t really train that much. We trained maybe twice a week. I have a three-hour commute (roundtrip) to train. Me, at this point in my career, I don’t need a million reps. I just need to feel good.
“And I felt good these last three events.”
The appropriately named Jake Spiker Gibb — Spiker was his mother’s maiden name — and Taylor Crabb lost to Budinger and Patterson 19-21, 21-17, 15-7. It marked the end of Gibb’s amazing career and after the last point dropped, Gibb, 45, and Crabb, 29, embraced for minutes. Court announcer Mark Scheurmann asked about it.
“In the world of social media, everyone shares everything,” Gibb said. “But I’m not gonna share that.”
His exit came a day after Dalhausser, 41, lost out. Dalhausser said he plans to play a few AVP events next year, but won’t go international.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever played against,” Gibb said. “I think he’s the best beach player of all time … He’s a dear friend and I have the utmost respect for him.”
After Ross and Klineman won and before the men’s final, AVP played tributes to Gibb, the 6-foot-7 product of Utah, on the video board.
“Everyone’s like, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m not. I’m happy. I had a great career. I have so many relationships through this sport that I’m going to cherish forever. And I’m excited for what’s next. I’m excited to coach my kid’s soccer team. I’m excited for that stuff.
“A lot of people don’t understand that but that’s the life I want right now.”
This was a year of transition for the sport. Not only did the AVP have just three tournaments in a bubble in 2020, before these three events — all after the Olympics — but tour owner Donald Sun also sold the AVP to Bally’s. But nothing has changed, yet, because Sun and his top brass still run things.
“It’s great and if you look around,” Sun said, viewing the throngs watching the outside court while the stadium court was chock full, “people are having a good time. This is what AVP is all about.”
The AVP had been shown on Amazon Prime the past two years, but these three events were shown on Peacock Premium, an NBC property. Next year, they will be seen on Bally’s networks.
What’s more, the company, a gaming and entertainment corporation, plans to introduce betting on the sport.
“There will be more resources,” Sun said. “Betting is just one part of it. More resources to better the brand, better the sport, and more opportunities with more revenues.”
On a personal note, thanks for the many texts, emails, phone calls — and here at AVP the in-person visits — of condolences about my friend and partner Ed Chan. Ed died here on Thursday night. He was a beloved icon in the beach volleyball community and covering this event without him the past two days was very sad.
We’ll have more about Ed’s life in the near future, but in the meantime ours will never be the same again.
Click here for the complete AVP Chicago women’s results.
Click here for the complete AVP Chicago men’s results. All the results are courtesy of BVBinfo.com.
The men’s side is going to look a whole lot different next season.
“But nothing has changed, yet, because Sun and his top brass still run things.”
That’s the problem. The AVP has to change if it wants to grow.