The first stop on the AVP “Gold Series,” featuring an enhanced $87,500 purse per gender, wowed AVP New York with plenty of Olympians and a first-time win for Taylor Crabb.
April Ross and Lauren Fendrick won the women’s championship and the $18,000 first-place check that goes with it, beating Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross 24-22, 21-15.
In the NBC-televised men’s final, Taylor Crabb scored his first win with Jake Gibb, as they defeated Billy Allen and Stafford Slick 21-16, 25-23.
Sweat and Summer Ross advanced to the final with a 26-24, 21-15 semifinal win over Kim Dicello and Emily Stockman, while April Ross and Fendrick defeated top-seeded Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar 18-21, 21-15, 15-13.
In the men’s semifinals, Allen and Slick advanced to the final in straight sets over Trevor Crabb and Sean Rosenthal 21-19, 21-15, while brother Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb defeated Ricardo Santos and Chaim Schalk 21-19, 21-16.
First the women.
The first semifinal marked the first domestic appearance of Sweat and Ross, who were coming off a finals appearance in last week’s FIVB Moscow against DiCello and Stockman, who were second in AVP Austin and fifth at AVP Huntington.
Sweat and Ross’ defensive skills were on display in the 26-24, 21-15 win. Ross not only blocked well, but made key overhand digs on blocking pulls. Sweat made it difficult for the DiCello-Stockman defense, passing it up to the net for Ross to spike on two before DiCello could transition from serving to blocking.
In the first set, Stockman had a swing to win it, but Ross pulled angle and made a great dig to save the set. A short serve by Sweat forced a tight pass by DiCello, and Stockman’s pokey fell short to give Sweat and Stockman the win.
The second set was mostly Sweat and Ross, who jumped out to a 5-2 lead on effective serving. DiCello brought it back to 10-9 on a DiCello block plus a DiCello deflection that went straight up, allowing her to poke it easily into the opposition backcourt.
The Sweat and Ross defense then took over, with a combination of Sweat’s defensive prowess and Ross’ blocking skills to close out the match.
The second semifinal was a display of power volleyball. It was also the second tournament for Olympians Ross and Fendrick, who finished ninth in FIVB Moscow. Day and Hochevar have also been active on the FIVB circuit, with a ninth in Fort Lauderdale, a fifth in Xiamen, and a ninth in Moscow.
Both teams made several run at each other in set one. A Hochevar ace and dig, and a Day pull and dig gave them a 5-1 lead, but a pair of Ross digs and transitions brought it back to 5-4.
A later pair of Ross errors coupled with a Hochevar shot dig gave them a 16-11 margin.
Ross and Fendrick battled back with a Ross trickler ace for 16-13, followed by Ross unloading on a transition spike for 18-15, and a Day hitting error for 18-16.
From there, both offenses sided out efficiently for a 21-18 win for Hochevar and Day.
Their intensity fueled by the loss of the first set, Ross and Fendrick came out hot in the second set, with Fendrick scoring a huge angle block on Day for a 4-1 lead. Day recovered a bit of the momentum with a trickler ace to bring it back to 4-3 and hammered a jump serve down the middle for 11-12.
April Ross took over with a series of tough serves, including aces for 17-13 and 20-15. Fendrick and April Ross won game two 21-15 as a Summer Ross handset was called for a double-hit.
In the third set, Fendrick and Ross led most the set, with 6-3 and 12-8 leads behind tough serving in swirling wind. A Day block and a collision between April Ross and Fendrick appeared to dislocate April Ross’ right big toe.
“I came down and I kicked Lauren literally,as hard as I could, and I think she kicked me at the same time I kicked her, and my toe got the bad end of it.,” April Ross said to AVP announcer Mark Schuermann.
Out of the medical time-out, Ross spike a ball onto the sideline for a 14-13 lead. Hochevar’s pass was tight to the net, forcing Day to poke it over on two, going long.
The women’s final had all the ingredients of a great match and at the beginning of the first set, Ross, hobbled by the dislocated right big toe, was barely able to move, and appeared to muster only half of her jump. Her formidable jump serve was replaced by a less effective standing floater.
Sweat and Summer Ross jumped out to an 8-2 lead on the good side, giving the appearance that they would run away with the match given April’s lack of mobility. Fendrick, however, came up with some tough serving of her on on the good side, and closed to 9-7.
April hit a standing trickler ace to make it 10-10, and the game was on. April’s mobility and leap improved markedly throughout the set to the point where she was jump floating effectively by the end of the set. Although April was not the world-beating left-sider that we know, she was still April Ross, and played effectively enough to keep it close until she finished set one with a one-handed overhand dig-on-one for 24-22.
In set two, Sweat and Summer changed strategies, serving Fendrick instead. Fendrick sided out effectively and April read Sweat and Summer’s shots effectively to a 17-12 lead.
Summer responded with a responded with two blocks to reduce their deficit to 17-14, but then committed a hitting error for 18-14.
April’s successful dig and ensuing spike gave their team a 20-14 lead and match point. Summer served a tough line serve to score 15, but Fendrick added an exclamation point by stuffing Summer on two to finish the match.
“When we started to warm up I could tell how much her foot hurt her, and I thought we were going to call it, but she said, ‘You know, let’s go out there and give it a try, and see what happens,’ and she’s a fricking warrior,” Fendrick told the AVP. “Are you kidding me? This isn’t the first time she’s done something like this, so it’s really incredible to play with someone that can do this.”
“Honestly, I told Lauren, you do everything you can, and I’ll just work around you,” April Ross said. “She’s a force at the net, she pulled, she got some digs, she sided out great, and played amazing. I love to have her on my side.”
In the men’s semifinals, there was Allen and Slick, who have enjoyed a nice season thus far, with a domestic third (Austin) and fifth (Huntington) to add to two 17ths and a 33rd internationally. Crabb and Rosenthal have started the 2017 campaign with a second (Austin) and fifth(Huntington) domestically, while earning a fifth (Xiamen) and a 17th (Fort Lauderdale).
Allen was his usual nonplussed self, while Slick occupied himself bouncing balls into the sand. Crabb and Rosenthal played well, but just not as well, and lost the first set.
In set two, everything went right for Slick and Allen on defense. The quality of their touches exceeded that of their opponents, leading to better sets and better rhythm and ultimately more points. All the small plays, the block touches, the missed serves, the out-of-system plays, all seemed to go to Allen and Slick. Allen and Slick finally closed out when Allen dug a Crabb angle spike, and spiked a sizzler that Rosenthal couldn’t control.
In the second semifinals, three of the four participants had participated in the Olympics, Gibb for the USA, Santos for Brazil and Schalk for Canada. Both teams are relatively inexperienced together, as Gibb and Crabb have played five events together and this was the first event for Santos and Schalk. Waht’s more, Santos’ English is limited, as is Schalk’s Portugese.
Nevertheless, both teams played like the experienced professionals they are. In set one, both teams stayed within two points of each other the entire match, with Gibb and Santos trading blocks.
Santos turned the conversation in his favor with a Crabb block to go up 18-17, but a moment later Crabb dug Schalk’s angle chop, and took an aggressive high swing off the Santos block for the 19-18 lead.
A minute later, Crabb scored a high middle ace off Schalk on their first game point attempt to take set one 21-19.
In the second set, both teams stayed within range. Ricardo had a block that tied it at 14-14. Ricardo and Crabb traded cut shot digs, and then Crabb beat Schalk to the net in a moment of confusion and crushed the ball for 16-14. A subsequent short serve ace and a Gibb block gave the Americans the margin they needed.
After the score freeze at 20-16, the teams sided out six consecutive times before Gibb took a big step into Santos’ angle, roofing his spike to end it.
In the men’s final someone would achieve his dream of winning his first AVP final. Slick has been in seven semifinals, but never advanced. New York is Crabb’s fourth final, but he had never broken through. Allen, a 35-year-old veteran, scored his first win last year with Theo Brunner in Seattle. Gibb, a three-time Olympian (2012-16) had 25 domestic wins coming into the final.
In the first set, both teams stayed within two points of each other through 8-8. Gibb and Crabb made a five-point run. A Crabb dig and beautiful waterfall shot earned them a 17-11 score, which was all the lead that they would need.
Crabb hit long to give one back at 17-13, but a tight pass by Slick forced Allen to pokey out to give Gibb and Crabb set point at 20-14. Crabb finished it on a crosscourt spike
The second set was another well-played game, especially a monster rally with the ball crossing the net eight times including three Slick blocks, plus Slick taking a hard spike off his head that Allen retrieved near the barrier. The point ultimately went to Crabb and Gibb for a 5-2 lead.
Gibb and Crabb took a 12-9 lead into the technical time-out on a Slick net call on a jousted ball and a narrowly missed swing by Slick.
Slick and Allen crawled back to 18-18, but a Crabb sideout and a cut shot by Slick that fell wide of the mark froze the score at 20-18. As in their previous semifinal, Gibb ended the match on the fourth match point by stepping into Slick’s angle to clinch young Crabb’s first AVP championship.
After the match, NBC’s Dain Blanton asked Crabb what the difference was in his fourth final.
“I just got more comfortable today,” Crabb said. “The first three, I didn’t know what to expect, but this one just felt like every other game, and I was prepared. We have a great coach (Marcio Sicoli) who prepares us well, and I have a partner that prepares well too, so it was easy.”
Asked about his partner’s nerves, Gibb laughed.
“He needed to calm my nerves. I felt like it was my first final. And this kid was calm and collected, and he played amazing the whole weekend, I’m so proud of him. I want to thank our coach Marcio, he’s been in our corner, he’s been shaping this team. We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s nice to see some good things come out of it.”
It was time to go out in New York.
“We’re going to have fun tonight,” Crabb said.