In his mind, Mark Burik had already written off the 2020 season.
“There were four different people that I was going to play with,” Burik said. “And then they flipped. And flipped. And flipped. And flipped. So I ended up pretty far down the totem pole.”
So he partnered with Bruno Amorim and they signed up, hoping for a spot in the AVP Champions Cup, the three-tournament pro beach series that began last weekend and continues Friday in Long Beach, California.
“We were the last team cut off from the reserve list,” said Burik, 34. “I wish I had known that. I might have taken a little more care with the points game.”
Burik, the founder of BetterAtBeach.com, set his sights on next season and began a text campaign, hoping to partner with Billy Kolinske in 2021, as they discussed potential strategies and thoughts.
But then Sean Rosenthal, Kolinske’s partner last weekend during the Monster Hydro Cup, got hurt. He is unable to return for the next two weekends.
Kolinske could partner with anyone on the reserve roster and he chose Burik.
They’ve played together before, finishing 17th at AVP Salt Lake City 2013, third at the Grand Cayman 2017 NORCECA, and 17th at the three-star FIVB Qinzhou event in 2018.
What’s more, they practiced together twice before Burik, a 6-foot-3 defender, even knew that he might be an option.
“Billy called me and asked, ‘Do you want to practice tomorrow? Rosie isn’t coming to practice, and I could use somebody to play with.‘ So I was like, sure. And we did really well together that day and then again the next day, and that day I found out that Rosie was a big maybe.
“We played against Billy (Allen) and Stafford (Slick), and we flowed really well together, because we knew exactly where the other person wants the ball.”
Rosenthal withdrew Tuesday, making it official. Burik was the first man off the bench.
“Bill is an absolute grinder workhorse. And that’s the mentality that I come from. Just put your head down and go to town with work, drills, reps,” Burik said.
“Both of us are at a maturity level where we both know what we’re looking for, and how we can deal with people, and how we can operate together.”
Kolinske, a 33-year-old, 6-6 blocker, enjoyed his time with the 40-year-old Rosenthal, a 6-4 defender who was part of the USA men’s Olympics teams in 2008 and 2012.
Last weekend, Rosenthal and Kolinske defeated Michael Brunsting and Chase Frishman (21-15, 21-16) before falling in a three-set match to David Lee and Reid Priddy (21-16, 25-27, 10-15).
“It was a great opportunity to play with Rosie,” Kolinske said, “and learn a lot of things from him and all his experience through the years playing at the highest level. I’m wishing for him to make a speedy recovery so he can get back on the court playing.”
It got even more complicated Wednesday when the City of Hermosa Beach began advising players that they would be cited for playing volleyball on Hermosa Beach as part of the effort to contain COVID-19. Players are hastily moving practices to other areas where beach volleyball is allowed.
Kolinske and Burik will likely end up going into Friday’s Wilson Cup with three practices.
“We had some good practices this week, and it was a smooth transition, because we knew each other’s games well, having played together before,” Kolinske said.
None of last week’s qualifier teams were able to escape the qualifier this week, since none won a main-draw match.
Allen and Slick lost to both Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb (21-14, 21-16) and Chase Budinger and Chaim Schalk (25-23, 21-10), while Ed Ratledge and Skylar del Sol lost to Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena (21-9, 21-12) and a tight 63-minute battle with Jeremy Casebeer and John Hyden despite winning the first set (17-21, 21-12, 15-12).
Youngsters Andy Benesh (25) and Eric Beranek (24) were one of the big winners last week, nearly qualifying after winning a pair of three-set matches over Ryan Doherty and Avery Drost (19-21, 21-16, 15-12) and Tim Bomgren and Troy Field (15-21, 21-16, 18-16), but ultimately fell a handful of points short of making it in against del Sol and Ratledge (18-21, 19-21).
Former indoor USA stars Reid Priddy and David Lee are the fourth team to earn byes after beating Kolinske and Rosenthal (16-21, 27-25, 15-10) but losing to Allen and Slick (21-14, 21-18).
Ryan Doherty and Avery Drost vs. Maddison McKibbin and Riley McKibbin — Doherty and Drost possess the physicality, the McKibbin brothers the intangibles. The 7-1 Doherty is the most physical blocker in the qualifier, and blocker-turned defender Drost has another week of acclimation practice defending.
Last week they lost a tight three-setter to Eric Beranek and Andy Benesh (19-21, 21-16, 15-12).
The McKibbins possess that we-know-where-each-other-is-at-all-times prescient knowledge that comes from playing together since birth which is typically worth at least two points per set.
Last week they struggled against Ty Loomis and Miles Partain (21-18, 21-13).
Give the edge to the Doherty block and its ability to alter the sideout game of any qualifier team. The wild card? Both Drost and Maddison possess plenty of serve MPH’s; either could be a game-changer.
Miles Evans and Ricardo Santos vs. Kolinske and Burik — Both teams lack history together, with Evans and Santos only playing last week’s event, while Kolinske and Burik played three events together, the last in 2018.
Evans and Santos lost a tough one to Ratledge and del Sol (13-21, 25-23, 15-6) last week, while Kolinske and Rosenthal handled Brunsting and Frishman (21-15, 21-16) but couldn’t get by Reid Priddy and David Lee (16-21, 27-25, 15-10).
If it’s not a rule, it should be: don’t bet against three-time Olympic medalists, so here I would pick Santos and Evans, who have a second week to solve the volleyball language barrier. You know it doesn’t sit well with Santos to lose in a qualifier, even a loaded one akin to a main draw match, so look for him to take over when it matters.
Brunsting and Frishman vs. Troy Field and Tim Bomgren — Field and Bomgren, aka team TNT, are VBM’s Breakthrough team of 2019. They came out hot last year, finishing third-third-second in Huntington, Austin, and New York, but were unable to sustain that pace.
Brunsting and Frishman have plenty of partnership history together, although their 12 events together were in 2016 and 2017. Together their best finish was seventh in Austin 2017.
At the Monster Hydro Cup, team TNT lost a heartbreaker to Benesh and Beranek (15-21, 21-16, 18-16), while Brunsting and Frishman fell to Kolinske and Rosenthal (21-15, 21-16).
You’d expect that Bomgren and Field might have been impaired a bit by their Waupaca Boatride the previous weekend, where Bomgren finished fifth in the sand doubles with his brother Brian, then went the distance in the triples grass final with Field. Field largely blocked and set throughout the tournament, and even his 26-year-old body likely felt the impact of the hundreds of 40+ inch block jumps on the grass.
Here my pick is Bomgren and Field, having demonstrated a higher level of skill in 2019, the sole remaining question being: Will we see the second-place Huntington team, or the 17th-place Chicago team?
Loomis and Partain defeated the McKibbin brothers (21-18, 21-13) before being defeated by Allen and Slick (21-18, 21-17) last week. Marciniak and Rodriguez lost in the first round to Ratledge and del Sol (del Sol is Marciniak’s former NVL partner) 21-13, 21-19.
Partain and Loomis are a classic veteran-protégé team, with the 41-year-old Loomis mentoring the 18-year-old Partain, a VBM Rookie of the Year selection for 2019. Partain’s age is deceiving, as his never-stressed southpaw delivery is very difficult to read, a youngster with the skills of a veteran.
Last year Rodriguez broke through for a third-place finish in Hermosa with Ed Ratledge, while Marciniak’s best was seventh, in Austin and Hermosa.
This is a classic grinder’s match, with a bunch of beach pros problem solving ways to eke out an extra point or two. I have to give the grudging edge to veterans Rodriguez and Marciniak—let me say that they would win this matchup 6.5 times out of 10, with the match ultimately coming down to — what else? — serve and pass.
Later: The AVP women’s preview