DENVER, Colorado — It’s unusual, for center court to be mostly abandoned, for the volleyball noises, the conversations of the players and referees to be so pronounced, so audible. That is an environment typically relegated to the side courts, where the fans can oftentimes be few and the off-court energy minimal.

This was not so in Denver for this weekend’s AVP Tour Series.

While Alison Cerutti, one of the greatest to ever play the game, commanded no small crowd during his victory with Billy Allen, and Hailey Harward and Kelley Kolinske obliged for every photo and autograph and conversation request after their win, this weekend did not belong to the victors.

No, this weekend belonged to a pair of soft-spoken redheads from Lyons, Colorado, a town 41 miles down the road, population 2,033.

It was Gage and Lars Basey who turned this Tour Series event into an early and rollicking Fourth of July celebration, delivering one monumental upset after another as the crowd, thick with thousands of locals, rained down chants of “Let’s go Baseys!”

Gage Basey/USA Volleyball photo

Loud enough, in fact, to drown out the music and the commentary on center court, which quickly became a ghost town as word got around of yet another Basey upset in the making.

Lars Basey/Lars Basey Instagram

First it was the Sanders, Taylor and Brenden, the former an Olympian and an AVP Champion, the latter a longtime professional indoors who is making his transition to the beach. Down they went in the ninth-place rounds, stunned 21-19, 17-21, 16-18.

“They made zero mistakes,” Taylor Sander said afterwards with a laugh and a what-can-you-do shrug. “They were perfect.”

Awaiting them in the quarterfinals on Sunday morning was an even taller task: Another AVP champion in Jeremy Casebeer, another Olympian in Alvaro Filho.

Down they went, too.

Trailing 14-11 in the third set, it seemed the magic had alas worn off for the brothers. Lars’ previous best finish was a 17th, in Waupaca a year ago, Gage’s a 13th, also in Waupaca. Already, they had achieved more than could have been reasonably expected. They’d sealed up a fifth, earned their first AVP paycheck, dispatched the Sanders.

Let’s go Baseys.

A sideout, a block, and a successful transition swing from Lars locked it up at 14-14. Delirium in Denver. And then, eight points later, came the rally that lasted a full 90 seconds — digs and soft blocks and scrambles and one-handed punches and pokes and all manner of groveling and grinding to keep the ball off the sand, including Avaro even crawling to punch a spare ball out of the way of Casebeer, who hurdled his partner, sent the ball over the net, and ran up to block. And then Lars, exhausted, falling backwards from 10 feet off the net, slapped a fadeaway swing with no intent to kill the ball. He simply wanted to keep alive the play that wouldn’t say die.

It hit the net.





The crowd stormed the court. Hugs and attaboys and slaps on the back and head and hands and anywhere people could get a hand on the Baseys were given by the dozen. Casebeer and Alvaro were somewhere between disbelief and acceptance that sometimes fate rears its head some days, and on this day, it shined upon the Baseys.

“It was insane,” said Lars, who is the 23-year-old older brother to the 19-year-old Gage. “The crowd’s amazing. Definitely gets us fired up to play our best, and to play so many legends of the sport.”

Yes, the magic would run dry in their semifinal against Logan Webber and Hagen Smith, but it was, as their previous two matches had been, a match full of can-you-believe-it moments. A 22-20 first set win flipped into a 15-21 second set loss, putting the Baseys in what appeared to be their preferred position: A third set. And, just as they had in the previous two matches, they dug themselves a hole, a 9-12 deficit that felt like too much.

Until, of course, it wasn’t.

Let’s go Baseys.

An ace, a block here, error there, dig and transition, and again the score was tied, impossibly, at 14-14.

Smith, however, is not one to fall prey to hometown heroes and fun storylines. He enjoys playing the foil, wagging his finger at the crowd after a Webber block, flexing all of his many muscles on his explosive swings. And it was Smith who popped a vicious hybrid serve that jammed Lars, forcing Gage to set a spinning, out-of-system pass that drifted tight into the 6-foot-9 orbit of Webber. A set that even these Baseys, with all their magic and crowd of thousands behind them, couldn’t wiggle out of.

Webber finished the job, blocking the final ball for a 16-14 win that was met with a standing ovation for all, including Smith, who the crowd quickly chose as their new bandwagon to hop on an hour later for the finals.

Alison Cerutti-Billy Allen
From left, Alison Cerutti, Pompilio Mercadante, and Billy Allen celebrate winning AVP Denver/Chad Mercado photo

That, too, delivered, a full three sets of massive blocks and bigger swings from Cerutti, Webber, Smith, and Allen. In the end, it was Cerutti, the 6-foot-8 Olympic gold medalist who had his way, blocking more than half a dozen balls en route to a 21-14, 17-21, 15-7 win, his first on the AVP in what was a rematch of the Virginia Beach Tour Series earlier in June.

While there was no Cinderella on the women’s side, no local team mustering the Rocky Mountain fairy dust, there was exceptional beach volleyball being played by its most exceptional teams. The only two teams seeded outside of the top eight to break into the quarterfinals were Carly Skjodt and Jaden Whitmarsh (11) and Xolani Hodel and Kahlee York (12). The finals were won by Hailey Harward and Kelley Kolinske, the team expected to do so, given their status as the top seed in the tournament.

Hailey Harward-Kelley Kolinske-AVP Denver
Kelley Kolinske and Hailey Harward celebrate their AVP Denver win/Chad Mercado photo

And yet, as clean as the bracket turned out, no team made Sunday without at least one scare. Harward and Kolinske were pushed to three sets in their first elimination match by Madison Shields and Lydia Smith, a match they won, 21-16, 15-21, 15-11. Second-seeded Zana Muno and Deahna Kraft did the same, going to three with Ashley Pater and Sarah Wood in their first round, wining 24-22, 18-21, 15-12 over two of the most prized high school recruits in the country. Third-seeded Lili and Larissa Maestrini, too, went to three in their first elimination match, against Kim Hildreth and Teegan Van Gunst, winning 21-13, 13-21, 15-12. Hodel and York fended off a number of match points before flipping the script and surviving, 19-17, in the third set against Megan Rice and Macy Jerger.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the finals went the distance. Harward and Kolinske’s 21-15 opening set win was flipped into a 20-22 second set loss to Toni Rodriguez and Savvy Simo, who battled through a quarterfinal earlier in the day against Katie Horton and Brook Bauer, 21-11, 19-21, 15-8. Maybe it was fatigue, then, or maybe it’s just the fact that Harward and Kolinske have been on the cusp of breakthrough for what feels like the entirety of this 2023 season and were long overdue for it.

Whatever it was, it was Harward and Kolinske who prevailed in the final set, winning 15-9 in their second AVP of the season.

“The crowd and environment was electric,” said Harward, whose first AVP win came in Fort Lauderdale last summer. “Such a cool spot to play and super grateful we got to compete at that venue. The fans were great.”

“Such a fun and well run tourney,” Kolinske said. “It was an amazing facility to be able to have an AVP tournament at with an awesome crowd. Love the Denver beach volleyball community and all the SOB volleyball vacation fans. A lot of good teams and a lot of battles this weekend and ready to use this momentum heading into Hermosa next week.”

While Hermosa Beach is the next stop on the schedule, beginning on Friday, Denver also doubled as a qualifier for the Atlanta Gold Series. Punching their tickets into Atlanta were Simo and Rodriguez and Skjodt and Whitmarsh. From there it gets funky. Schermerhorn is already into the Atlanta main draw with Molly Turner, and Horton with Carly Kan. Both, presumably, signed up as a hedge against a poor performance in Denver.

In 2022, athletes who were already directly into the main draw had to accept that bid, and the bid they earned at the Tour Series then trickled down to the next-highest seeded team. Those two teams would be Xolani Hodel and Kahlee York and Katie Dickens and Jen Keddy, though there might not be any official word on the matter for a few weeks.

As for the men, the bids go to Cerutti and Allen, Mike Groselle and Nate Yang, John Hyden and Bill Kolinske, and, of course, the Baseys.

“We play the beginning of the summer together and then we go get blockers because we’re both defenders,” Gage said. “But now we get to play a little more together.”

AVP Denver Tour Series
Gage and Lars Basey play against Hagen Smith and Logan Webber at AVP Denver/Travis Mewhirter photo


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