AVP men: Breaking down the 12 teams in this week’s qualifier

AVP men's preview 7/16/2020-AVP Huntington Beach 5/4/2019-
Troy Field swings for the ocean as he tools the block of Ricardo Santos/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

The Real Housewives of the AVP, as Ty Loomis coined these past few weeks of partner swapping and point grabbing, has met its season finale. Everyone has, alas, chosen their partner for the upcoming blitz of the 2020 season. Old partners have become new once more. Guys who have never competed together are giving it a go. Some are switching positions. Some are playing with individuals who don’t speak their language.

Things are going to get weird, and exciting, fast.

The qualifier for the first in the AVP Champions Cup Series, the Monster Hydro Cup, begins Friday. Below is a quick glimpse at the teams you, unfortunately, won’t be able to watch, as streaming is limited to main draw only. Two teams come out of Friday’s qualifier and into Saturday’s 8-team main draw. Here is who is in the mix:

No. 1: Miles Evans, Ricardo Santos
The last two years have seen an enormous rise in Evans’ stock, as he returned to competing on the AVP Tour after spending the majority of the previous season overseas with Bill Kolinske. He has been able to succeed at every level of the game, from the FIVB, where he and Kolinske were regulars in four-star main draws; to the AVP, where he made his first final, in Hermosa Beach with Ryan Doherty; to the small but mighty tournaments like Seaside and Waupaca, which he has won four times in the last two years. While Ricardo, a 45-year-old legendary Brazilian blocker, is a much different partner than Kolinske, with a far different skill set, who speaks a different language, it’s still beach volleyball. Two players with that type of talent and experience will be just fine in picking it up together — though if there is one tournament where they may struggle, it would be the first, as they attempt to figure it out. Evans has only ever played with hand setters, and Ricardo almost exclusively bump sets, sometimes not so accurately. It will be a transition, and one he can make, to be sure, but the Monster Hydro Cup is unlikely to be the peak of this team.

No. 2: Reid Priddy, David Lee
Enormous credit must be given to Priddy here: While the rest of the AVP was playing, as Loomis dubbed it, Housewives, swapping partners, finding any possible path to main draw, Priddy never wavered in his commitment to Lee. With a Manhattan Beach Open win on his point total, Priddy could have been straight into main draw with virtually any partner of his choosing — and many did ask — but he stuck with Lee. He’s playing the long game with his longtime teammate and new partner, set on competing in the 2021 — or 2022 now — World Championships. The Monster Hydro Cup will be the first look at Priddy and Lee, who have a full off-season of focused reps with USA Volleyball.

No. 3: Stafford Slick, Billy Allen
2019 was a bit of an off year for Slick and Allen, who only made one semifinal after reviving their 2017 partnership, in which they made five semifinals, three finals, and won an event. On the AVP, they’re not exactly accustomed to competing in qualifiers, but this really isn’t too new for them, as they were in qualifiers in Xiamen, Ostrava, Warsaw, Rome, and Doha in the past year alone. The cutthroat, single elimination format won’t be much of a bother. Long Beach is, after all, a slightly better commute than Xiamen. If there’s a team with the best odds to win the event out of the qualifier, this is my pick.

No. 4: Troy Field, Tim Bomgren
Team TNT is, after a brief breakup — classic long distance relationship problems — back together. What a weird off-season this was. Field committed to Casey Patterson for few months, and Bomgren was supposed to play with Theo Brunner. But Patterson and Brunner rekindled the flames of their 2017 partnership, with September’s King of the Court in mind, leaving Field and Bomgren back on the market. It makes perfect sense for the two to get back together. Bomgren is a Minnesotan superhero who finally has about as many reps as the rest of the AVP coming into a season, and Field was able to thrive off Bomgren’s well-rounded skill-set, both having career years in terms of prize money. If anything, the next three weeks will be fun for Bomgren to get a taste of the full-time professional beach volleyball life, as he’s staying in Southern California, able to practice and get reps with his partner for the first time since he and his brother stopped playing together.

No. 5: Ryan Doherty, Avery Drost
This could be the first step into the next phase of Drost’s career as a full-time defender. He’s done it before, playing a handful of events with Bill Kolinske, including a third in AVP New York in 2016. He’s fully capable of playing defense, especially behind Doherty’s 7-foot block. The best defense for this team, though, may be their serves. Drost packs a high-velocity jump serve, while Doherty brings both placement and the sheer weirdness of attempting to pass a serve coming from the angle of a 7-foot server. To remain in system against Drost and Doherty will be no easy feat, but it’ll be necessary to side out against them.

No. 6: Maddison McKibbin, Riley McKibbin
Just when the McKibbins get out of the qualifier, they get thrown right back in. You almost have to feel for these guys, who have grinded and grinded and grinded, and haven’t yet been able to be directly into the main draw for an entire season. This year may have been the one, until Covid happened, and only the top six teams were able to be directly into the main. No matter. The qualifiers are home for these two, and aside from the aberration of New York last year, they pretty much always make it out. If the comfort level of playing in a single-eliminations format offers any value, the McKibbins will have more of it than anyone.

No. 7: Bill Kolinske, Sean Rosenthal
Kolinske was at the center of the partner-swapping madness, as he possesses a variety of sought-after assets: left-side blocker, lots of points, veteran experience. Initially, he was set to play the season with John Hyden, but Hyden and Jeremy Casebeer had enough points together to get straight into the main draw. This left Sean Rosenthal, who was supposed to play with Casebeer, as a new free agent. This provided Kolinske with a host of options: Rosenthal, Miles Partain, Ty Loomis. He opted for Rosenthal who, no matter his age or how much he practices, will forever be ready come game time. Both Kolinske and Rosenthal made a semifinal last year, and Rosenthal really should have made the finals in Hermosa, but the freeze got the best of he and David Lee. They’re fully capable of making a deep run in the Monster Hydro Cup.

No. 8: Ed Ratledge, Skylar del Sol
When Rafu Rodriguez moved across the country in March, to Florida, where he’d be closer to his family in Puerto Rico, Ratledge knew that would be the end of their successful partnership. So what did he do but find the next closest proxy to Rafu, landing on del Sol, with whom he took a ninth in Chicago in their first tournament. del Sol’s skill set is remarkably similar to Rodriguez’s: They both have an argument to be the best setters on Tour, and both have formidable jump serves capable of earning points in bunches. While Rodriguez may be the more experienced of the two, del Sol has plenty of room to grow, and who better to do it with than Uncle Ed, the consummate teacher?

No. 9: Rafu Rodriguez, Piotr Marciniak
Speaking of Rafu, he’s back with his old partner from 2017, Piotr Marciniak. It makes sense in virtually every manner a beach volleyball partnership can make sense: They’ve played well together before, they live close together, can train together, and are in similar phases of life. In Florida, they’ve been able to compete in four tournaments, proving to be absolutely dominant against decent fields — not AVP level fields, but decent. They have excellent ball control to run a fast, shifty offense, and both serve well enough to earn points in streaks. The constant travel back and forth from Florida might not exactly be advantageous, but going West is, of course, easier than East, so jet lag shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

No. 10: Mike Brunsting, Chase Frishman
Gotta love to see the band getting back together for a reunion, and potentially retirement, tour. Brunsting is a happy dad now, to an adorable baby boy named Atticus, and Frishman has been exploring some new and existential ventures in his Subaru Outback. But seeing as they both had enough points to get into the qualifier, and they’ve had the most successful runs of their respective careers together, it made perfect sense to get back together and compete for the next three weeks. They’re both as natural as it comes in this sport, so even if they haven’t been training regularly, I honestly don’t think either will show any signs of rust. They’ll be the same, smooth, scrappy team they’ve always been.

No. 11: Ty Loomis, Miles Partain
This team is going to be one of the most frustrating to play against. Partain is one of the most aggressive and deceiving on-two players on the AVP — and his ability to do just that helped him win the 2019 AVP Rookie of the Year — and Loomis is a good enough passer to make it readily available. Not much will be conventional about Loomis and Partain, from the offense they run to the split-blocking they’ll do as two undersized defenders. But it won’t be easy for teams to figure out a sound defensive strategy for them, because rare will be the time they do the same thing twice. They’ll run shoots, options, quicks, back sets, oversets — anything to keep the defense on their toes, running in circles.

No. 12: Andy Benesh, Eric Beranek
If this had been a normal season, I would have hammered this team in Vegas, throwing all $16.72 of my net worth on them to be the breakout team of the AVP. Alas, this is not a normal season, and Vegas unfortunately does not accept beach volleyball bets, but still: This is my pick for the breakout team. It won’t be easy, given their seed, but I sincerely mean it when I say they can beat anybody save for maybe Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. They dominated the King of the Road Dogs tournament in June, smashing what was a pretty thick field of professionals, and they’ve put in a quality off-season of focused reps with their coach, L.T. They might be green, and therefore prone to the green mistakes of youth, but they have more upside as a team than any I see on this list. Maybe it won’t happen in tournament one, but this team will have their breakthrough.

The top finishers in the three-event series, the “Race to the Champions Cup,” will receive a share of the $100,000 total bonus pool. The top team per gender receives an additional $25,000, second receives $15,000 and third $10,000.

Amazon Prime will show Saturday’s and Sunday’s action, except the Monster Hydro women’s final, which will be shown live on NBC. NBC will also carry a Saturday afternoon men’s match, and NBCSN will simulcast one of the Wilson Cup finals July 26 and a Porsche Third Cup final August 2. Broadcast info can be found here.

Read our other new AVP Champions Cup Partnerships features:


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