The AVP Seattle Open is known as a tournament that creates first-time winners, and 2019 was no different as Emily Stockman, Jeremy Casebeer, and Chaim Schalk all sprayed champagne for the first time, while Stockman’s partner, Kelley Larsen, celebrated her third career victory.
Stockman and Larsen, who won a silver medal at the FIVB four-star event in Warsaw three weeks ago, defeated Emily Day and Betsi Flint in the final 21-17, 21-12.
Third-seeded Casebeer and Schalk won their first title together in a taut 21-19, 21-18 battle over top-seeded Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb. The freeze rule made for eight match points and 16 serves in 11 minutes.
The recaps follow and so does a photo gallery of the action on the shores of Lake Sammamish in suburban Issaquah by Stephen Burns.
It could be the heavy conditions, the hard-packed jumper’s sand, or the FIVB schedule, but the tournament has a history of first-time winners, especially on the men’s side, where Billy Allen had his first win in 2016 and Stafford Slick in 2017.
Stockman notched her first win in her 36th tournament, Casebeer in his 48th, Schalk in his 16th.
What’s more, it marked the third men’s winners in four AVP stops this season. Crabb and Gibb won in Huntington Beach and Austin, and Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena — who skipped Seattle — won in New York.
For Schalk, who became a father April 26 when pro beach volleyball player Lane Carico gave birth to Koa Wren, the win was especially sweet.
“It feels damn good. It sounds really good. We grinded all weekend and played our best ball,” Schalk said in the Amazon Prime post-match interview. “We’ve both been waiting for this a long time. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Casebeer was relieved that their hard work finally paid off.
“Things just clicked,” Casebeer said. “We’ve had good runs in previous tournaments, but this all happened and it feels damn, damn, good.”
The men’s final was a rematch of AVP Austin, where Crabb and Gibb had prevailed in straight sets. Casebeer served impressively throughout the weekend, serving a tournament-high 25 aces. Schalk put up 11 aces himself, fourth-best.
The first set stayed tight throughout, with no team gaining more than a two-point advantage. Casebeer came up with a pair of aces to give himself some breathing room at 18-16. That was all the margin they needed, closing the first set 21-19 on a Gibb net violation.
The second set was close as well. An impressive kong block by Casebeer put his team up 14-12, and his near-ace earned them a 16-13 margin that they would carry to the freeze at 20-17. Gibb and Crabb would narrow the lead to 20-18 on a Gibb block of Schalk.
Casebeer would finish the match after Schalk ran down a Gibb spike attempt that popped up off Casebeer’s fingertips, allowing Schalk to give him the opportunity to finish on a cross-court winner.
Dual-citizen Schalk, who previously competed for Canada, is transitioning to play for the USA, but has to wait until October.
“In Austin, we kind of got stuck in our game plan a little bit, but today we weren’t afraid to make adjustments on the fly, and we did such a good job of that,” Schalk said. “As soon as Jake got in a little bit of a rhythm, we got on Taylor, and as soon as he got in a little bit of a rhythm, we’d jump right back. That was really good, and we just stayed really steady the whole time. We didn’t give up many runs, and played strong ball.
“Jeremy was just a beast serving, and played big at the net. It made such a big difference.”
In the new pair’s four events this year, they have earned first-, second-, and two fifth-place finishes.
“I think we just play well together,” Casebeer said. “We started two and a half months ago, it was an easy transition, we both see the game in a similar way, we both like to work hard, and I think we compliment each other really well.
“Chaim scoops balls, had some clutch aces, float served when we needed them after I missed a few, I think we just back each other up when we need it.”
In the women’s final, Larsen’s block and Stockman’s transition offense kept Flint and Day off balance throughout.
“This means everything,” Stockman said in the Amazon Prime post-match interview. “Finally. Kelly was awesome out there, made it easy to make some defensive plays, and I thought we served really well. It’s been really great, I love Seattle.”
Stockman closed the match on their first match point after digging Flint’s high-line shot, then dropping her own high line just inside the corner to seal the championship.
Larsen scored five blocks in the final, and led the field with 18 for the tournament. Stockman tallied 75 digs, second only to Flint’s 84, and hit an impressive .588 for the weekend, behind only Amanda Dowdy’s .596.
Larsen knew that they had to neutralize Flint and Day’s serves. Flint and Day put up some impressive serving numbers, Flint with a tournament-leading 15, and Day’s 11 aces ranked her third for the weekend.
“Focusing on our side of the net was really big,” Larsen said. “They’re a great serving team, and we knew that they were going to come out pumping serves, and they did. They got a lead in the beginning, but we were able to fight back, make some defensive plays, and then kept the pressure on them.
“We were able to control their serves for the most part, and just worry about our side of the net.”
Larsen and Stockman have been competing on the FIVB tour, hoping to earn a berth for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Their argument recently was strengthened when they earned silver in Warsaw, collecting 360 FIVB points each.
Stockman said that the Mikasa ball used on the international tour helps them when they switch to the more forgiving Wilson ball used on the AVP tour.
“We’re pretty disciplined because the Mikasa is a very technical ball. You have to be disciplined with that ball, and I think it helps when you come to the AVP and use the Wilson,” Stockman said. “You can kind of get away with some stuff. Being disciplined technically has really helped our game.”
Larsen was extremely active at the net during the final, making some big moves that netted her five blocks as well as creating difficult situations for Day and Flint.
“It’s situational, it depends on the player and the set,” Larsen said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but watching the player’s approach, seeing where the set is, and making some moves means sometimes sticking to the call.”
Perhaps the best women’s match of Sunday was Larsen and Stockman’s 65-minute semifinal win over top-seeded Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil 18-21, 21-17, 17-15.
Claes and Sponcil executed their offense impressively in the first set, with a variety of location and tempo sets, as well as hitting liberally on two. But they couldn’t keep up their level of execution, and the Larsen block had something to say in the second set, forcing a tie-breaker.
The third set was a see-saw affair. Down 14-15, Larsen pulled, picked up a Sponcil high line, and successfully transitioned the 20-foot set with a two-handed joust to tie the score at 15-15.
A poor Stockman pass created a tough Larsen set, which caused Claes to Pull, but Stockman successfully spiked it inside-out from ten feet off to land it within a foot of the line to take a 16-15 lead and put them in the freeze.
On their second match point, Claes hit on two, but Larsen blocked it. Sponcil recovered the block,and Claes opted to poke it to the open court but clipped it wide.
In the other semifinal, Day and Flint recovered from a first-set loss to defeat Karissa Cook and Jace Pardon 19-21, 21-19, 15-11.
The men’s semifinals were both straight-set affairs as Crabb and Gibb defeated Billy Allen and Stafford Slick 21-18, 21-17, and Casebeer and Schalk defeated Chase Budinger and Casey Patterson 21-13, 21-19.
Crabb and Gibb established an early three-point advantage in the first set, and their offense was too reliable for Allen and Slick. In the second set, Gibb and Crabb made their move at 16-15, finishing on a 5-2 run to make their third final in four events, a remarkable feat of consistency.
Casebeer began an astonishing serve run to start the first set of their semifinal against Budinger and Patterson, pounding the first seven serves for aces, hitting impressive seam and both sideline locations.
The eighth also appeared to be an ace, especially as judged from the replay, but was judged to be long. Budinger and Patterson were never able to recover the initial seven point run, dropping the first set 13-21.
Budinger’s blocking and Patterson’s transition spiking kept them close throughout the second, until another Casebeer ace put the match away at 21-19.