The AVP returns this week to the shores of Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, Wash., for the tour’s fourth stop of the season. Although many of the USA’s Olympic contenders are focused on qualification results, a very strong and balanced qualification field looks for a strong finish.
Thursday’s qualifiers are chock full of talent battling for the four main draw spots available. The qualifiers on both sides are so competitive it is difficult to pick a winner.
No. 1 qualifier seed Lynne Galli/Briana Hinga: Galli is a hard working and intense defender. Although she lacks the altitude of the top defenders, she makes up for it with grit and desire. She is partnering with Hinga, a converted collegiate basketball player and superb athlete. They were disappointed by their recent NorCECA qualification finish and intend to right the ship this weekend.
No. 2 qualifier seed Leah DeKok/Amanda Wiggins: DeKok is an experienced and athletic blocker with good reach. DeKok has never made it into a 16 team draw; this is her highest qualifier seeding. She nearly made it to the main draw at Huntington last year with Nicole Bateham. Amanda Wiggins has been making steady progress, reaching the main draw several times last year with Dana Fiume. Her defense is greatly improved; they look to make the main draw together for the first time.
No. 3 qualifier seed Aurora Davis/Bree Scarbrough: Davis is a Florida State grad with solid skills, if undersized at 5-foot-9 for the higher levels of today’s game. Davis has finished as high as ninth with Kelly Schumacher. Scarbrough is a strong blocker with AVP and NVL experience, with a seventh place in New Orleans with Brittany Tiegs.
No. 4 Meg Dawson/Delaney Knudsen: Dawson is a crafty lefty. Knudsen is an excellent all around player, and has a wealth of college experience, having played at the No. 2 pairs position at Pepperdine, who had one of the most aggressive schedules in beach competition this year. The pair has made the main draw once together, and Dawson made it once with Andrea Peterson.
Teams to watch:
There are almost too many strong teams to pick out of this field. Karissa Cook and Brittany Tiegs, formerly of Hawaii, have had good results recently and should do well.
Carrie Manwill and Valinda Roche narrowly missed the opportunity to make the draw at Huntington despite a third set lead, and will return with renewed fire.
University of Arizona twins Madison and McKenna Witt bomb the ball deceptively hard for players of slight build. This team will surprise a number of teams, as this is their first AVP competition.
The men’s qualifier is a land mine of competitive teams. The top 10 teams are teams that are used to being in the main draw, and have made impacts in the main draw previously.
No. 1 seed Paul Araiza/Alejandro Parra: Araiza is one of the most dynamic and exciting defenders on the tour, let alone the qualifier. Parra plays big at the net and the two have good chemistry after playing together since 2013. At Huntington they lost narrowly to Cody Kessel/David Smith in the first round of the qualifier. They will have a renewed sense of urgency.
Really excited for the tournament! Araiza said. Can’t wait. Qualifiers are always tough and competitive. Just because we’re number one doesn’t meant anything’s going to be easy. We have some tough teams in our brackets and look forward to the opportunity to play high level volleyball and advancing.
No. 2 Maddison/Riley Mckibbin: The McKibbin brothers are a dangerous team. Lefty Maddison puts up a huge block, and Riley has a very refined game. The brothers finished ninth at Huntington coming out of the qualifier. They have a lot of potential and could advance deep into the main draw.
No. 3 Avery Drost/Gregg Weaver: Drost is a fiery competitor with a powerful serve and heavy arm. Weaver is a wiley veteran that reads hitters well and plays solid defense. The pair finished 13th in Huntington, and can compete with anybody.
No. 4 Michael Brunsting/Chase Frishman: At Huntington, Brunsting/Frishman came out of the qualifier to finish ninth. Frishman is a rookie on the tour; Seattle is only his third AVP event, with a ninth and 17th so far. He plays amazing defense as belies his UCSD libero heritage. Brunsting is a powerful left-hander on his third year on the tour. The pair definitely opened a few eyes in Huntington, and are fun to watch.
Teams to watch:
No. 8 Miles Evans/Spencer McLachlin: Miles Evans came out of the qualifier to finish 5th at Huntington with Curt Toppel. He finished second in the NorCECA qualifier with Spencer McLachlin. In a few tournaments he has either been very lucky or he has ascended to the next level. Im thinking that he will continue his ascension, but Seattle will tell us how he and McLachlin are progressing.
No. 5 Raffe Paulis/Ian Satterfield: Paulis/Satterfield are one of the most complete teams in the qualifier field. Satterfield has been competing internationally in the Pan Am games (11th), NorCECA (fourth), and FIVB (33rd, two 41sts).
No. 6 Andrew Dentler/Shane Donohue: Dentler is a potent blocker that finished fourth at the recent NorCECA qualifier. Donohue is a high flying New Jerseyan with three 13th place finishes on the tour.
The finals will be broadcast on NBCSN from 1-3:30 PT.