Manhattan Beach: The Wimbledon of beach volleyball, the “Grand-daddy” of them all, the U.S. Open of beach volleyball, Gold Series, MBO, this is the one, the biggest and baddest domestic stop of the year.
Sure, Chicago has the championships, and hey, Hawai’i is a gorgeous venue, but make no mistake: The AVP Manhattan Beach Open that starts Thursday is the title everyone wants, not only for the enhanced prize money and points, but to be immortalized with a plaque on the Manhattan Beach pier.
Here’s what you need to know about the Manhattan Beach Open.
First, even though it’s an Olympic qualifying year, it’s a plenty tough field, headlined by Olympic gold-medalist Phil Dalhausser and silver- and bronze-medalist April Ross. A few stars have passed on Manhattan for the FIVB four-star in Moscow, but there’s still plenty of American, Canadian and Brazilian talent to promise an extraordinary weekend.
Second, it really is the U.S. Open. That means that teams have qualified through AVPNext Gold competitions across America, giving it a truly national feel.
Third, as befits an event of this magnitude, it is accompanied by the qualifier of all qualifiers, as 115 men’s and 74 women’s teams will vie for just eight main-draw spots.
The women’s field is loaded.
World Championship silver-medalists Ross and Alix Klineman? Check.
AVP Hermosa champions Betsi Flint and Emily Day? Check.
Sara Hughes, who picked up FIVB 2018 Best Blocker Brandie Wilkerson? Check.
And don’t forget the best team in the world over the past month, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, World Champions/Olympic qualifiers/Vienna five-star gold medalists, now a wild card? Check.
The men’s field is stacked as well. Dalhausser and Nick Lucena are coming off their season-best fourth-place finish at the FIVB five-star Vienna event.
The always-entertaining Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger have momentum of their own after Hermosa, with Budinger winning his first AVP title and Patterson getting his first Hermosa.
Three-time Olympic-medalist Ricardo Santos is back, reunited with Sean Rosenthal. John Hyden and Theo Brunner have brought the band back together after a trial separation for most of 2018. Tim Bomgren and high-flyer Troy Field are looking to recapture their early season form after podium finishes in Huntington Beach, Austin, and New York.
With Manhattan Beach featuring an expanded 32-team draw, the AVP has awarded wild cards to AVP Next Gold winners from Texas, California, Illinois, Florida, and Virginia, giving the tournament a decidedly national feel.
On the men’s side, Peter Connole and Steven Roschitz (Texas), Christian Honer and Brian Miller (California U26), Travis Mewhirter and Raffe Paulis (Illinois), Tyler Lesneski and Dave Palm (Florida), and Angel Dache and Brian Tillman (Virginia) get to bypass the dreaded qualifier.
For the women, Bree Scarbrough and Kathryn Hogan (Virginia), Crissy Jones and Susannah Muno (Colorado), and LSU’s Kristen Nuss and Claire Coppola (Texas U26) get to take Thursday’s qualifier off and prepare for Friday’s main draw.
As for the qualifier, the good news is that 24 teams are already in the main draw, so the quality of that last match to get in is one step down from say, a Huntington or Hermosa.
The bad news is that with 115 men’s and 74 women’s teams, Thursday’s qualifying pair will still need to win three or more matches to advance to the Manhattan Beach main draw.