With strong winds again buffeting the San Francisco bay much of the day, there was plenty of parity Saturday at AVP San Francisco. And plenty of new faces took advantage to get into Sunday’s semifinals.
On the men’s side, sixth-seeded Ed Ratledge and Roberto Rodriguez play top-seeded Ryan Doherty and Billy Allen at 9:15 a.m. Pacific, followed by No. 5 Chase Budinger and Sean Rosenthal — a new pair in 2018 — against seventh-seeded Tim Bomgren and Chaim Schalk at 10:15 a.m.
On the women’s side, second-seeded April Ross and Alix Klineman play No. 4 Caitlin Ledoux and Geena Urango Sunday at 11:15 a.m. Pacific, followed by top-seeded Emily Day and Betsi Flint against another new pair this season, eighth-seeded Brittany Howard and Kelly Reeves at 12:15 p.m.
Ross and Klineman, back together again after Klineman took time off to rest her shoulder, got into the semis when Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman had to withdraw because of Stockman’s back issues, so they never even had to serve on a day when the wind reached 20 mph.
First-time semifinalists Howard and Reeves only needed one match in the winners bracket, a 21-17, 21-17 win over Ledoux and Urango.
Ledoux and Urango were able to climb back into the semifinals from the contenders bracket by beating Lauren Fendrick and Sarah Sponcil 21-15, 21-15.
Day and Flint needed two matches to make the crossover, defeating No. 11 Lara Dykstra and Sheila Shaw (20-22, 23-21, 15-12) and No. 5 Lane Carico and Karolina Marciniak (22-20, 21-17).
Their wins will give them a chance to avenge a second-round loss to Howard and Reeves on Friday.
Howard and Reeves, who placed ninth in the last three events, have made a quantum leap to reach at least third place in San Francisco.
“We’ve worked really hard this week to iron out some kinks we were running into,” Howard said in the Amazon Prime post-match interview. “Different things that have come up. The biggest thing that we worked on was just trusting ourselves and trusting each other in the way that we train and not having any concerns or doubts, just playing the way we know how.”
Howard, who played indoors at Stanford and then one beach season at Pepperdine, and Reeves, who played indoors at UCLA, were down 13-16 in set one against Ledoux and Urango before they turned the tide and never looked back. A big part of the win was Howard’s improved blocking, scoring six blocks in the quarterfinal, including the match-winner, rejecting Urango’s cut to reach the semifinals.
“For me, it was working on keeping my hands out in front and never letting them drop below my chest,” Howard said. “I was getting caught late a lot of times, Kelly’s a phenomenal blocker, she’s been helping me a lot to wait, and press, press, press. Kelly’s been helping me on a lot of skills and blocking is one of them.
Big, physical blockers are tough to find, and the 26-year-old but more experienced Reeves has chosen to mold the 24-year-old Howard through her growth phase.
“Brittany has put in the work since day one,” Reeves said. “At the start, it was a little shaky, but she has gone out there day in and day out and worked tremendously hard, and this weekend, the amount of blocks she’s getting is just insane, and it’s so easy for me to play defense behind, so kudos to this one putting in the work.”
Reeves laughed when compared to Casey Patterson, perhaps the most well-known beach volleyball personality.
“Part of beach volleyball is entertaining,” Reeves said. “I feel like maybe I’ve taken on that role for the women’s side, but you’re not on stadium court very often, so we’re going to take advantage of it. And why not? Look to the crowd, look to your fans, acknowledge them. We’re the players, but they’re the fans, they’re a huge part of the sport that makes the AVP possible. So give them a little love, make it fun for them and entertain them, keeping the crowd involved keeps us involved.”
They are looking forward to the rematch with top-seeded Day and Flint.
“I think we’re looking forward to another fun, high intensity match,” Howard said. “Yesterday was incredible, and thankfully we walked away with the win, but tomorrow it’s zero-zero, a whole new match. We have to have the same mentality and mindset going into it.
Budinger and Rosenthal found themselves in their first semifinal after their winners-bracket upset win over top-seeded Billy Allen and Ryan Doherty 21-16, 21-17. Ratledge and Rodriguez beat No.7 Tim Bomgren and Chaim Schalk 21-18, 21-16 in the winners-bracket quarterfinals.
Bomgren and Schalk defeated No. 8 Piotr Marciniak and Eric Zaun in a tough three-setter 22-20, 18-21, 15-11 to make their way back to the semis. Allen and Doherty beat No. 3 Trevor Crabb and John Mayer 21-18, 17-21, 15-10.
The semifinal is the first for the new team of Budinger and Rosenthal. Converted NBA player Budinger seems to improve in each match.
“Just trying to be more consistent,” Budinger said. “That’s the biggest thing for me, not making so many errors, and then focusing on my blocking. Making the right reads, trying to hide, pressing over, making it difficult for the other team to see me.”
Budinger, 6-foot-7, had four blocks Saturday and his reads continue to improve.
“Sometimes I go rogue and see something and go for it,” Budinger said. “That’s what happened today, a little bit.”
“I tell him to go block the ball,” Rosenthal said. “If it’s in system, a good set, out here on hard surfaces, guys are hitting a lot more. Those are a lot harder to sit in and dig, so I need my big guy to make a play, when it’s tight, if he reads it, sees it, go get it. He’s gotten a lot better with it, and he’ll continue to get better.
Budinger has put in steady work on blocking technique, including crouching low prior to the block.
“Something that I’m working on, “ Budinger said. “The best blockers, some of them get that low. It’s a way to hide yourself so the hitters can’t see you, and you explode out of it and make a move. When talking with Sean, that’s something that guys like him have problems with, it’s tougher to see. We’ve been working on it, and got some blocks today.”
Budinger said he’s enjoying his newfound career in beach volleyball.
“It’s something new to me, going out and competing in a sport that I used to love and play, I’m back at it now, and just getting those competitive juices flowing,” Budinger said. “A lot of times when guys retire from one thing, they’re kind of lost as to what they’ll do next. For me, I’m fortunate enough to get to come back to beach volleyball, lucky enough that Sean came calling, and asked me if I wanted to play with him. I’m just blessed and thankful that I’m able to compete.”
Sunday’s matches will be streamed on Amazon Prime. The finals will be broadcast Tuesday on NBC Sports at 6 p.m. Eastern.