AVP Seattle is this week. But flash back to 2016.

Where were Billy Allen and Theo Brunner?

They were just there, only two seconds ago! Everyone saw them! They had just beaten Avery Drost and Gregg Weaver in the semifinals of the 2016 AVP Seattle Open, 21-14, 21-16.

The final, scheduled an hour later, promised to be a thriller, a matchup with the Crabb brothers, Taylor and Trevor, one of the hottest American teams at the time. Allen hadn’t played in a final in more than half a decade, when he and Brad Keenan lost to Sean Scott and John Hyden in a Jose Cuervo stop in 2011 in Manhattan Beach. Surely he couldn’t just be … gone.

But he was.

Allen and Brunner skedaddled as soon as their semifinal ended, hopped in a rental van and high-tailed it to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A few days later, they were scheduled to play in an FIVB tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Allen had never played on the FIVB Tour, and he was predictably thrilled at the opportunity –- but if he didn’t check his bags, and checkthemrightthissecond, there was a good chance he’d miss his flight. Then again, if he checked his bags rightthatsecond, there was an equally good chance he’d miss the Seattle final.

To hell with it. They were going to make it work. Allen and Bruner zipped through the airport, checked their bags, raced back to the van, hopped on the highway, which was, of course, congested with a parade of red taillights. They both called the AVP, giving them updates on their status –- 10 minutes away! 5! The AVP reserved a parking spot for them outside of the stadium.

By the time they arrived, the women’s final had already concluded, won by the then-precocious duo of Lane Carico and Summer Ross, and the Crabbs were lathered in sweat from warming up.

“We had no idea where they were,” Trevor said.

“I was stressed out because of that, but it also helped out because it never gave me time to worry about playing in a final,” Allen said. “We were just so worried about making it to the airport that it just kind of helped with the nerves.”

Evidently so. Allen and Brunner beat the Crabbs, 21-19, 19-21, 15-12.

Allen wouldn’t celebrate until two weeks later, after the FIVB in Germany and another in Poland.

“It was definitely happening so fast, like you weren’t even taking it all in,” Allen said. “It wasn’t until on the way home from our FIVB trip that I was like, ‘Oh yea, that was pretty cool, I won that tournament.’”

Last year was the same result, different celebration. Allen won with Stafford Slick, again beating a Crabb brother –- Trevor, who was playing with Sean Rosenthal -– and again having the final point sealed by his partner making a block.

“I just tried not to mess up,” he said in his signature knack for understatement. He didn’t, and afterwards he was able to reflect stateside with his wife, Janelle, and her family, “checking my phone every two minutes to read another congratulations text.”

And though he has not yet been given the key to Sammamish, Allen is, at the moment, its unofficial mayor. Ross, too, has won in consecutive years, though she will be in the Czech Republic for the four-star FIVB Ostrava.

The only one, then, who can extend the streak to three straight Seattle titles is Allen.

Women’s qualifier preview
Note: The AVP has granted one wild card per gender via AVP First. Many of you do not know these athletes, so a quick introduction.

WC: Megan Muret, Alexis Filippone
In 2017, Muret was named an AVCA High School All-American out of La Costa Canyon High School, while also winning a pair of CBVAs. Not that winning was entirely new for Muret: In 2015 and 2015, she helped La Costa win consecutive San Diego high school beach volleyball titles.

Filippone, who partners with Skylar Caputo –- more on her in a bit –- at Pepperdine, was recently named First-Team All-American after finishing 27-3. Their 27 wins are the second-most in Pepperdine history.

Kerri Schuh, Janelle Allen
There is a significant chance that these two will bypass the qualifier, depending on how Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman do in the Czech qualifier. Should Larsen and Stockman make it through, Schuh and Allen will get bumped up, and we all know how Allens do at Lake Sammamish. If not? They’ll be the top seed in the qualifier, though that might not necessarily be such a bad thing. Coming out of the qualifier in Austin, they claimed a fifth, matching Allen’s best finish on the AVP and setting a new best for Schuh.

Nicolette Martin, Allie Wheeler
With Sarah Day still out with a back injury, Martin turned to Wheeler, her former teammate at USC. And it was at this very site in 2015 that both players made their first AVP main draw. A year later in Manhattan Beach, they took their first single-digit finish, claiming ninth after coming out of the qualifier.

They haven’t played an AVP together since New York of last year, but with four main draws in six attempts, including a pair of ninth-place finishes, the old chemistry won’t take long to find.

Delaney Knudsen, Jessica Sykora
Two weeks ago, Knudsen and Sykora landed the upset heard ‘round New York, stunning Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan, currently ranked No. 8 in the world though who had previously been No. 1, in the final round of the qualifier.

Their reward? Going right back into the qualifier in Seattle. Such is the brutal nature of beach volleyball.

Heather Boyan, Kristen Petrasic
Petrasic –- known as KP to most –- and Boyan had a solid tournament in New York, beating Agnieszka Pregowska and Stacey Smith before challenging Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough deep into the third set, ultimately losing 16-14. Davis and Scarbrough went on to finish ninth in the main draw, so if there’s such a thing as a good loss, that one’s it.

If anything, it provided a moral victory heading into Seattle.

Taylor Nutterfield, Katie Lindelow
Lindelow had an excellent tournament in Austin, falling in the final round of the qualifier to Martin and Day. Though New York didn’t go as planned -– Lindelow lost in her first match -– they’ve both by now established themselves as players who can go deep into the qualifiers with regularity.

All it takes is one breakthrough.

Skylar Caputo, Torrey Van Winden
Land mine! It was only a year ago that Caputo, who still competes for Pepperdine, was in the semifinals here, defending for Pavan. Now she’s partnered with Van Winden, who plays for Cal Poly and finished the indoor season with the second-highest single-season kills per set average in program history.

McKenna Thibodeau, Madison Witt
Everybody’s favorite twins, Madison and McKenna Witt. While they have signed on as a developmental team with P1440, they are still free and clear to play AVPs since they have not yet played a P1440 affiliated event nor have they yet signed the AVP contract. Any tournament with these two in it is a better tournament, though with how far down they are seeded, they’ll certainly be no fun for a top seed to play against in the qualifier.

Men’s preview
WC: John Schwengel, Rowdy Lennon
Schwengel is on the US U-19 team and recently took a third in Cuba with Tim Brewster, a wristy lefty who nearly qualified with Schwengel in New York, pushing it to the third set of the final round against Ian Satterfield and Mark Burik.

Lennon plays outside for Santa Monica College, and he won a pair of qualifying matches with Schwengel in Manhattan last year, eventually losing to Billy Strickland and Aaron Wachtfogel.

Raffe Paulis, Marty Lorenz

The Marty Party is back. New York was a sort of tune up for Lorenz, who took considerable time off from Chicago of 2017 – he finished ninth with Chaim Schalk – until his 2018 debut in the Big Apple. He knew New York was just a tune up. Now it’s time for the real deal, with Raffe Paulis, with whom he qualified in Manhattan Beach of 2015.

After a nearly three-year hiatus, the team is back together again.

Mike Brunsting, Eric Beranek
I’ve never seen Beranek on the left, though he and Brunsting won an AVP Next a few weeks ago, so obviously he plays it quite well. Brunsting skipped New York, because New York is far, and New York is expensive, and if you don’t have a partner you’re supremely confident with, that’s a daunting qualifier to fly to.

Flying to Seattle is not as far, nor as expensive, and he has a partner he’s proven he can win with. 

Adam Roberts, Troy Field
New partnership! After taking a ninth in Austin, Field and DR Vander Meer took a loss in New York that many who weren’t watching the qualifier would have had some questions about, a 24-22, 21-10 drubbing at the hands of Sleepless in Seattle (Brett Ryan and Brian Miller). Towards the end of the first set -– which, it should be noted, Ryan and Miller were winning at the time –- Field suffered a bone bruise in his foot.

He finished the match at well less than 100 percent, though, again, it is imperative to mention that Ryan and Miller were playing excellent volleyball and could very well have won whether there was an injury or not.

Field’s healthy enough to run Seattle, scooping up Roberts, a brilliant volleyball mind with a reputation for developing talent.

DR Vander Meer, Ian Satterfield
With Field going to Roberts, this partnership makes perfect sense for Vander Meer. Satterfield and Field play almost the exact same style of volleyball, with impressive verticals, big presences at the net, and a lot of physicality offensively.

This really isn’t a step down at all for either Vander Meer or Satterfield, just a step in a different direction, and it could be a step in a very good direction, too.

Daniel Dalanhese, Duncan Budinger
There’s little more that fans should want to see than to watch Duncan and Chase play each other in main draw. If all goes well, hopefully we get a scene like this.

In all seriousness, though, this is a land mine. Dalanhese has played in four AVPs in the last three years and has made three main draws, taking a ninth in Manhattan Beach in 2016. Duncan took a seventh in San Francisco last year despite not having played an AVP since 2014.

Brett Ryan, Brian Miller
Sleepless in Seattle has woken up.

It was a bit of a rough start to the year for these two -– though a congrats is in order to Miller, who recently married –- losing in the first round in Huntington Beach and doing the same in Austin.

Then they delivered in New York, beating the sneaky good Floridian team of Philip Burrow and Jonathan Justice, smoking the injury-troubled Field and Vander Meer, then pushing top-seeded Ty Loomis and Piotr Marciniak to 17-15 in the third set in the final round.

Spencer Sauter, Dylan Maarek
This team. This teams makes a lot of sense. Sauter began the year with Adam Roberts, who has since turned to Field. Maarek began with Andrew Dentler, who’s playing in his hometown event, Pottstown.

Sauter is a big block with a tremendous side out percentage. Maarek is a crafty, slippery defender who never looks like he’s really trying all that hard but still manages to dig an incredibly frustrating volume of balls while also siding out at an impressive clip.

This is a team that, should they make it through, could very well win a few in main draw.

Branden Clemens, Kevin McColloch
This is an excellent pairing for Clemens, picking up a savvy veteran in McColloch, who may have taken some time off but is nonetheless still very much the player who took a seventh in San Francisco not all that long ago.

Another plus of this partnership is that they live relatively close to one another, so training, and finding a rhythm with a new partner, shouldn’t have been much of an issue

Hagen Smith, Lucas Yoder
Yes, I said I wouldn’t write about teams I’ve previously written about unless some new information is out, but this team could very well be the second-best team in the entire qualifier after the McKibbins. Smith might also be the fastest-improving player in the country, and that’s not limited to players in the qualifier.

If you haven’t watched these guys yet, you should. And if you haven’t, you’ll probably be watching them on Amazon soon enough.

Paul Araiza, David Lee
David Lee is 6-foot-8 and has won an Olympic gold and bronze medal.

Paul Araiza took a seventh in Seattle two years ago.

Lee is an incredibly physical, enormous human being with an impressive volleyball resume. Araiza is a fast, ball-control oriented beach player with an impressive resume of his own. Given how far down they are on the seeding, this might be the biggest land mine of the year.


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