HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — As the sand settles from the qualifier, the AVP Huntington Beach field of 16 teams per gender is set as play resumes Friday.
There were 113 qualifying teams, but the only pairs left were two sets of siblings, brothers Maddison and Riley McKibbin and sisters Katie Jameson and Tracy Jones, and fellow survivors Branden Clemens/Ben Vaught, Michael Brunsting/Chase Frishman, and Ed Ratledge/Eric Zaun for the men, and Janelle Allen/Briana Hinga, Alix Klineman/Jace Pardon and Bre Moreland/Kerri Schuh for the women.
Former four-time indoors Olympian Reid Priddy came close with partner Chaim Schalk.
A preview of the main draw follows, but first, Thursday’s qualifier recaps. Despite all the talk of foreign talent, indoor talent and a loaded qualifier, six of the eight top seeds advanced to the main draw.
The McKibbin brothers had straight-set victories over Ozz Borges/Orlando Irizarry (21-18, 21-14), Jake Rosener/Garrett Wessberg (21-9, 21-14), and Derek Olson/Jeff Samuels (21-16, 21-13).
“This was a tough qualifier,” Maddison McKibbin said. “There are a lot of talented teams without many (tour) points that came out of the woodwork for the tournament and I’m pretty sure they ruined a few weekends, but luckily, they didn’t ruin ours. The really ‘beachy’ teams, the teams that play out on the beach all the time, came out on top.
“I think we played really well today. Going into the tournament, I thought our passing and setting was a little bit of concern, but we weathered the storm well, and that was some of our most skilled play today.
“Every single court we played on had different wind. Court 1 is by far the windiest court. Court 2, the wind changes every five minutes. On the south side of the pier, on court 4, there’s no wind at all. We did well weathering that storm.”
Jameson and Jones, better known as the Lindquist sisters, had a dramatic comeback fueled by the 2017 AVP rule change. The new rule “freezes” the score at match point, where rally scoring is left behind and points can only be scored by the serving team. Further, the let serve is nullified, and the serving team is allowed one additional opportunity to serve.
Both rules worked to the Lindquist sisters’ advantage against Canadian Sarah Pavan and Brazilian Maria Clara Salgado. Pavan/Salgado were ahead 14-11 in the deciding third game to 15, when Pavan hit a trickler serve that barely made it over. Instead of being awarded the match, Pavan was given a re-serve, and the Lindquist sisters not only sided out, but were able to grind and come back to win the set 16-14. If the match had been rally scoring, it is unlikely that the Lindquists would have survived the offensive firepower of Pavan/Salgado for a side-out and two consecutive points, given their nearly total lack of blocking.
“I think we surprised a lot of people out here today,” Jameson said. “We know that they will hammer some balls that we have no chance of touching. We know we’re going to dig some balls, so we just try and convert the ones we can get.
“Definitely, the new rule won the match for us. We played a small part,” she added with a laugh. “When you know they have to dig a ball to score, it’s a lot less pressure. We were also having a tough time siding out with Sarah’s block and Maria Clara’s defense. I’m kind of in shock now. I never want to count us out, but I’m still in shock that we pulled that one out.”
Clemens, Vaught, Klineman, Zaun, and Moreland all qualified for their respective first main draws.
When No. 9 seeds Clemens and Vaught eked out a 13-21, 21-19, 15-13 win over Priddy and Schalk in the final match, they were giddy.
“I’m still at a loss for words,” Vaught said. “It still hasn’t hit yet. This is an extremely loaded qualifier. When we made the last round, I thought, ‘Holy crap, we’re here, we could do this.’ It’s our time to make a name for ourselves.”
“We had nothing to lose,” Clemens said. “We’re on our home beach, we’re playing loose and we were excited all day. It’s the perfect day out and this is such a cool atmosphere.”
Klineman, the former Stanford indoor star, qualified for her first time. Huntington is Pardon’s sixth main draw.
“We started out a little rocky, but we kept improving, and we played our best match to get in,” Klineman said.
“At the beginning, we made a lot of unforced errors,” Pardon added. ”Our strength is that we’re pretty physical and we play well tight to the net. We didn’t take anyone lightly. We didn’t look ahead, we tried to play in the moment, and take care of business each time.”
Zaun, who has three wins on the NVL tour, and the veteran Ratledge beat No. 36 Bobby Jacobs/Justin Johnson 21-15, 21-18, Jason Medero/Tal Shavit 21-11, 17-21, 15-10, and Dan Buehring/Matthew McCarthy 21-16, 21-13.
Moreland made her first main draw in only seven attempts with Schuh as they defeated Tori Grafeman/Jennifer Solm 21-11, 22-20, Melanie Fleig and Alicia Zamparelli-Flavia 21-16, 15-21, 15-10, and Branagan Fuller/Brandie Wilkerson 21-15, 16-21, 15-10.
Much was made of the foreign and men’s national team talent that infused this year’s Huntington Beach event.
On the men’s side, Priddy and Schalk came within two points of qualifying, with wins over Joel Blocksom/Aaron Wexler (21-12, 21-12), an upset over No. 1 seed Kevin McColloch/Roberto Rodriguez Bertran (21-17, 21-23, 15-12), a win over Paul Araiza/Matt Motter (21-18, 21-17), before losing to Clemens/Vaught.
Former USA outside hitter Paul Lotman, partnered with Alejandro Parra, advanced to the third round with wins over David Stuart/Charles Vettes (21-14, 21-17), Kevin Lynch/Jason Raney (21-15, 21-16), but were thwarted by Brian Cook and Miles Evans (21-17, 17-21, 15-10).
For the women, FIVB stars Sarah Pavan (Canada) and Maria Clara Salgado (Brazil) had wins against Avery Bush/Christina Vucich (21-14, 21-18), Aurora Davis/Priscilla Piantadosi-Lima (15-21, 21-16, 15-12), but couldn’t get past James/Jones (19-21, 21-19, 16-14).
Canadian Brandie Wilkerson, paired with Fuller, advanced past Julie Chamberlin/Lisa Reed (21-19, 21-10), Oksana Boukhtina/Katey Schroeder (19-21, 21-10, 15-7), and Karissa Cook/Katie Spieler (19-21, 21-15, 15-9) until their run was halted by Moreland and Schuh (21-16, 15-21, 15-10).
And how did our 66-year-old rookie qualifier, Steve “Matsa” Cahn, do? He and partner Steve VanZwieten were beaten by Jordan Gladstone and Jay Panther 21-13, 21-9, using an unusual and innovative serve receive where VanZwieten passed the entire court, Cahn waiting at the net to set.
“We battled, we had a good time, we scored a bunch of points,” VanZwieten said. “They were a little nervous.”
Given the financial arrangement detailed in our preview yesterday, VanZwieten should net $330 plus dinner. Are there plans to continue this partnership?
“Negotiations are underway,” Cahn said with a smile.
Post-Olympic years are always intriguing as top players test new partnerships and seek improved synergy and/or qualification points. What’s more, partnership changes at the top always filter down to the bottom.
This year there are nine new teams on the men’s side:
Ed Ratledge/Eric Zaun, Taylor Crabb/Jake Gibb, Theo Brunner/Casey Patterson, Trevor Crabb/Sean Rosenthal, Jeremy Casebeer/John Mayer, Ryan Doherty/John Hyden, Ty Loomis/Ty Tramblie, Mark Burik/Avery Drost and Curt Toppel/Gregg Weaver.
There are 11 new teams on the women’s side:
Janelle Allen/Briana Hinga, Bre Moreland/Kerri Schuh, Alix Klineman/Jace Pardon, Whitney Pavlik/April Ross, Lane Carico/Lauren Fendrick, Kim DiCello/Emily Stockman, Jenifer Fopma/Kelly Reeves, Sheila Shaw/Brittany Tiegs, Caitlin Ledoux/Heather McGuire, Nicole Branagh/Xi Zhang and Karolina Marciniak/Kendra VanZwieten).
The field is divided, as Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat, Summer Ross, Bill Kolinske, Casey Jennings, and Robbie Page have declined to sign the AVP’s non-disclosure agreement and new player agreement. Our coverage of the events of last week here.
Here is a breakdown of the top four seeds on each side.
No. 1 Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb: Three-time Olympian Gibb has taken 25-year-old Crabb under his wing for 2017. The pair outperformed their seed in the season-opening FIVB event in Fort Lauderdale in February, finishing fifth.
“We’ve just played one tournament together, so we don’t know everything yet, but practices are great,” Gibb said. “He’s young, he’s hungry, it’s good.
“He covers a lot of court. He’s very fast, and has great intuition. He reads well, and his knowledge of the game is great. Those are the kinds of things that are very difficult to teach.”
Crabb has been inspired by Gibb’s work ethic.
“The professionalism that Jake brings every day in practice, it’s great motivation for me to see an older player working as hard or harder than me,” Crabb said. “He brings out the best in me, that’s for sure.
“We have Marcio (Sicoli) coaching us now, we’re going four days a week for the past month. He’s helped us focus on our technique, he’s changing a few things that help differentiate the top half of the players from the bottom half to help us get to the top level.
“I can’t wait, I love to compete, Huntington is one of my favorite beaches, I played there a lot when I was at Long Beach (State). It will be exciting for Jake, because he lives in Huntington. I’m eager to get my first win, and get another win under Jake’s belt.
“Our goal is to go out there, bring everything we have on every point, and try to win every tournament we can.”
No. 2 Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner: Patterson, transitioning to the right side, and Brunner united in 2017 and finished ninth in Fort Lauderdale.
“He hasn’t played right side in the last four or five years, something like that. We’re getting used to each other on defense, so I can feel what he’s doing back there and he knows what I’m thinking up at the net,” Brunner said. “Minor things like he likes to go over on two, and he has to get used to doing that from the right, and I have to give him a good pass for that. Just a lot of little things that are pretty easy to figure out, just a matter of doing it over and over in practice so we can do it in tournaments.
“It’s going well. It’s been kind of a weird long pre-season, with the February Fort Lauderdale event, but we’ve been working hard since December, applying things in tournaments, and growing from there. We’re both super-excited to start playing. We’re good to go, we’re rested up, we’ve got our training in. We’re just trying to put in the work, and get as good as we can.”
No. 3 Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena: Although Dalhausser/Lucena are the third seed due to a rigorous Olympic qualification run in 2016, they are clearly the team to beat. They finished third in Fort Lauderdale after a semifinal loss to Brazil’s Evandro Goncalves and Andre Loyola.
Brunner acknowledges that Dalhausser/Lucena are the team to beat:
“You have to go with Nick and Phil. Phil is the best beach player, hands down. He still has the ability to turn it on, and be the best player in the world, almost at will. Nick is obviously great as well, they’re probably a top three team in the world, or thereabouts.”
No. 4 Trevor Crabb and Sean Rosenthal: Yet another new team for 2017, Crabb/Rosenthal came out of the Fort Lauderdale qualifier to finish 17th and followed that up with a fifth place in the recent three-star event in Xiamen, China.
“We played pretty well in Xiamen,” Crabb said, and we’re glad that we got an event in prior to Huntington to get us back in tournament mode and ready for competition. This week we had our first practices with the Wilson AVP ball, we’re really excited to be playing at home in Southern California.
“We’ve been working on our consistency, developing tougher serves, and working on our transition attack. We’re anticipating getting served equally, so we both need to be dialed in on our offense.”
No. 1 Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar: Day and Hochevar have played well of late, with a Manhattan Beach championship, a ninth in Fort Lauderdale, sixth in NorCECA La Paz, and a fifth in Xiamen.
“We’ve had some competition,” Day said, “and we’re really working on our side-out game, working on our first ball kill, not just a high side-out ratio. We’re also working on some different sets to add to our arsenal this weekend.
“We’re excited, we’re pumped, love the Wilson ball, we feel like we’re ready. Love to play at home.”
No. 2 April Ross and Whitney Pavlik: Walsh Jennings announced today that she and Ross will no longer compete together, see our story here. After Walsh Jennings’ refusal to sign the AVP contract, Ross turned to Pavlik for Huntington.
“We both needed a partner,” Pavlik said, “and she asked me if I wanted to play and hands down I said yes. In bold. It was the right timing for both of us. We’ll be split blocking, as we’ve done in the past. We both know what we want on the court and what we need from each other,. We just have a few kinks to work out here and there. Our practices are constantly getting better and better.”
“I’m so excited to play with April again. We’ve played together a few times in the past. Our first one was the World Championships where we got fourth, April has been such a good friend, and oh my gosh, we’ve known each other since we were 12. She’s been a great friend for the last 10 years. Whenever we get a chance to play we have so much fun and we enjoy it. Our styles are the same because we both played at Orange County Volleyball Club growing up, so we were taught very similar styles.”
No. 3 Angela Bensend and Geena Urango: In a year full of partner swaps, team Tex-Mex is bucking the trend as they enter their fourth season together.
This year Bensend moved back to Dallas from Southern California to be with her family and Urango said that in some ways it was a positive.
“At first I was worried because we weren’t practicing together,” Urango admitted, “but the more that we were practicing separately, in a way it was a good thing, because we’ve played together for three seasons, we know how each other works, we understand our team dynamics. We’ve been able to practice together all of April, but in the off season it was great because we were able to hone in on our own individual skill needs.
“We’ve been fine-tuning some different play sets to speed up our offense here and there, since we’re not the tallest team on tour, and our athleticism allows us that option. Benny has also been working on her hand-setting, so that’s been fun, too.”
No. 4 Lauren Fendrick and Lane Carico: 2016 Olympian Fendrick played in Fort Lauderdale with USC senior star Sara Hughes, finishing ninth. Her training schedule has been interrupted by her coaching duties at Stanford with husband Andrew Fuller, the head coach. Carico also competed in Fort Lauderdale with Irene Pollock, finishing 25th.
“Lauren and Lane are both very strong at their positions,” Pavlik said, “and they will be tough to deal with.”