WAIKIKI — Jess Gaffney lamented, for a moment, about being the eighth seed in the aVP Hawai’i Open that begins Thursday. The eighth seed is nice and all, especially in a 24-team qualifier, where the top-eight get byes, but then again, the eight has to go through the one, if all goes to plan. Then she paused for a second, took inventory of the teams in the qualifier, and shrugged.
Any of the top 12 teams, she reasoned, could make it through and nothing could really be deemed an upset. That’s just the way this season has gone, and the startling depth of qualifiers. Beyond that, the top-12 teams — with a few sleepers at the bottom — could very well make a run deep into main draw and nobody could think twice about it.
Small draws are brutal. Four teams coming out of the qualifier is brutal. But it is quite a joy to watch the madness unfold.
Janelle Allen, Kim Smith: Good to see Allen’s name back on the entry lists. After an injury in Seattle, she’s been mostly sidelined, though taking care of her son, Ketch, is as much a workout as any, so she’ll be in good shape, as proven by her win at Big Shots with Cecilia Agraz. For the final event, she’s partnered with Kim Smith, who is now playing with her sixth partner of the AVP season in what has been a solid year, making five main draws and taking a seventh in Seattle.
Jessica Gaffney, Pri Lima: Gaffney flew all the way to Florida to get some training in with Lima prior to flying…all the way back and then some to Hawai’i. So there’s no doubting that this team is taking this as seriously as any, and, on top of that, Gaffney loved the way Lima ran practice. If something didn’t go well, they’d run it again until it was right. That’s one of Lima’s best traits: She unfailingly makes her partners better, and in Gaffney, she has a young, impressionable one in her first year on tour. This team is one of the best in the qualifier and, should they make it through, will only get better as the tournament goes on.
Macy Jerger, Jessica Sykora: Jerger is on a solid streak right now: qualifying in Manhattan for her first main draw; making it to the final round in Chicago; winning CBVA Zuma with Sykora; winning the final p1440 Intrasquad tournament, beating Zana Muno and Crissy Jones in straight sets in the finals. Now her and Sykora are onto Hawai’i in what might be the tallest team in the entire tournament. Sykora, too, has enjoyed a solid year, making three main draws in five events, tying a career-high ninth in Huntington Beach.
Lauren DeTurk, Carly Kan: Home field advantage alert! Kan has ensured that Punahou’s success in volleyball didn’t end with the Crabb and McKibbin brothers, Brad Lawson and Spencer McLachlin. She helped carry on the tradition just fine, winning two state titles en route to being named the 2013 Hawai’i Gatorade Player of the Year. After four years at Missouri, where she was a three-time All-American, Kan went 33-11 on the beach as a grad transfer for Hawai’i. Not a bad move for DeTurk, to pick up someone who has had an abundance of success on the Island, success that could very well continue this weekend.
Halle Hunt, Tawnee Luafalemana: This team may win the award for most miles traveled. Hunt is from Greensboro, North Carolina. A graduate of UNC Wilmington, she played both indoor and beach, finishing 12-12 in her senior season and picked up wins over TCU and Georgia State. Luafalemana, meanwhile, competed for Utah, playing mostly court two for the Utes while also serving as a middle blocker indoors. They don’t have much experience at this level on the beach, hence the 23 seed, but they’re far from a first-round pushover.
Michelle Iafigliola, Ari Homayun: More home-field advantage here, as Homayun not only played all four years in Hawai’i, but she left as the all-time wins leader for the Bows, graduating with 118 victories, finishing on three consecutive 30-win seasons. Consistency is king in this sport, and Homayun has it and then some, while Iafigliola brings veteran experience of competing in qualifiers since 2007. This has to be one of the best bottom seeds in a qualifier all year.