HONOLULU — The AVP 2018 season came to a close Sunday as fans were treated to two exciting finals.
April Ross and Alix Klineman won their third consecutive AVP title and fourth for the season with a well played 18-21, 21-19, 15-10 win over compatriots Sara Hughes and Summer Ross.
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena also won for the fourth time this season as they outlasted the Netherlands’ Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen 21-16, 27-25 at Fort deRussy beach.
Ross and Klineman collectively opened the volleyball world’s eyes in the Hague in January, winning the first FIVB four-star event of the year despite that it was Klineman’s first international event after playing just one full year on the domestic tour.
They opened the AVP with a victory as well, winning in Austin. They struggled through the middle of the season, with four fifths on the world tour, and seconds and thirds domestically.
In the eight-team double-elimination tournament here, Ross and Klineman only played two teams — Kelly Claes and Brittany Hochevar and Hughes and Ross — but beat them both twice: Claes and Hochevar 21-17, 16-21, 16-14 in the first round, 21-17, 21-16 in the semifinals, and Hughes and Ross 21-15, 21-12 in the second round, and again in the final.
The final was a series of runs, as teams gained momentum and confidence, sometimes aided by winds that varied in both direction and speed, gusting up to 20 mph. Ultimately the 6-foot-5 Klineman block and the powerful serve on Ross powered them to the win.
“I think we did a lot of sports psych work up front,” April Ross said, “but things were going so smoothly at first, we thought, ‘Oh, it’s all working,’ and then we started to see the ups and downs, and the bumps, and kind of come out the other end. We’re still looking to improve a ton, but now when we encounter those ups and downs in the matches, we’re being a little more resilient, and we can keep our belief that we can still win the match.
“I think our lows are getting less low,” Klineman added, “and I think that we’re able to combat that feeling of when things aren’t going your way a little bit better, instead of ‘Shoot, what are we going to do?’ and problem-solving a little bit better on the court.”
“I think back to the beginning of this season,” Ross said, “to the Hague, and this is 10 times better than any of the tournaments at the beginning of the season. I think the improvements are there all-around.”
Ross and Klineman confirmed that they plan to compete for Olympic qualification in Tokyo 2020, and will play four more tournaments this year: King of the Court in Huntington Beach (September 22-23), the NORCECA championships in the Dominican Republic (September 27-October 1), the four-star FIVB Yangzhou (October 10-14), and the four-star FIVB/p1440 Las Vegas (October 17-21).
Like Klineman and Ross, Dalhausser and Lucena had a red-hot start to the 2018 season, but experienced some mid-season doldrums by lofty Dalhausser standards. The duo kicked it off with a five-star FIVB win in Fort Lauderdale and a fourth-place finish in Doha, and domestic wins at the first AVP tour stops in Austin and New York.
From there, it was downhill, finishing ninth four times internationally including in Huntington Beach, Espinho, and Vienna, and a fifth in Gstaad. Their record wasn’t sufficient to earn them an invitation to defend their title at the World Tour Finals in Hamburg.
Dalhausser and Lucena took the long road to the final after a first-round loss to Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb Saturday (15-21, 21-16, 7-15). Subsequent wins over Spain’s Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera (16-21, 21-18, 15-6), Norway’s Christian Sorum and Anders Mol (21-13, 21-19), and a revenge rematch with Bourne and Crabb (21-13, 21-18) put them back into the title match.
The final was enhanced by the freeze rule. At 21-16, 20-14, the high-flying, hard-hitting Dutch pair climbed back into the match, and even had game points of their own until Lucena closed it out with a transition spike on the 47th serve to close the second game and match at 27-25. The 47-serve-freeze is a single-game record.
“Am I allowed to swear?” Lucena asked, talking about it gettting to 20-20. “I was like, s***, are you kidding me? They made some plays and what are you going to do. They’re tough to score points on because they hit the ball so dang high.
“I don’t like the net-serve let, I don’t mind the freeze, but I don’t like the net-serve rule, two in a row I had. It just slows the game down.
“They had a set point, and we pushed through it, it’s pretty sweet actually.”
Dalhausser had a terrific serving performance, including back-to-back net serve aces and two straight back line middle aces.
“On the surface, those guys are tough to stop.” Dalhausser said. “We had to put pressure on them on the serve, and a little bit of wind helped me out a little bit, and was able to hit a couple of aces.”
Lucena was frustrated with head official John King at 24-25.
“First of all, he missed some chowder. He missed a bad set, and then he missed a net touch. He missed two calls in a row, which gave them the advantage. I just like yelling at him either way, right or wrong. It works in our favor, we got a little energy in our favor out of it. It’s hard for them to get all of the calls right, they did a good job”.
Asked about their schedule for the remainder of the year, Lucena responded jokingly: “We’re not doing anything. Don’t push anything upon us.”
In earlier semifinals, Hughes and Ross had a more challenging semifinal against Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Lisboa (23-25, 21-17, 15-12).
In the men’s semifinals, Brouwer and Meeuwsen defeated Brazil’s Saymon Barbosa and Gustavo Carvalhaes (21-19, 21-18).