HERMOSA BEACH — In a tournament chock full of upsets, new partnerships, and surprising results, one team performed exactly as expected. The No. 1 seeded women’s team of Emily Day and Betsi Flint swept all five matches on their way to the 2019 AVP Hermosa Beach Open crown, holding their opponents to an average of 15 points per set.
The victory makes it four years in a row that Day has won an AVP title.
In the final, Day and Flint took on Megan Rice and Kathryn Hogan, a team that came through the qualifier, and the No. 1 seeds played nearly errorless volleyball, hitting .639 and putting away five aces from behind the service line to their opponents’ one en route to a 21-14, 21-14 win.
“We’ve been working a lot on minimizing our errors and we trust our defense,” Day said. “So we know when we can attack and even if we don’t get a clean kill, we can transition and play D.
“I felt like Betsi’s serving really helped contain them because if we got a trouble pass, we can cut down their angles,” the 31-year-old blocker continued. “And for us it felt like we focused on our pass/set. Betsi is a great setter, I know they were coming after me most of the time, so I knew if I could get a pass that was forward, she would give me a great set.”
Day and Flint went all tournament without dropping a set, even playing Hogan and Rice in the winner’s bracket quarterfinals before seeing them again in the final.
“We really like to watch film on teams so to actually be able to play them earlier in the tournament was helpful,” Day said. “It was nice seeing them earlier, but I always say, it’s so hard to beat the same team twice in a tournament.”
Rice and Hogan played 10 matches in four days, earning their spot in the main draw after being the No. 13 seed in the qualifier and then losing only to the eventual champions twice in their main draw appearance (Hogan’s first and Rice’s third on the AVP).
“We were just coming out to have fun and play our best,” Florida International alum Hogan said. “Every game we took it game by game. And you know we made it here. We made it to the finals.”
The duo currently based in southeastern Florida even had to cancel their flight home in order to stick around and play their semifinal and final matches on Sunday.
“The goal was to qualify at first and then it was like, let’s try to win some matches in the main draw,” former University of Florida indoor player and Florida Atlantic beach volleyball athlete Rice said, “and then we just kind of kept winning matches in the main draw and we were like, ‘Let’s just keep going, I don’t even care. Let’s just have fun.’ That’s where we were at today and I think we did, I think we accomplished that goal.”
Rice and Hogan had to hustle back to get to work on Monday—Rice at Johnson Controls where she is a mechanical design engineer and Hogan at a high school where she coaches indoor volleyball.
“I have my tryouts tomorrow,” Hogan said. “So I get back at like six o’clock in the morning and my tryouts are at three. So that will be a fun day.”
Despite a great showing in their first AVP tournament together, Rice and Hogan will not compete together in three weeks in the Manhattan Beach Open because Hogan already has a main draw bid for the Manhattan Beach Open secured through AVPNext with Bree Scarbrough.
Men’s 2019 Hermosa Beach Open champion Chase Budinger got to celebrate his first AVP title just down the street from his house. The seven-year NBA veteran and former standout high school volleyball player has played a total of 10 tournaments in his two seasons competing full-time on the AVP tour, a very short amount of time to rocket from beach volleyball rookie to tour champion.
“I relied on my guy to be a freak athlete and block every ball and then I just served really well,” Budinger’s partner Casey Patterson said of the pair’s three-set (25-23, 19-21, 15-7) victory over Ryan Doherty and Miles Evans in the final.
“[Chase] was able to really affect the game like a veteran blocker of 20 years,” Patterson added. “The way he was reading the balls and positioning that he was in and the way he was serving as well. That ace at 3-2 for the switch flipped it for us, and then we were able to really attack.”
Although Patterson has won 15 AVP titles in his 17-year professional beach volleyball career, this is his first tournament victory in three years.
“Finding the right partner is key and then getting healthy was key and those two things I’ve found,” Patterson said. “Being able to win again is such a special thing on this tour.”
As much praise as Patterson heaps on Budinger and how lauded he’s been by volleyball community members and fans and other players on tour, the 31-year-old still thinks he has plenty to improve on.
“I still feel that I could be a better read blocker,” he said. “I still feel that my pulling defense could be a lot better. I’m kind of a perfectionist, so when it comes to this game I feel like I could do a lot more and affect the game a lot more, so I’m just going to keep working until I get to that stage. But as I said, I’m a perfectionist so I probably never will get to where I want to be, but as long as I’m improving each month, each year, I could be happy about that.”
Doherty and Evans ended the Hermosa Beach Open with a loss, but the pair playing in their first tournament together admitted they are not too upset with a second-place finish.
“The draw is so deep in the AVP this year. There’s like 10 different teams that could win a tournament at any given time,” Doherty said. “Obviously a second place is not anything we’re going to sneeze at, we’re happy with that, but we would have loved to had this last game go our way. But again, beggars can’t be choosers, and we’ll be happy with the second place for right now.”
Just minutes after the end of the men’s final, Evans, a 29-year-old in just his second AVP main draw, was already plotting improvements for his and Doherty’s game.
“I really feel like we can mix up our offense a little bit more, run some different sets,” Evans said. “If we dial in some more new plays, and we can trick the other team a little bit more with some easier sideouts I feel.”
The next AVP tour stop is Manhattan Beach, the granddaddy of them all, beach volleyball’s Wimbledon, so Doherty and Evans—and all the other teams on tour, men’s and women’s alike—will need all the tricks they can come up with if they have hopes of getting their names on the pier, as with no major international tournaments that week, all the top players will be back in the states.