AVP San Francisco presents opportunity for another new winner

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Dave McKienzie-AVP San Francisco
Dave McKienzie returns from Malaysia to compete domestically/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

They rolled and rolled and rolled. Sand was thrown. Lots of posts were made, though can you blame Ty Loomis and Maddison McKibbin for their somewhat famous — and, to some, notorious — celebration after winning AVP San Francisco a year ago?

It marked McKibbin’s first victory on the AVP Tour, and Loomis’ second of his career. A boon for both.

And San Francisco could be a similarly memorable site for another new team this year, both for the men and the women.

For the past two years, San Francisco has coincided with a high-level international event. Last July it was one of the most popular FIVBs of the year, in Gstaad, Switzerland. This year it’s a four-star in Portugal.

And though neither were Olympic qualification years, both events have proven big enough to lure some, though not all, of the United States’ top talent, clearing the way for a new team to finish atop the podium, as McKibbin and Loomis did in 2017.

Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen took gold on the women’s side, marking just their second victory as a team, and first in two seasons.

This year, six top-flight men’s teams are registered for Portugal – Theo Brunner-John Hyden, Jeremy Casebeer-Reid Priddy, Taylor Crabb-Jake Gibb, Phil Dalhausser-Nick Lucena, Miles Evans-Billy Kolinske, Casey Patterson-Stafford Slick – and eight women’s – Nicole Branagh-Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Kelly ClaesBrittany Hochevar, Emily Day-Flint, Amanda Dowdy-Irene Pollock, Sara Hughes-Summer Ross, Alix KlinemanApril Ross, Larsen-Emily Stockman, Caitlin Ledoux-Kendra VanZwieten.

Not all those registered will skip San Francisco. Much of it depends on the country quotas and qualifiers.

But many will, making San Francisco, once again, an enormous opportunity for wondrous chaos, a team, any team, to be featured in Sunday’s semifinals and finals.

But before Sunday’s finals must come, of course, the qualifier.

Men’s qualifier preview
Jeff Samuels, Dave McKienzie; McKienzie is back! He’s good for a few AVPs per year, and he doesn’t really seem to lose many steps no matter how long he takes off: His arm is still one of the heaviest in the tournament. McKienzie made four main draws in as many tries last year, and San Francisco, as it did last year, will mark his first AVP of the year. Samuels, meanwhile, is seeking his first main draw of the season after late-round losses in the previous three tournaments.

Ben Vaught, Branden Clemens: After a few tournaments off, Vaught and Clemens have put the band back together again. It’s quite possible this will be a smooth reunion for the two, in one of those “You don’t know what you got ‘till you dump your partner and go 0-2 without him” type of ways.

Either way, these two have incredible chemistry together, both on and off the court, and it won’t take long to get back.

Spencer Sauter, David Vander Meer: Both Sauter and Vander Meer have experimented with a number of partners thus far, Sauter having begun the year with Adam Roberts, turning to Dylan Maarek in Seattle, and now to Vander Meer, who began with Logan Webber, enjoyed success with Troy Field, and nearly made it in Seattle with Ian Satterfield.

And, again, this is a partner that makes perfect sense for Vander Meer – a big, physical blocker behind whom he can play his signature scrappy, hard-nosed defense.

Brett Ryan, Garrett Wessberg: This will be the first AVP tournament in which Ryan has not played with his usual partner, Brian Miller, and he’s made an excellent pickup in Wessberg, who has played well across the board thus far. Both Ryan and Wessberg pushed Ty Loomis and Piotr Marciniak to three sets in the AVP New York qualifier, and now they’re joining forces.

Paul Lotman, Eric Beranek: Beranek is riding the high of his first main draw appearance in Seattle, and Lotman very nearly joined him, falling in the final round to…none other than Beranek and Mike Brunsting. It’s a fairly common practice for a guy to turn to the defender who beat him, and with Brunsting out for coaching duties at Junior Olympics, it makes sense for Beranek to turn to Lotman.

Andrew Dentler, Shane Donohue: East Coast Mafia alert! Dentler’s a native Pennsylvanian – not New Jersey, from where Donohue hails. They’ve already won Pottstown together, so the transition to the beach shouldn’t be much of an issue for this team.

Ric Cervantes, Jake Rosener: Most casual fans haven’t heard much about Cervantes, mostly because he hasn’t really traveled or played a bunch of AVPs. But know this: He’s an excellent defender, having made it through in Hermosa Beach a year ago with Mike Stewart. Rosener, meanwhile, is a solid block whose game will complement Cervantes’ ball control and steady defense quite well.

Matt Motter, Kevin McColloch: Land mine! Motter could very well have the heaviest, nastiest arm swing in the entire tournament, let alone in the qualifier. Each come packing a big swing, bigger jump serves, and enough experience on the beach to make a run through the qualifier and potentially win a few in the main draw, where McColloch claimed seventh last year.

Garrett Wilson, Roman Onishchenko: Onishchenko hasn’t played an AVP yet this year, though given his past history in qualifiers, he’s certainly no guy to sleep on despite him owning zero AVP points. In 2016, he took Avery Drost and Gregg Weaver to three sets in the final round in Huntington Beach, did the same to the McKibbins in Seattle, and Loomis and Marty Lorenz in San Francisco after that. Wilson nearly stunned Mexico’s top team in Huntington Beach earlier this year, so while the seed of this team isn’t exceptional, it’s also deceiving.

Lev Prima, Kacey Losik: Losik’s first major partner change! I suppose this makes him a real beach volleyball player now or something. Having played with Wilson for six AVPs, he’s now partnered up with Prima, who has been a monster on the NorCal CBVA circuit this year, winning all four open or AAA tournaments he’s played in thus far, including most recently the Santa Barbara Open, which the two won as a team.

Women’s qualifier preview

Terese Cannon, Jace Pardon: Pardon has been quite the traveler this season, playing in five FIVBs: two in Australia, one in Turkey, one in China, and another in Singapore. Now she’s back on U.S. soil, playing with one of the best blockers in the qualifier in Terese Cannon, a USC product with the typically glittering Trojan resume to show for it.

Brittany Tiegs, Bre Moreland: It hasn’t been the start to the year that Moreland wanted, with consecutive first-round knockouts in Austin and New York. But a tournament off in Seattle might be just the trick, as she’s picked up Tiegs, who has taken a ninth and a thirteenth thus far.

Summer Nash, Pri Lima: After a close loss in the third round of New York, Nash and Lima are back for their second tournament as a team, in a qualifier that, on paper, should be significantly lighter than New York. Nash has also been getting plenty of tournament reps, playing a pair of FIVBs in China and Singapore with Pardon.   

Corinne Quiggle, Agnieszka Pregowska: Such a tantalizing year it’s been for Quiggle, with three consecutive final-round qualifier knockouts. With Cannon off to play with Pardon, she’s picked up Pregowska, who is seeking her first AVP main draw via qualifier (she qualified for FIVB Huntington as a member of the Polish team).

Megan Rice, Sarah Putt: Rice was the NVL Breakthrough Athlete from 2016, having taken a pair of thirds and a first in just three tournaments that year. It’s been a quiet two years since, as Rice played just once in 2017 and has fallen in the qualifiers twice this year, in Austin and New York. The same year that Rice earned the Breakthrough Athlete on the NVL, Putt became Stetson’s first beach All-American, finishing with a 32-3 record.

Alexa Strange, Bailey Bars: Strange has made two of three main draws this season, though both have been with Falyn Fonoimoana. For San Francisco, she’s running with Bars, a former outside hitter at Idaho State who, as a junior, was named MVP of the Boise State Invitational. In a June 16 AVP Next, the two finished fifth.

Kim Hildreth, Sarah Schermerhorn: Hildreth enjoyed a phenomenal 2016 on the NVL, taking home Best Setter, Best Defensive Player and Fan Favorite. In 2017, she won the only event the NVL hosted. Like Quiggle above, it’s been a tantalizing year for Hildreth and Schermerhorn, who lost a marathon of a third-rounder to Nicolette Martin and Sarah Day in Austin (30-28, 17-21, 13-15) and a three-setter to Lara Dykstra and Sheila Shaw in New York.

Perhaps San Francisco is the turning point of the season.

Cassie House, Molly Turner: House did a little bit of everything in college, finishing seventh on New Mexico’s all-time kills list while also playing two years of sand. She then took her grad year at TCU, playing for the Frogs’ No. 1 team. Turner was an All-American for Grand Canyon after a 22-3 junior season, and after making a pair of main draws in 2017, she made her first of the year – and House’s first of her career – in Seattle a few weeks ago.

Branagan Fuller, Camie Manwill: Branagan! After a pseudo retirement to go study law at Oregon, Fuller has climbed her way out of the mountain of law school reading to get back to the beach. She’s had success in San Francisco, too, taking a ninth with Delaney Knudsen a year ago.

Lindsey Knudsen, Isabelle Carey: While big sis Delaney is enjoying quite a year, taking down Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan in New York and then claiming ninth in Seattle, San Francisco marks Lindsey’s first AVP of the season. She’s partnered up with Isabelle Carey, a National Champ at UCLA who in 2017 finished with the best record (32-3) of any beach player in Bruin history.

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