Friday was a bittersweet day for pro beach volleyball.
It was sweet in that four teams — Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, Miles Evans and Ricardo Santos, Crissy Jones and Traci Callahan, and Sheila Shaw and Kenzie Ponnet — earned a berth in Saturday’s main draw.
But it was bitter in that 20 other teams’ season ended and can only look forward to 2021 as the AVP Porsche Cup in Long Beach, California, the third tournament in the only three weekends of pro beach volleyball this summer, got under way.
It’s bitter when we won’t get more chances to see teams like Molly Turner and Katie Hogan, who played impressively most of the day as the No. 12 seed. They beat Kelly Reeves and Terese Cannon but lost to Callahan and Jones when Turner missed her off-balance jumbo long.
It’s bitter when we’re treated to a vaunted matchup between Evans and Santos against Reid Priddy and David Lee, but the quality of the match declined when Priddy cramped in the second set, a victim of three competitive matches in the 85-degree weather, two of them exceeding an hour.
But it’s also sweet that we at least got three weekends of AVP action in this coronavirus summer.
Here are Saturday’s winners-bracket matchups featuring the six teams on each side who were already in the main draw and the two qualifiers that made it through in each gender:
Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena (1) vs. Miles Evans/Ricardo Santos (8, Q3)
Chase Budinger/Chaim Schalk (5) vs. Theo Brunner/Casey Patterson (4)
Tri Bourne/Trevor Crabb (3) vs. Jeremy Casebeer/John Hyden (6)
Billy Allen/Stafford Slick (7, Q1) vs. Taylor Crabb/Jake Gibb (2)
Alix Klineman/April Ross (1) vs. Mackenzie Ponnet/Sheila Shaw (8, Q6)
Emily Day/Lauren Fendrick (5) vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil (4)
Sara Hughes/Brandie Wilkerson (3) vs. Kelley Kolinske/Emily Stockman (6)
Traci Callahan/Crissy Jones (7, Q1) vs. Melissa Humana-Paredes/Sarah Pavan (2)
Allen and Slick fought their way out of the qualifier for the second time, defeating both Mark Burik and Billy Kolinske (21-18, 21-17) and Tim Bomgren and Troy Field (21-18, 21-19).
“We played two good teams and were pushed every game,” Allen said. “I thought we stayed steady and didn’t get rattled or over-adjust, but stuck to what we do best.
“Which is Stafford hitting really hard and me slapping it around.”
They will face Taylor Crabb and Gibb, who hold a 5-2 head-to-head advantage, at 9:10 a.m. Pacific.
Callahan and Jones are playing with confidence and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm that befits a team that started near the bottom of the qualifier ranks and has made it into the main draw in all three events.
“I am happy for our team to be in the main draw for the third weekend in a row. I think it says a lot about our resolve and determination,” Callahan said. “Today was a great demonstration of the variety of strengths we possess.
“I know I can speak for both myself and Crissy and say that we want to go deep in this last tournament series. Over the last two weekend we have played top teams in close matches. This weekend it’s our turn to get those wins.
Their reward is a matchup against Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes at 11:25 a.m. The Canadians hold a 2-0 head-to-head advantage, having defeated them in the contenders bracket the first weekend and in the first round of the main draw last Saturday.
In its third week, the Evans-Santos partnership is beginning to bear fruit. Santos spent most of the time read-blocking, generating eight terminal blocks and nine controlled blocks.
Evans and Santos defeated Ryan Doherty and Avery Drost (21-15, 25-23) and Lee and Priddy (16-21, 21-11, 15-9) to make their way into their second main draw. In last week’s Wilson Cup they came out of the qualifier but lost to Crabb and Gibb (21-11, 21-16) and Jeremy Casebeer and John Hyden (21-19, 21-19).
“Ricardo and I have been working on our weaknesses that other teams have exposed the entire time he has been in California,” Evans said. “I’m thankful to be able to practice with him all week and develop strong team chemistry.
“I had a lot more confidence coming into this qualifier trying to build off the success we had last weekend. I’m only looking to improve and learn from the great legend Ricardo.”
Evans and Santos will be put to the test immediately against the team that won the first two weekends, Dalhausser and Lucena, at 8:15 a.m.
Shaw and Ponnet are the surprise of the qualifier, breaking their No. 6 qualifying seed to make their first main draw.
Friday they beat Kim DiCello and Kendra VanZwieten (13-21, 21-15,15-8), avenged last week’s loss to Corinne Quiggle and Allie Wheeler (27-25, 21-17) and then beat the team that ousted them the first weekend, Cook and Pardon (17-21, 21-17, 15-13).
Shaw and Ponnet played scrappy ball and maintained service pressure throughout, eventually punching their ticket to the main draw on a first-ball sideout on a powerful crosscourt swing by Shaw.
“I’m so happy with how we played and competed today. We really stepped up in those matches that we had lost previously,” Shaw said while taking a post-action ice bath.
“We lost some close ones to both of those teams in round two and three, so it was nice to get a chance to get to play them again, and I thought we made some really good adjustments that were critical to winning those in three. I’m excited to continue our season, it’s not over yet, and hopefully carry this momentum through tomorrow.”
Shaw and Ponnet, however, face the team that has won both women’s titles, April Ross and Alix Klineman, at 10:20 a.m.
All of Saturday’s matches can be seen on Amazon Prime.