Ring the bell. They’re coming out for a potential round seven.
Some matchups and rivalries you get tired of seeing (we get it already, you’re good at football, Alabama and Clemson). Some only seem to get better with time, each bout or match adding to the previous one, take, boxers Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward.
The latter is the territory being entered by Americans April Ross and Alix Klineman and Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes. They’ve played one another six times this season, each edition trumping the previous, epic edition.
The wild, three-setter in the semifinals of FIVB Yangzhou in October? Well, that wasn’t a final, so it couldn’t compare to the gold-medal match in FIVB Itapema in May. But that wasn’t the World Champs, so that couldn’t compare to a 23-21, 23-21 white-knuckler in Hamburg in July. But that wasn’t the Olympic dry run, so it lacked the symbolism of a Ross-Klineman win in Tokyo last month. But that wasn’t the Grandaddy, where the winners would be cemented into beach volleyball lore, as Humana-Paredes and Pavan now will by winning a thriller of an AVP Manhattan Beach Open final, 28-26, 16-21, 16-14.
And now we’re in Chicago.
Both teams are, again, in the same field. The two occasions that’s happened on the AVP this season, they’ve met in the finals, both of which have been decided 16-14 in the third set.
Ready for round seven?
First, we must get you, the reader, ready for the qualifier.
Megan Rice, Taylor Nyquist
Oh, man, my heart sort of breaks here for Megan Rice. She was just in the finals in Hermosa Beach. The finals! And now she’s back in the qualifier. Brutal. But such is life. Beach volleyball is a meritocracy. Win enough matches and you get enough points to be automatically in the main draw. Now she has the opportunity, with Taylor Nyquist, a phenomenal Texan who has taken a fifth, ninth and 13th this season, to pick up some invaluable Gold Series points, in a capped qualifier. I try not to be biased, since I like most everybody on the tour, but I’m genuinely rooting for these two, because I think they’re just plain good enough to get out of qualifiers.
Geena Urango, Emily Hartong
This is such an odd year for Urango and Hartong as a team, because as individuals, they’ve sort of gone different directions, results-wise. Hartong is playing in just her second year on tour, and she’s doubled the number of main draws she made a year ago. Urango has made a final in four consecutive years, yet the results, for whatever reason, haven’t been there, and now she’s back in the qualifier. I love — love — that Urango didn’t play the points game, drop Hartong, grab a blocker with enough to get into main draw, do OK, then do it again in Hawai’i. They’re building something, and that’s awesome. The upside for them as a team is enormous, and while the rest of the beach volleyball world is the antithesis of patience, Urango is a model for it. Staying together will soon pay its dividends, no doubt, whether that’s now or Hawai’i or next year, even.
Kerri Schuh, Tory Paranagua
This will be Paranagua’s sixth tournament with her fifth partner, who have ranged from Michigan (Katie Horton), Texas (Nyquist), Redondo Beach (Traci Callahan), Marina del Rey (Jess Sykora) and, now, to Wisconsin in Kerri Schuh. So if you’re ever looking for someone who can pick up chemistry quick, with little to no practice, Paranagua should be at the top of the list. Because in spite of all that switching, she’s had a good year. She’s made three of five main draws, took a ninth in New York with Nyquist, and is always on the cusp of beating top-seeded teams in the main. Schuh, despite moving out of the beach volleyball capital of the world, has still made four main draws this season, and could make it a fifth with Paranagua in Chicago.
Katie Hogan, Nicolette Martin
Both of these players have made Sundays this season. Both are now in the qualifier. Naturally, I’d like to see them make it through, because that type of success should, ideally, be rewarded with more of it. Hogan made the Hermosa finals with Rice, and I don’t know exactly why they’re not still playing together, but she’s found a gem in Martin. And anyway, it should be really easy to get into the honeymoon phase with Martin, seeing as she just got married and all (sorry, just couldn’t help it).
Allie Wheeler, Lara Dykstra
This is the first time since San Francisco of 2018 that Wheeler has been in a qualifier. A trio of fifths in 2018 gave her the points boost she needed to be straight in with six different partners this year, though those have since washed out, and her and Dykstra, with whom she played Manhattan, are back in the qualifier. Sometimes it’s good to get back in there, though. Gets the adrenaline flowing again. Gives you the kick in the rear you may have needed all along. Dykstra’s always solid, too. She just hasn’t seemed to find a rhythm with a partner yet, which could change this weekend in Chicago.
Brittany Tiegs, Kim Smith
It feels like this year has been higher than most in terms of partner switches, on the women’s side in particular. Half the teams I’ve written about above are on their third or fourth or fifth or even sixth different partner, and here, Tiegs is on her fourth, and Smith her fifth. I’m not saying this is terrible or anything; playing with new people is a ton of fun (if anyone should know, it’s me; my BVB partner list stretches for days), but it’s just funny to see so much movement from a cluster of players all hovering around the mid-tier main draw level. Tiegs and Smith have both had great finishes this year. Smith took a seventh in Seattle with Dykstra, and Tiegs finished fifth in that same tournament with Molly Turner (to be fair, Turner was scooped by Brittany Howard, so it’s not like Tiegs voluntarily left that one). Why not have another top 10 in Chicago, only this time on the same team?
Pri Lima, Macy Jerger
Florida team alert! This is the classic Jedi Master-Padawan partnership here, with the 39-year-old Lima and 22-year-old, fresh-outta-Florida State Jerger. Both are coming off main draws in Manhattan Beach, which was Jerger’s first of the season and Lima’s third. This should be another excellent team, with Jerger putting up a 6-foot-1 block, supplemented by a lot of ball control for a blocker her size, while Lima brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of the game.
Jessica Gaffney, Chelsea Ross
A big, massive congratulations must go out to Chelsea Ross, who made her first career main draw in Manhattan Beach with Gaffney. Just such a cool thing for a beach player to do, and to do it in Manhattan is special.
Now it’s time to go do it again.
It’s funny to label Gaffney as the experienced player in a partnership, because she’s just 23 and only recently graduated from Cal, but she’s gotten so many reps, both at Cal and on the AVP now, that it’s a role she’s filling now with Ross, who played indoor at Middle Tennessee and Georgia State and is still smoothing out the beach player in her. I like this team in most sand, but in the shallow sand of Chicago, Ross’s heavy arm will only be heavier.
Carissa Whalen, Jessica Granquist
Bias alert: I live with Granquist and her boyfriend, JM Plummer, so am I rooting for this team? For sure. Granquist moved from Florida to California a few months ago, and is beginning to figure the beach game out a bit. She has the indoor part down: She was the Big 10 defensive player of the year as a libero at Minnesota, so if you want to put a ball down on her, good luck swinging (she’s also super fast, so there’s that, too). In her first tournament with Whalen, she made it to the final round of the Manhattan Beach qualifier, losing 20-22, 18-21 to Aurora Davis and Toni Rodriguez. If there’s one defining trait about this team, it’s athleticism. They’ll make a lot of plays most teams wouldn’t on sheer hustle and athleticism alone, which goes a long, long way in a qualifier.
Macy Gordon, Mariah Whalen
Gordon is a Todd Rogers product over at Cal Poly, and her, uh, verbal enthusiasm, let’s call it, for winning points is rivaled only by Nicolette Martin. She has a bomb of a jump serve, which most on the women’s side don’t have and therefore don’t see too much of. It’s a big-time point-scorer. Whalen, meanwhile, is transferring into Poly from Wisconsin this year, and though I haven’t seen her play, I think I can safely gather from the fact that she’s a 6-foot-1 outside hitter at one of the best indoor programs in the country that she can bring some heat. Physical teams do well in shallow sand, and Chicago is one of the jumpiest beaches on tour, making this team one very capable of upsets.