As a journeyman on the tour, I have to start by saying it’s oddly gratifying that the FIVB and the Olympics have taken such precedence over domestic volleyball this year. Each week we see that our country’s top tour, in terms of competitiveness, is missing at least some of its poster boys and girls. This past weekend tournament in Seattle was missing three great teams on the men’s side and the top three women’s teams.
Ryan Doherty sprained his ankle two days before the start of the main draw and John Mayer didnt bother to search down the list for another blocker so late in the game. Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser chose not to crush themselves with travel from Russia to Seattle to Germany. Im starting to wonder if we will ever see John Hyden and Tri Bourne back in the states.
Have they defected?
On the women’s side, teams are regularly forgoing AVP’s. Kerri Walsh/April Ross, Brooke Sweat/Lauren Fendrick, Ali McColloch/Kelly Reeves, Jen Kessy/Emily Day, Caitlin Ledoux/Irene Pollock, Amanda Dowdy/Emily Stockman, and Jen Fopma/Brittany Hochevar have all taken turns skipping AVP’s to pursue international money and points.
What does this do to everyone else?
It bumps them up!
The status quo for finishes has reached new levels. With the top tier gone, everyone else moves up a little bit and finally gets a piece of the pie. Historically border teams (including me and whichever person will play with me that week) are now starting seeded in the middle of the main draw. It seems like EVERYONE now has a third and a fifth under their belts.
Tournaments without big dogs are opportunities for teams to start separating themselves from the pack. The non-Olympians have finally had some chances to be financially rewarded for the thousands of hours required to compete at the AVP level.
It will be interesting to see what happens in San Francisco and Manhattan Beach when the top international teams wont have tough choices to make with their schedules. Do these tournaments offer enough to counter the inherent risk before the Olympics? When top quarterbacks get an insurmountable lead in the NFL, they get pulled partly for protection. Will the Olympians start protecting themselves or institute a Michael Jordan-esque for the love of the game mindset? If you dont know about MJ’s special contract with the Bulls, look it up.
This week, in Seattle, we saw some of the ugly involved with travel and lack of rest. Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson came from Russia in rough shape. On the court, Casey looked uncannily tired in the beginning of the tournament while GIbb literally spent the 90 percent of the weekend in fetal position, battling food poisoning. He didnt have the energy for high fives or even taking his eyes of the ground. What he DID do was net 31 blocks in 10 sets! That’s simply insane.
Gibb played unconscious in more than one way but the game can be truly grueling. Another big blocker was forced to bow out early. Robbie Page suffered a tweak in his calf competing for his indoor team at adult nationals and couldnt manage to play out his last tournament with Todd Rogers. From the outside, it’s tough to justify not sticking with Rogers and soaking up as much of his 2.2 million dollars of winning knowledge as possible. Page will move on to Casey Jennings, which dominoes Bill Kolinske to play with Ty Loomis.
It was great to see Billy Allen take down an AVP title with Theo Brunner. Allen’s an unassuming worker who puts in the time without making a lot of noise and it’s finally paid off in the form of an AVP title. That’s a story less than 100 men in the history of the world can tell.
On the women’s side, Lane Carico won her first title with partner Summer Ross. Im hoping their winning trend continues because the USA women are in need of some international depth. We have a lot of teams competing but only one of them winning. Crossing my fingers that we can get back to international dominance across the board.
On the men’s side, AVP New York June 13-16 is going to be interesting. As of now Nick and Phil are slated to be back but three top men’s teams will be in Poland. No one knows if Doherty will heal in time. Brad Keenan has retired from playing to start coaching for Arizona State University. Sean Rosenthal picked up Jeremy Casebeer so there is a lack of big men on tour right now.
There are some questions left to be answered on all sides.
Who is Todd going to play with?
Will Kerri and April come back for this one?
If not, who’s most likely to take the title with four strong teams playing in Poland?
What about Derek Olson?
Will Avery Drost continue with Gregg Weaver after a great performance or trade up points for a chance to be auto-in? Tough to say no to an automatic thousand bucks!
Mark Burik, who also owns VolleyCamp Hermosa, can be contacted at Mark@VolleyCampHermosa.com, which organizes beach volleyball camps, clinics and lessons for all ages and levels in Hermosa Beach.