CHICAGO — Tempting as it may be to think so, Tri Bourne cannot actually plan or script the way a tournament will pan out. Yet if he could, AVP Chicago is exactly the way he’d write it.

“If I can plan out a tournament or a final for the fans, for the sport, it would be us winning 16-18 in the third against those guys,” Bourne said in the wake of his and Trevor Crabb’s 21-18, 19-21, 18-16 win over Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander. “That’s the best. That’s what it’s all about.”

How good was it?

Even Taylor Crabb, the sensational defender on the losing end of the match, agreed: “You can’t ask for a better final than that. The total volleyball is some of the best volleyball we played.”

A fitting end to what is, by a long stretch, the most thrilling tournament of the year. More than half of the men’s matches — 15 of 29 — went the full three sets, including the final, which made an awfully convincing case for the AVP Match of the Year.

Trevor Crabb, left, and Tri Bourne celebrate winning AVP Chicago/Stephen Burns photo

“That was a great final. It’s been a little while since a tight, close final on the men’s side,” Trevor Crabb said. “It’s always good for everyone when that happens. It adds that extra feeling when you win a close match.

“It brings energy to the game and it’s great for the game when both sides are doing that. Those are two of the best volleyball players not only in the U.S. but the world. It’s always a battle going against them, especially when it’s your brother.”

Tri Bourne, left, and Trevor Crabb/Rick Atwood photo

Indeed, there is a reason matches with the Crabb brothers are routinely the most viewed of any tournament. Even in Atlanta, their ninth-place elimination round match logged the highest viewership of the tournament, attracting 14,000 more viewers than the finals. Two weeks later, their semifinal in Manhattan Beach, another three-set white-knuckler, finished the weekend as the highest-viewed of the tournament.

“When you’re playing guys like that, there’s no right answer,” Bourne said. “You just have to trust your instincts and go have fun because those guys are two of the best players in the world and I’m just stoked we got to entertain all of our fans out there.”

It isn’t just the fact that the Crabbs are brothers, or that Sander is arguably the most talented rookie the AVP has seen since it began issuing the Rookie of the Year award, or that the chatter between the four players is immensely entertaining. It’s that all four of them are playing some of the highest level beach volleyball of their careers, bringing the best out of one another every time they meet.

Maybe that’s exactly what it took to pull Trevor Crabb and Bourne out of their early season slump, in which they played six international tournaments with six disappointing finishes. Locally, they played twice on the AVP and took an ignominious seventh in Hermosa Beach, a tournament where they were stunned by the 16 seed (they avenged that loss in the semifinals in Chicago, thumping Jake Dietrich and Hagen Smith 21-13, 21-11).

“We’re loving this, that’s for sure,” Trevor Crabb said. “After our slow start to the season, we were like, ‘F this shit’ you know? “We’re the best team out there and we’re going to start showing it.”

They’ve shown it, and at this point, try as many might, there is no objective way to argue against it. They are the only team to win multiple AVP titles this season, and they’ve now won three. They’ve reclaimed their top spot on the AVP Tour after relinquishing it to Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner. They’ve won four of five meetings with Taylor Crabb and Sander, their only match against Miles Partain and Paul Lotman, and two of three against Schalk and Brunner.

“That’s me and Trev’s first back to back,” Bourne said. “For me, that’s been a really hard thing to do. Every time I’ve won it’s been really hard to repeat.”

Just one domestic tournament remains, the first-of-its kind Phoenix Championships, which consists of just six teams in a single-elimination format on September 23-24. Neither Bourne nor Crabb has ever repeated before. In three weeks, they’ll get a shot at making it three.

“We knew what we were capable of,” Trevor Crabb said. “We adjusted and it’s been awesome.”

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Tri Bourne digs/Rick Atwood photo


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