HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Seven of the top eight men’s and women’s teams comprise Saturday’s respective winners-brackets matches with a short path to the semifinals.
On the men’s side, top-seeded Theo Brunner and John Hyden place fifth-seeded Ed Ratledge and Roberto Rodriguez and second-seeded Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb take on No. 3 Billy Allen and Ryan Doherty.
For the women, top-seeded Sara Hughes and Summer Ross play No. 4 Caitlin Ledoux and Geena Urango, while second-seeded Kelly Claes and Brittany Hochevar face third-seeded Alix Klineman and April Ross.
But a Friday on the AVP tour is typically about the losers, not the winners. No team can win the tournament on a Friday, but teams can certainly lose it. Accordingly, Fridays are about the upsets. In most of this year’s previous events, most of Friday is devoted to top seeds playing qualifiers, which typically doesn’t bode well for qualifiers.
However, Hermosa Beach is the first of the expanded draws, featuring 24 teams. The top eight seeds get byes, making the first round of matches far more competitive than in Austin, Seattle, or San Francisco.
Ratledge and Rodriguez beat fourth-seeded Trevor Crabb and John Mayer (15-21, 22-20, 15-13).
Ratledge and Rodriguez had difficulty with Crabb’s serve in the first set, but managed to make the adjustment.
“Trevor’s serve kept backing me up”, said Ratledge. “He did a good job of hitting it hard, and I wasn’t bending my knees enough. As soon as I fixed that, my passes were under control, and Rafu didn’t have to scramble as much.
Rodriguez had strong support from his friends and family at Hermosa, who were plenty vocal.
“I think we had the crowd on our side, ”Rodriguez said. “We had a big group from Puerto Rico, it was fun. We came to battle, any one could have won it.
“In that match, we just made a couple more plays at the end.”
Rodriguez was unable to recapture the serving pressure that was key in securing the San Francisco title until the third game. “I was not in rhythm at all in the first two sets, and then for the third game I just decided that I would hit the ball.”
The four men’s teams awaiting opponents in the second round of the contenders bracket are Crabb and Mayer, Avery Drost and Marty Lorenz, Tim Bomgren and Chaim Schalk and Phil Dalhausser and Jason Lochhead.
There were some surprise pairs still alive in the first round of contenders play Saturday, including VolleyballMag.com contributor Travis Mewhirter, having the best tournament of his career. He and partner Hagen Smith are seeded 21st.
Mewhirter and Smith may be unbeatable when down 10-8 in the third set. Their 23-21, 18-21, 15-8 upset of 12th-seeded Riley and Maddison McKibbin was their third consecutive while coming back from that deficit.
“We were down pretty big in the first set,” Mewhirter said, “Hagen and I are pretty slow starters. We were down either 5-2 or 6-1 at the first switch, and then down 16-12, but we were able to bring it back to 18-17. We were down 20-19 receiving serve, and we had a long, long rally. Maddison got really frustrated with on that point, which they should have won, and he punted it, so the red card tied the set at 20-20.
“We ended up winning the first set 23-21, got smashed in the second, and then we were down 10-8 in the third. It’s the third straight match that we were down 10-8 in the third. I told Hagen, ‘Look, it’s our favorite score!’ and we just grinded and grinded and we came back and won.”
BVBinfo.com has all the men’s results and the schedule.
A couple of women’s pairs well known to NCAA indoor fans are still alive in the contenders bracket, including 22nd-seeded Kathryn Plummer and Hailey Harward and fifth-seeded Brittany Howard and Kelly Reeves.
Howard and Reeves, however, were upset by 12th-seeded Ali McColloch and Kendra VanZwieten 21-18, 21-19 in the second round of the winners bracket.
“We came in with the mindset of just taking care of our side of the court and playing our game. Kendra and I haven’t played together for a long time, I think it was four years ago, but we have a similar style and like to run a lower set,” McColloch said.
“We like to slow down the play, pass well, and move the ball around a lot. Our biggest strategy was not letting the other team get into a rhythm, so we kept moving our position on the serving line to change things up. That was how we managed our first two matches.
“We didn’t manage things as well in our last game, but we still played pretty well on the day, and we’re happy with it.”
BVBinfo.com has all the women’s results and schedule.
Saturday’s action can be seen on Amazon Prime. The following photo gallery from Friday includes shots from VolleyballMag.com photo editor Ed Chan, Jim Wolf and Allen Szto.