You may have noticed something a little different, on Saturday afternoon, about the team ranked No. 1 in the world. They’ve added a wrinkle or two, an element that enables the 6-foot-4 Sarah Pavan to assert herself even more into the match.
“I don’t usually jump serve on the beach,” she admitted after her and partner Melissa Humana-Paredes beat Traci Callahan and Crissy Jones in the first round of the AVP Champions Series Wilson Cup, 21-17, 23-21. “I was missing some by a little bit, it was super frustrating, then I would overcompensate.”
It worked well enough, 12 service errors aside, as the Canadians kept on winning and moved into the semifinals.
It sets up a Sunday that looks like this:
On the women’s side, top-seeded Alix Klineman and April Ross, hoping to go back-to-back in this three-week AVP season, await one contenders-bracket survivor, while third-seeded Humana-Paredes and Pavan get the other.
Those two spots will be filled by the winners of the matches between seventh-seeded Emily Day and Lauren Fendrick, who came through the qualifier, vs. fifth-seeded Kelley Kolinske and Emily Stockman and second-seeded Sara Hughes and Brandie Wilkerson.
For the men, the top two seeds are in, starting with Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who went through unbeaten last weekend in the AVP Champions Cup opening tournament, and second-seeded Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb.
Vying for semifinal bids are third-seeded Chase Budinger and Chaim Schalk vs. No. 5 Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson, and fourth-seeded Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb vs. Jeremy Casebeer and John Hyden, who are seeded sixth.
Pavan and Humana-Paredes are not the only ones among those Sunday players experimenting with some new additions to their games.
Bourne and Crabb have added a few new sets to their offense, including a back quick-set for Crabb that has proven to be lethal when deployed. Dalhausser — Phil Dalhausser! — has jump-set a ball. Lucena, almost exclusively a float-server, has gone to jump-serving here and there. Stockman and Kolinske have moved to an even more fast-paced offense than a year before, when they were arguably the most tempo team in the country.
“If you’re not going to try new things,” Pavan said, “you’re not going to get better.”
That, in a way, may sum up how many of the teams are viewing the three-week Champions Cup: An experimental phase to test out various ideas spawned in the long off-season. Most of the teams who tapped into the experimental reservoir are those with long-term commitments.
Chaim Schalk and Chase Budinger, who have designs on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, for example, worked a new, tempo push set for Schalk. Sponcil and Claes, who are in contention for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, continued to refine an effective on-two attack from Claes.
“We got our first-game jitters out last tournament, and this tournament we came in with a little more direction, a couple goals we wanted to achieve, different things we wanted to try, and we stuck to it,” Humana-Paredes said.
For some teams, of course, everything is brand new. Day and Fendrick had never played together prior to this tournament. Corinne Quiggle and Allie Wheeler, who qualified and nearly pulled off a stunner over Ross and Klineman in the first round, had played just once, in Austin of 2018. Miles Evans and Ricardo Santos, John Hyden and Jeremy Casebeer, and Ty Loomis and Miles Partain are all in just their second week of playing together.
It’s made for a fun tournament, with new teams essentially winging it week by week, while the old partnerships are learning new tricks.
“It’s just fun. It’s fun being out here,” Humana-Paredes said. “We’re here to have fun and play this game that we love, in the middle of this pandemic. How lucky are we? There’s always something to be happy about.”
Like jump serving.