The leadup to Friday evening may have posed more questions than any other event on the 2022 AVP calendar combined. What would the setup for the AVP Phoenix Gold Series Championships look like in the massive Footprint Center, home to the Phoenix Suns? What would the attendance be? Would an arena impact the play or style of beach volleyball we’ve become accustomed to seeing on a natural beach? Could this six-team, single-elimination, season-ending event, played for $100,000, be a successful model for future seasons?
The short answer to all of those questions can be summed up in a word: Success.
The players, all 24 of them, were unanimously impressed with the venue, and how the AVP was able to transform an arena typically used for NBA games into a single beach volleyball court, whose dimensions are a little more than half the size of a basketball court. More than 3,000 paying fans were reported at the Footprint Center on Friday evening. And the play was the usual, exceptional variety we have seen since the season-opening event in Austin, Texas, since May 6.
Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, who punched their ticket to Phoenix with a win at the Chicago Gold Series, opened the evening looking very much like the only team who has won multiple events on the AVP this season, sweeping Geena Urango and Julia Scoles, 21-15, 21-16. That was the first of four straight sweeps on the evening, one which preceded another dominant showing, this one by Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint, a Phoenix local who beat the wild-carded team of Zana Muno and Sarah Pavan, 21-17, 21-16.
The men’s side, too, featured a chalk walk, as fourth-seeded Miles Partain and Paul Lotman beat Casey Patterson and Andy Benesh, a team thrown together at the eleventh hour. Patterson’s usual partner, Phil Dalhausser, had to pull out due to illness, and Benesh, who was informed on Wednesday evening that he’d be Dalhausser’s replacement, made the 370-mile drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix on Thursday morning.
The semifinals in Phoenix will begin at 10 a.m., with top-seeded Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske playing Nuss and Kloth. That’s followed by second-seeded Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil, who will play her former partner in Cheng and Flint.
The men’s semifinals begin at 12:15, with top-seeded Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb matching up with Lotman and Partain, which is followed by second-seeded Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner against Crabb and Sander, a rematch of the Hermosa Beach finals.
Both the men’s and the women’s finals will be played at night, after the fifth and sixth place matches, as well as the bronze medal matches.