HERMOSA BEACH — What makes a good beach volleyball partner?
It was a question many of the top professional beach volleyball players in the United States had to ask themselves heading up to this week’s AVP Hermosa Beach Open, where on the women’s side, eight new pairings made their debuts. On the men’s side, we saw slightly fewer new teams, but those that did form are especially notable.
For Caitlin Ledoux — who picked up Allie Wheeler, a 2017 graduate of USC’s beach volleyball program for Hermosa — the first criteria for a partner was she must be a defender. Which is rather humorous since up until this tournament, Wheeler has mostly been a blocker, but she wants to make the switch, making this pairing a valuable opportunity for her.
Sometimes, you also have to take into consideration points.
“It’s always a huge benefit, especially like these tournaments, to be able to not have to play in the qualifier and be able to have a bye first round and what not,” Wheeler, who with Ledoux earned the seventh seed in Hermosa and did in fact get a first-round bye. “So it’s a huge advantage I would say. But if you gel with someone well and you think it’s worth going through the qualifier and everything, it just really depends honestly on the partner pairing.”
That formula worked perfectly for Ledoux and Wheeler in their first match of the day, a sweep of qualifier team Morgan Martin and Iya Lindahl, but No. 18 seed Mackenzie Ponnet and Sheila Shaw sent them to the contenders’ with a straight-set victory in the next round.
Brittany Hochevar and Maria Clara Salgado have known each other for years, but until Hermosa had only faced off against each other on opposite sides of the net.
“Maria is a long-time friend and we’ve been on the world tour together for many years,” Hochevar said. “I think we’re just excited to vet people to death out here, just be the experienced players that we are and survive the heat and have some fun.”
Hochevar and Salgado, seeded fourth, suffered a similar fate to Ledoux and Wheeler, defeating Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn in the second round after a first-round bye only to fall to No. 21 seed Kathryn Hogan and Megan Rice to be sent to the contenders.
If you’ve been following along closely, you might have picked up on the fact that the No. 18 and No. 21 seeds advanced to the third round of the women’s winners bracket. Add to that the No. 22 seed Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft, both not yet 18 years old. No. 1 seed Emily Day and Betsi Flint are the only “favorite” to remain without a loss through Friday on the women’s side.
Click here for full women’s match results from BVBinfo.
Two of those new and notable men’s partnerships will also begin Saturday in the winners bracket. First, No. 10-seeded Ryan Doherty and Miles Evans, who sent Adam Roberts/Andy Benesh, Avery Drost/Chase Frishman, and Dylan Maarek/Dave Palm to the contenders.
Former indoor national team middle David Lee and beach legend Sean Rosenthal are 2-0 in their partnership debut, scoring an upset of No. 1-seeded Tim Bomgren and Troy Field in the third round.
John Hyden, who most recently paired with Doherty on the AVP and FIVB tours, picked up Piotr Marciniak for this week, and although the team finds itself in the contenders after a third-round loss to Chase Budinger and Casey Patterson (21-13, 17-21, 15-9), the two men feel good about what they are building.
“Normally in a partner, you’re kind of looking for a guy that complements your game. Obviously you want someone who is a blocker when you’re a defender. Normally you would go with someone opposite your side, but we’re both right siders, so we’re trying to figure that out still,” Hyden said. “It went pretty good the first game, but we’re always working on it. We had a few plays in that first game that we just didn’t come up with and that’s over time. You start to learn your partner, start to give him better balls, stuff like that. And we did in the second and third game. We’re coming along.”
Click here for complete men’s results from BVBinfo.
Most of all, chemistry matters when it comes to a stellar new partnership debut or a total bust.
“In my opinion, (chemistry is) probably more than 50 percent,” Marciniak said. “If you are good individually and talented, but you don’t click on the court, everything is pretty much wasted sooner or later.”
“For me, I feel like I’m a very like rhythm and chemistry type of player,” Ledoux said. “I like to think of someone I feel like I would gel with on the court more so than points because I know personally I play better when I’m playing with someone I enjoy playing with rather than someone who may have the points, but we just don’t get along.”
As these new teams continue to build on that all important chemistry, don’t be surprised to see some of them start to improve and maybe even go all the way through the contenders to the crossover.