Chris Luers surveyed the scene in front of him, and all he could do was laugh. There, on court one in the final round of the AVP San Francisco qualifier were four players — Cole Fiers, Andy Benesh, TK Kohler, Tony Pray – seeded No. 33 and No. 24, who had not yet qualified for an AVP in 2018. Behind Luers, on stadium court, were four more players — Lucas Yoder and Hagen Smith, Duncan Budinger and Daniel Dalanhese — who had also not qualified.
And in the matches that would follow both, there would be a total of seven more players and four teams who had not yet made an AVP main draw this season.
Four teams, per usual, came out of the AVP San Francisco qualifier, and in what has become a peculiar trend that speaks to the parity and growing depth of American beach volleyball, four new teams were featured in that weekend’s main draw.
Exactly one team, Maddison and Riley McKibbin, have made multiple main draws via qualifier this season, bruising their way through Austin, New York and Seattle.
“I don’t think most people understand how hard that is,” Chaim Schalk said.
Indeed. On the women’s side, just three teams have made it through multiple qualifiers: Delaney Knudsen and Jessica Sykora, Cassie House and Molly Turner, Alexa Strange and Falyn Fonoimoana.
And with AVP Hermosa Beach this week, with eight qualifying spots on the line, well, who knows what could happen?
Skylar del Sol, Bruno Amorim: Whoa. This team comes packing Howitzers from the service line. While del Sol adds location with his, and a nasty little turn when he gets the snap just right, Amorim is simply going to try to knock you over with his.
If both get their serves going, combined with del Sol’s excellent defense and Amorim’s massive block, this team could earn more points than any in the qualifier.
Cole Fiers, Andy Benesh: Love it when another weird lefty makes it through, and that’s exactly what Fiers, a weird lefty out of Stanford, did in San Francisco alongside 6-foot-9 Andy Benesh. It was the first main draw for both, though Benesh, a former outside at USC, has professional experience, having played pro in Switzerland after a prolific career as a Trojan.
Lucas Yoder, Eric Beranek: Classic case of “Take your best finish and switch up the partnership.”
(We need a name for this move, any ideas?)
Yoder and Hagen Smith took a ninth in San Francisco, alas exorcising their McKibbin demons…and then split (I am now playing with Smith). Why the split, I don’t know, to be totally honest, but Yoder has since turned to Eric Beranek, who made his first career main draw in Seattle with Mike Brunsting.
Smith and Beranek are similar enough in playing style, fast and agile, physical offensively, so the change in partnership shouldn’t be a difficult one for Yoder to make.
Drew Hamilton, Daniel Lindsey: The NVL power squad has reunited! Hamilton and Lindsey played their first NVL together in Dallas of 2013, losing to Theo Brunner and Dave McKienzie in three sets in the quarterfinals. They made a semifinal and a few other quarterfinals over the next few years, logging wins over a number of excellent players – Dave Palm, Eric Zaun, Avery Drost, to name a few.
They’ve understandably had a quiet career since the NVL folded, so now it’s onto Hermosa.
JM Plummer, Chris Vaughan: Another NVL power squad, Plummer and Vaughan played the final three events of the 2016 season together, which was, not coincidentally, the best season for either. Vaughan won the NVL Rookie of the Year while Plummer won Fan Favorite and Breakthrough Athlete.
In Seattle, they were the only team to push Raffe Paulis and Marty Lorenz to three sets, winning the second after losing the first 28-26 in a match that could have gone either way.
Kevin McColloch, Duncan Budinger: The last time these two played together, in San Francisco of 2017, they took a seventh, with one of their losses being an epic three-setter to eventual champs Maddison McKibbin and Ty Loomis.
So yeah. This is not really the team you’d like to see in the qualifier. Budinger has made it to the final round in both qualifiers he’s played in — Seattle and San Francisco — while McColloch suffered a similar fate in San Francisco, falling to Jeff Samuels and Dave McKienzie in the final round.
Speaking of McKienzie …
Paul Lotman, Dave McKienzie: We’ve got the NVL power squads, and now we have the Indoor Power Squad. Lotman was a 2008 PanAm gold medalist and a member of the London Olympic team, as was McKienzie, who, like Lotman, is a Long Beach State alum.
With that in mind, this team is, quite simply, going to bomb — bomb serves, bomb hits, bomb everything.
Shane Donohue, Adam Roberts: Roberts just made a three-star main draw in China with Troy Field — where they beat Brazilians George Wanderley and Thiago Santos Barbosa (!!!) — but he’s switching it up for Hermosa, going with Shane Donohue in what should be a scrappy, ball-control oriented team. Field is straight through to main draw, picked up by Chase Frishman.
I like this team, probably because I very much like both of these people. Roberts has struggled in AVPs with traditional, bigger blocks this year with Spencer Sauter and Field, so it makes sense to go to a smaller, more ball-control style player.
Troy Schlicker, Orlando Irizarry: The Austin Boys are no longer. After three years playing together, Rafaa Quesada-Paneque and Schlicker have broken the band up, though Schlicker has made a phenomenal pickup in Irizarry, a Puerto Rican who specializes in pushing players through to main draws. He did so with Ian Satterfield in Austin and Field in Manhattan Beach last year.
Schlicker has made a main draw before, but it’s been a little while. Perhaps Irizarry is the move he needed to make.
Logan Webber, Charlie VanRees: We haven’t seen Webber since he made his main draw debut in Huntington Beach earlier this year, qualifying with David Ryan Vander Meer and giving Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb a decent run in the first set of main draw.
Webber’s a big, athletic block, and his raw ability is beginning to take shape into a legitimately solid beach volleyball blocker.
Corinne Quiggle, Agnieszka Pregowska: Thanks to Quiggle, it has come to my attention that when I use the word tantalizing to describe a team or individual’s season — as I did with these two in San Francisco — it’s a bit of a good luck charm, as that team apparently subsequently makes it into main draw.
So, after a tantalizing season leading into San Francisco, Quiggle and Pregowska gave Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman all they could handle in the first round of main draw, losing a tantalizingly close match, 21-16, 14-21, 10-15, before bowing out to Sheila Shaw and Lara Dykstra.
So tantalizingly close to taking a ninth, which would have been Quiggle’s second-best career finish – she took a seventh in Hermosa a year ago – and Pregowska’s first time cracking single digits.
Kim Hildreth, Sarah Schermerhorn: The SANDCAST wild-card recipients made their first career AVP main draw in San Francisco, battling through a gnarly qualifier that included Summer Nash and Pri Lima and Jace Pardon and Terese Cannon.
Then they took both eventual champs Emily Day and Betsi Flint and Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough to three sets in the main draw.
Lauren Dickson, Taylor Nutterfield: These two have played together once before, in Seattle of 2016, where they fell in the final round of the qualifier, 17-21, 21-12, 11-15 to Leah DeKok and Amanda Wiggins. Two years later, they’re back at it.
And, coincidentally enough, it was in 2016 that Nutterfield last made a main draw.
Taylor Nyquist, Meghan Mannari: The only qualifier these two have played together this season was a gnarly one, falling in the final round in Austin to Alexa Strange and Falyn Fonoimoana, 23-21, 19-21, 12-15. Mannari hasn’t played since, and Nyquist has only played New York, but such is the allure of the west coast events.
Though they are without a main draw this season, they come with NVL accolades, with Mannari earning the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year and Nyquist the 2015 Breakthrough Athlete.
Macy Jerger, Sara Putt: Jerger’s and Putt’s 32 wins at Florida State this year put them both tied on the 10th all-time list in Tallahassee, and an important note is that several of those wins came while playing together (both cycled through a number of partners throughout the year). They finished the season together, winning 22 of 26, at one point winning 19 in a row.
Lindsey Sparks, Devon Newberry: Sparks and Newberry just returned from representing the United States in Nanjing, China, taking fourth, the highest of any American team, men or women. Almost as impressive, though, in Huntington Beach earlier this year, they pushed Katie Jameson and Tracy Jones — better known as the Lindquist Sisters — to three sets in the qualifier, proof that, yes, they can challenge more than the world’s top youth teams.
Elise Zappia, Tory Paranagua: Zappia has been one of the most consistent players for national champ UCLA, going 32-4 as a junior, the second-best record of any player in UCLA history. Now she’s teamed up with Florida State’s Tory Paranagua, whom Zappia’s Bruins played against in the national championships. Paranagua, whose record has improved each year in college, finished 2018 as an All-American, All-Conference, and twice earned Pair of the Week with Vanessa Freire.
Hailey Harward, Kathryn Plummer: If you’d like to hear a coach’s opinion on how outstanding of a volleyball player Kathryn Plummer is, listen to our SANDCAST with her coach at Stanford, Andrew Fuller. So while you’re listening to that, some background on Harward:
- She went 143-30 as a four-year varsity starter at Desert Vista High in Phoenix, Arizona, and won back to back state titles.
- After being recruited by UCLA, Arizona, LMU, and Pepperdine, among others, she opted to play for Long Beach State, where she made the Big West All-Freshman Team and was twice the Big West Defensive Player of the Week.
- Her first AVP main draw came in Hermosa last year, where she battled from Q48 to the main draw.