Avery Drost/Rick Atwood photo

CHICAGO — To assure the most direct path to an AVP Gold Series title during a sizzling and dead-calm Saturday on the sand at Oak Street Beach, the men’s contenders needed to quickly take care of business.

The teams on that side of the AVP Gold Series Chicago Open draw moving forward in their only winners-bracket matches accomplished that goal, providing them with a significant leg up with straight shots into the Olympic-crossover semifinals on Sunday, when temperatures are forecast to be even hotter, likely reaching 90 degrees by 3 p.m.

The women’s draw, on the flip side, was a vastly different story. Read on, too, for Sunday’s TV/streaming info.

Andy Benesh is all over this shot by Miles Evans/Rick Atwood photo

The top-seeded men’s pair of 21-year-old lefty sensation Miles Partain and 6-foot-9 Andy Benesh limited their exposure to the high-80s “clear blue sky” heat baking the western shore of Lake Michigan on Saturday to 36 minutes in a statement-making 21-10, 21-16 shellacking of fourth-seeded Chase Budinger and Miles Evans.

The No. 2 seeds, Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, had to toil 21 minutes longer to dispatch sixth-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Avery Drost — and needed to dodge a bullet to keep the match from going to three sets.

After a 21-19 opener, Crabb and Brunner staved off potential match-extending set points in the second by Dalhausser and Drost before winning in overtime 25-23. The clincher came when the 6-foot-7 Brunner hovered in the air seemingly forever before swatting down a high roll shot by Drost with two hands.

Brunner detailed his thought process on the timely and emphatic rejection that sent their foes to the contenders bracket, the consequences being that they will have to play one more match in the Sunday sauna on the path to a potential AVP title.

“I was thinking that Avery was trying to hit it hard off of my block,” Brunner said. “So I went up really big and jumped as high as I could. Then for some reason he slowed down. I think he thought that I would dive into the angle. So he did like a short shot.  I was already up there and just tapped it right back.”

“Right back in his face,” Crabb pointed out, placing the emphasis on the last word.

Over the two sets, Brunner outblocked the 6-foot-9 Dalhausser 6-3. Drost, who debuted on the AVP in 2009 and is winless in 85 tournaments, was limited to a .324 hitting percentage, with 16 kills on 34 attempts with five errors.

Shooting for back-to-back titles in Chicago, Trevor conceded that closing the show at that point was “huge.”

“This is definitely one of the hotter tournaments we have had all year,” Crabb said. “Atlanta was pretty toasty. But today, especially with not much wind, we felt the heat a little more. This has been the hottest Chicago I can remember.

“But any time we can get out in two, it’s a bonus. It’s always good to stay in the winner’s side and now we have the extra break from Sunday morning. ”

Crabb, who won here last year with Tri Bourne, and Brunner were denied in the rain-drenched finals of the iconic Manhattan Beach Open two weeks ago by Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander. Winning the third of three Gold Series “majors” on the AVP schedule might ease the sting.

“Besides Manhattan this is my favorite tournament to come to — in the world,” Trevor said. “You can’t beat this scenery, the backdrop, you’ve got the lake here. And the fans are always out in Chicago, no matter what (the weather).”

Moving up the contenders bracket into the final six teams playing on Sunday were third-seeded Taylor Crabb and Sander, and fifth-seeded Chaim Schalk and Bourne. Each team was stunned in the first round on Friday but soldiered on through three victories in the Saturday swelter to keep their title hopes alive. The Taylors will play Dalhausser and Drost, while Schalk-Bourne will battle Budinger-Evans.

Meanwhile, the most compelling local angle of the event was abruptly derailed when Chicago-royalty-by-proxy Cody Caldwell and charismatic Scottish national Seain Cook fell short of sealing the deal in two sets against the Taylors in a contenders-bracket match.

Caldwell, who helped Loyola University win NCAA indoor titles in 2014 and 2015, and Cook needed only to side out to win the match in the second set. A crowd stacked 4-5 deep around Court 1 was braced to celebrate. But Cook slammed a spike directly into the waiting platform of Crabb, one of the world’s premier defenders, and the MBO champs found a way to pull out the set 22-20.

The third set was nip-and-tuck. But a marathon point was decided when Caldwell’s leaping one-handed knuckle poke sailed high and over the net on one, setting up an easy “real point” for the Taylors. The 15-12 deciding set ended on a topspin jump-serve ace by Sander that hit the tape, slightly changing the direction, and landed on the sand near the sideline.

Caldwell and Cook wound up with a ninth-place finish after two three-set defeats to the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds.

Andrea Davis, Shane Davis, Anne Caldwell supporting Cody/Larry Hamel photo

Caldwell’s college coach, now Northwestern women’s coach Shane Davis, was with Cody’s mother, Anne, who had flown in from California.

Mom’s assessment of Cody’s and Cook’s performance in the heartbreaking loss: “They’re this close,” holding her index finger and thumb a millimeter or so apart.

Davis agreed, rightly noting that the margin between winning and losing on the domestic beach-volleyball tour is razor-thin because “all of the players in these 16-team draws are just so good.”

TKN suffers setback

The women’s winners-bracket matches, on the other hand, featured a three-set upset when top-seeded Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, the defending champions, were bounced to the contenders bracket 15-21, 21-19, 15-10 by fourth-seeded Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, who won the Manhattan Beach Open two weeks ago.

Nuss struggled in the deciding set, hitting .083 (five kills on 17 attempts with four errors), while Flint and Scoles combined to convert 10 kills on 12 swings with no errors (.833).

Sara Hughes/Rick Atwood photo

In the last match of the day, with shadows lending a cooling effort to the Stadium Court, second-seeded Kelly Cheng and Sarah Hughes were unfazed despite being pressed to three sets (18-21, 21-19, 15-9) by the No. 3 seeds, Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson.

“Kelly and I work really hard off the court to be in the best shape that we can be, so when the conditions are hot we’re OK with it,” Hughes said. “We’ll play through anything. Going a three-setter doesn’t matter to us.”

Cheng said that a difference in the third set came because “our service pressure perhaps was a little bit better. Our offense in general was more aggressive. Maybe we capitalized on a few more opportunities, because in the first set, I felt that we got enough digs but didn’t convert on enough to win. We did that a little better in the second and maybe even a little better in the third.”

Flint-Scoles and Cheng-Hughes will get to cool it in the shade until the Olympic-crossover semifinals, scheduled to start at 11:45 a.m. Central.

Eighth-seeded Hailey Harward and Kelley Kolinske needed two tense three-set victories to get to Sunday’s final six. The MBO runners-up held off No. 14 Lexy Denaberg and Carly Kan 21-17, 18-21, 20-18, then eliminated No. 12 Sarah Pavan and Geena Urango 21-17, 21-23, 15-8. The matches took a combined 2 hours, 14 minutes.

Brooke Bauer and Latvian national Tina Graudina, seeded sixth, did not have to spend nearly as much time under an unrelenting sun. They topped No. 9 Deahna Kraft and Toni Rodriguez 21-13, 21-12 in 36 minutes and took 44 minutes to oust No. 13 Kimberly Hildreth and Teegan Van Gunst 21-19, 21-18.

In the matches Sunday morning that feed into the semifinals, Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson will meet Harward-Kolinske, and Kloth and Nuss have a date with Bauer and Graudina.

The competition kicks off on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Central. The matches on Court 1 will be streamed on the free Bally Live app. Stadium Court matches through the men’s final will be shown on the subscription ESPN+ streaming platform.

In a scenario that again figures to rankle die-hard fans who have cut the cord and have chosen not to subscribe to a multi-platform streaming service that provides access to traditional cable TV channels, the women’s final only will be available on ESPNU. The telecast is scheduled to air from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Click here for Saturday’s results, Sunday’s schedule and the AVP brackets.

Hagen Smith being Hagen Smith/Mark Rigney photo



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