The AVP returns to Hermosa Beach on Thursday, the 53rd time a domestic event has been run on what is arguably the deepest sand in the country. And that deep sand takes a toll on the calves, placing a premium on staying in the winners bracket.
This year the AVP Hermosa Beach conflicts with the FIVB four-star Olympic test event in Tokyo, so many of the USA’s best will pursue their Olympic dreams overseas rather than play right near their homes.
Still, there will be plenty of outstanding players, with the likes of Sean Rosenthal, Tim Bomgren, Betsi Flint, John Hyden, Troy Field, Emily Day, Billy Allen, Stafford Slick, Brittany Hochevar, Ryan Doherty, Chaim Schalk, Jeremy Casebeer, and more.
There is also a plethora of new men’s main draw teams that we haven’t seen stateside, including Piotr Marciniak and John Hyden, David Lee and Rosenthal, Doherty and Miles Evans, Steven Roschitz and Kyle Radde, Raffe Paulis and Curt Toppel, Silila Tucker and Joseph Hillman.
New teams in the women’s main draw include Maria Clara Salgado and Brittany Hochevar, Alexa Strange and Brittany Howard, Allie Wheeler and Caitlin Ledoux, Delaney Knudsen and Katie Spieler, Emily Hartong and Geena Urango, Kerri Schuh and Nicolette Martin and Jessica Sykora and Tory Paranagua.
For our Hermosa preview, Tim Bomgren and Sara Hughes will help us walk through the top five seeds on each side. Bomgren is paired with Troy Field and they’re the top-seeded men’s team, while Hughes is in the unusual situation of playing in a qualifier for the first time in three years.
On the men’s side, the top teams should be extremely competitive, with the top five unaffected by the partner swaps below them.
No. 1: Tim Bomgren and Troy Field — Bomgren and Field have had impressive results since uniting for the 2019 season, with a second (New York), and two thirds (Huntington, Austin), and a fifth (Seattle).
“We’ve had a hot start to the year but coming in as the No. 1 seed only adds to the difficulty and pressure,” Bomgren said. “Teams always want to go after the top seeds and have nothing to lose. With that being said, Troy and I are more fired up than ever to be playing in Hermosa and are ready for another long weekend of volleyball.”
No. 2: Chaim Schalk and Jeremy Casebeer—Schalk and Casebeer are coming off their first win together in Seattle. They have also shown consistency throughout 2019, with a second (Austin), and two fifths (New York, Huntington).
“These guys have been balling at a high level all year long and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon,” Bomgren said. “Winners of the most recent AVP event in Seattle, Chaim and Jeremy have found their groove and are a fun athletic team to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in uniform on Sunday.”
No. 3: Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger — Patterson and Budinger have been consistently outperforming their seed domestically in 2019 as Budinger’s block timing and positioning have made a quantum leap. On the AVP they have finished second (Huntington), third (Seattle) and fifth (New York).
Internationally they have struggled, with their best finish a fifth in Edmonton but failed in two of their country quota matches (Sydney, Warsaw).
“Casey and Chase are some of the best side out players around,” Bomgren offered. “If they keep their serving, blocking and defense dialed in they are a nasty team to face. They’ve also had a great start to the season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go a long ways this weekend.”
No. 4: Billy Allen and Stafford Slick — Allen and Slick are gathering momentum, with a ninth at the World Championships and a bronze in the Edmonton three-star. That netted them a combined 1,280 points and provide critical entry points.
Domestically their best finish is third (Seattle), with sevenths in Huntington and New York.
“These guys have gotten better each tournament,” Bomgren said, “and they have taken down some extremely good international teams. If Billy makes eye contact with Stafford, the sky is the limit for this squad.”
No. 5: Ed Ratledge and Roberto Rodriguez — Ratledge and Rafu haven’t yet shown the full synergy that brought them a win in San Francisco in 2018. So far in 2019 they’ve scored a fifth (Austin), seventh (Huntington), ninth (Seattle), and 13th (New York).
“There’s supposed to be a steady wind this weekend and one of the first things that comes to mind is Rafu’s ability to handset everything and put the ball where it needs to be regardless of the conditions,” Bomgren said. “It’s Ed and Rafu, they have some unique ways to score but are consistently getting the job done.”
In the women’s draw, the teams are largely reshuffled, with only four of the 16 main-draw teams having played together for more than one year.
No. 1: Betsi Flint and Emily Day — Day and Flint are coming off their best result of 2019, a three-star silver in Edmonton, following three country quota losses.
“They’re the No. 1 ranked team in the tournament for a reason,” Hughes said. “They’ve been playing domestically and internationally, they’re a tough team to beat. They have all the skills, they’re very consistent, and to beat them you have to play at your highest level.”
No. 2: Terese Cannon and Irene Pollock — A new team for 2019, Cannon and Pollock started off hot with a third in Austin, but couldn’t keep up that pace, finishing ninth in New York and seventh in Seattle.
Internationally they placed ninth at both the three-star in Edmonton and the two-star in Qidong.
“Terese is one of my really great friends,” said Hughes, who was a teammate of Cannon’s for two years at USC. “She’s a huge up-and-comer on the AVP. Playing with Irene, I think they have a really good dynamic defender, and they make a really good blocker-defender combination, I think they could really surprise and upset some teams.”
No. 3: Amanda Dowdy and Corinne Quiggle — Dowdy and Quiggle have been putting in the miles, playing in FIVB events in China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Canada, as well as NORCECA in Mexico. Their best 2019 finishes are fifth in Seattle and silver in the Phnom Penh, Cambodia, two-star.
“I’ve practiced against them but never played them in competition,” Hughes said. “I think they’re the new team on the tour, they’re the new upcoming team that’s a force to be reckoned with and can easily take care of themselves and one of those teams that is grinding and fighting through to make it both domestically and internationally.”
No. 4: Maria Clara Salgado and Brittany Hochevar — Previously Salgado played with Traci Callahan, Hochevar with Carly Wopat. Callahan’s best finish was seventh in Huntington, Hochevar scored ninths across the board in Huntington, New York, and Seattle.
“That’s a brand new pairing, I haven’t seen Maria play in a while,” Hughes said. “I think they’re a really feisty team. They’re very passionate and energetic and I think they’ll be really fun to watch together.”
No. 5: Alexa Strange and Brittany Howard — Howard has played with both Katie Spieler and Kelly Reeves in 2019, her best finish a third in Austin and a fifth at the three-star in Qinzhou. Strange has played with both Hartong and Bree Scarbrough in 2019, finishing 17th in Huntington.
“This is another of the new teams. I think they’ll have a fun dynamic together, another true blocker-defender team that will be hard to put a ball down,” Hughes said. “I can see them having a lot of long rallies with Alexa playing defense and not letting anything drop.”
Women’s qualifiers to watch:
Sara Hughes and Abril Bustamante — Hughes in a qualifier? Yup, Partner Summer Ross is currently on the mend so they skipped Tokyo. Hughes thumbed through her USC Rolodex to find Bustamante, perhaps the NCAA’s most potent defender this year. She and Tina Graudina were the VolleyballMag.com NCAA pair of the year the past two seasons.
Hughes visited with us on her way to her first practice with Bustamante on Tuesday, so they didn’t know yet which defender will switch to block, or whether they will split block. Both have the requisite vertical reach, but you’d have to think that Hughes’ superb defensive skills would earn her backcourt duties.
“I’m really excited to get the chance to play with her and I’m looking forward to the qualifier,” said Hughes, who hasn’t played in one since 2016. “It doesn’t matter for us, we’re just going to go out and fight. We’ll see. I just think it’s going to be so much fun.”
Savvy Simo and Haley Hallgren — This is one of those rare UCLA (Simo) and USC (Hallgren) pairings (There’s even a Crosstown Cup measuring the UCLA-USC rivalry. For those keeping score, USC won the 2018-2019 Crosstown Cup, besting UCLA 105-85, the 11th Trojan win in 18 years).
Simo was one of UCLA’s top defenders, and Hallgren the defender at the No. 3 pairing. This pair should outperform their seed and contend for a main draw berth despite their lack of points due to their college commitments.
Aurora Pa’aluhi and Alicia Zamparelli-Flavia — Thanks to NCAA beach, the women’s qualifier is deeper than ever, even in a weekend depleted by the Olympic test event. One thing is at a premium, however, and that’s experience. Pa’aluhi and Zamparelli-Flavia have it, in spades.
Pa’aluhi, who was better known during her playing days as Skarra-Gallagher, has played since 2008, while Zamparelli-Flavia has competed since 2000, one of the few competitors today that have competed on the now-defunct BVA tour.
Pa’aluhi, at 39, hasn’t lost a step, having three-peated at the Kau’ai Dinosaur tournament with Tina Damasco. Her day job? A firefighter, so she is far more fit than most of the youngsters currently on tour.
Zamparelli-Flavia? At 44, she’s not as quick as she was earlier in her career, but her ability to read hitters and see defenses makes placement more critical than power.
These “oldies but goodies” will surely show the youngsters a thing or two or three.
Men’s qualifiers to watch:
With so many top teams in Tokyo, many of the fixtures in the qualifier received a promotion this week. Here are some teams we’ll be watching.
Matt Motter and Matt Olson — They have 256 points. Olson has two AVP wins, three seconds, and 14 thirds to his resume, and Motter has two domestic seconds.
Olson’s been busy running the WAVE beach program, so although he hasn’t been training per se, he’s not someone anyone wants to play in the first or second round. Together they have a ton of experience from the qualifier perspective, and if they pull off that early upset they could go far.
Motter played two events in 2018, Olson hasn’t competed since 2017, when he played one event. There’s probably some rust to work out, and they’ll probably run into some brutal teams early.
Jeff Menzel and Landen Tusieseina — These guys only have 127 points. Why are they noteworthy? Menzel has hops. Serious hops. He led the UC Santa Barbara men’s indoor team to a semifinal finish in 2011, winning the MPSF, and dabbled with the national team. He’s never played in a qualifier before, but plays the six-man every year and is an offensive force. Tusieseina? He’s made two expanded draws in Manhattan, pulling down two 25ths. Anyone want to play these guys first round? Didn’t think so.
Bobby Jacobs and Ty Tramblie — At least this team has 581 points, good enough to rank them 23rd according to the preliminary entry lists. Of course, the points are courtesy of Reid Priddy, who helped Jacobs to a fifth in Seattle during a Theo Brunner recovery break. But while playing with Priddy, Jacobs received the vast majority of the serves and had to side out constantly for two days.
Tramblie? Anyone with a camera should run to his court, because he’s one of the most spectacular defenders on the planet, routinely making airborne digs that photographers covet. He’s also one of the best setters on the beach, good enough to beat out Billy Allen for setter back in their Cal State Northridge days.
Tramblie’s side out has always been the question mark, standing in at 6 feet tall, but he makes up for it in hustle. He took last year off, but has been keeping his hand in at Volleyball Vacations — South of the Border, so he’ll definitely have a fan contingent at his court.