FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — There was a single event with a metaphorical asterisk that Kyle Friend marked when the AVP announced its 16-stop schedule this past February:
Friend was raised less than an hour up the road, in Boca Raton, winning 101 matches, a pair of state championships, and twice was named the Florida Player of the Year in four years at Spanish River High.
But the AVP hadn’t been to Fort Lauderdale, once a regular and popular stop on tour, since 2010, when Friend was a junior at Long Beach State. When his professional career indoors finished, including stops in Sweden and Switzerland, and he began competing in AVPs in 2017, “the one place I wanted there to be a stop was Fort Laudy,” the 33-year-old blocker-turned-defender-turned-blocker for Tim Brewster said. “To be honest, I was never sure if there would ever be another AVP Fort Lauderdale, let alone during the time when I am still playing.”
Let alone the time he is playing what is, objectively speaking, the best beach volleyball of his career. This season, Friend has twice reset his career-high on the AVP, finishing seventh in Denver with Brewster — the event that qualified them for Fort Lauderdale — and then followed it up with his first final, in Waupaca on July 9. Last weekend, in Atlantic City, again they made the semifinals, finishing third after a narrow loss to eventual champs Cody Caldwell and David Lee, 21-13, 17-21, 9-15. Boding well for Friend, too, is that Brewster has made a convincing case for the AVP Breakthrough Player of the Year.
The 22-year-old had been competing in AVP qualifiers since 2016, yet hadn’t made a main draw. In three events with Friend, he’s finished seventh, second, and third, and has flown up the AVP rankings, to No. 21, ahead of veterans such as Jeremy Casebeer, Miles Evans, Avery Drost, John Hyden, and Tim Bomgren, among others.
“I am so fired up for Tim’s first [Pro Series] main draw and that fact alone makes me want to block everything for him,” Friend said. “I’m just loving sharing the court with Tim and grateful I get to be a part of his long journey on the AVP.”
Friend isn’t the only local competing in Fort Lauderdale this weekend, which begins on Friday at 9:15 and finishes with Sunday’s late afternoon finals. My partner, JM Plummer, grew up an hour up the road, in Jupiter, and we’re checking in as the 15 seed. Who do we match up with? My good friend and fellow podcast host, Olympian Tri Bourne, which will be the first time in our five-year friendship that we’ve ever played one another.
Dave Palm, a 31-year-old blocker partnered with Rafu Rodriguez, lives less than an hour northwest of Fort Lauderdale, in Coral Springs, while Rodriguez is a few hours up, just south of Daytona Beach in New Smyrna.
“I hope to inspire more people in Florida to continue playing beach volleyball,” said Plummer, who set a career-high AVP finish earlier this year with a fifth in Denver.
The women’s side features just a single Florida native: Macy Jerger. Raised in Fort Myers, Jerger went on to be a standout at Florida State and is now competing in her fourth AVP of the season, this one with Carly Skjodt after qualifying via a fifth-place finish in Denver. The hottest team on Tour, Larissa and Lili Maestrini, a pair of Brazilians with three AVP wins in 2022 alone, are pseudo-locals, now living in Celebration after decorated careers representing Brazil on the World Tour.
“The AVP is thrilled to have the Pro Tour returning to Fort Lauderdale for the first time in 12 years,” AVP Senior Vice President Josh Glazebrook said. “The volleyball community in Florida is a passionate fan base of those that love the sport and those that play on a regular basis at every level. This weekend is sure to deliver.”
Headlining the women’s side is Hermosa champs Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil, New Orleans winners Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint, and Austin victors Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, who are also the subject of the upcoming AVP Uncovered docuseries.
Latvian Olympian Tina Graudina is playing with her former USC teammate, Hailey Harward, after they won the NCAA title as the Trojans’ No. 1 pair. They open up against Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn, who are coming a strong tour of Europe.
On the men’s side, Hermosa champs Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner are the top seeds, while Bourne and Crabb are No. 2, and Chase Budinger and Troy Field the 3. The No. 4 seed was originally slated to be Phil Dalhausser and Casey Patterson, but Patterson pulled out, choosing to stay at home with his new son, Ford, who was born on Sunday. Dalhausser’s partner will be John Sutton, with whom he finished 13th in Denver.
“It’s going to be a family affair with aunts and uncles coming out to watch,” Friend said. “Finally, no traveling required for my family to see an AVP event.”
Click here for the brackets.