It’s been the most interminable of years. A year largely without sports, dining, movies, even haircuts. But the summer of 2020 finally has some pro beach volleyball to celebrate and enjoy, as the AVP Champions Cup begins qualifier play Friday at the Long Beach Convention Center.
Yes, we’ve had some sniffs of the real thing, like the Eric Zaun scholarship fundraiser and the Waupaca Boatride, but for the next three weeks we’ll have genuine top-shelf professional beach volleyball thanks to the AVP.
And sure, we all lament the lack of fans (and media) — no one can attend, but it will be shown on Amazon Prime — but we’re darned excited to have some real-life pro beach volleyball, especially as the current FIVB schedule maxes out at two-stars for 2020.
The Acer AVP Champions Cup is a three-event series: The Monster Hydro Cup (July 17-19), The Wilson Cup (July 24-26), and The Third Cup sponsored by Porsche (July 31-August 2nd). Each event offers $200,000 in prize money, with six main-draw teams and 12 qualifiers seeking two main draw berths.
Scheduled to play on the women’s side are:
Alix Klineman/April Ross
Sarah Pavan/Melissa Humana-Paredes
Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil
Sara Hughes/Brandie Wilkerson
Emily Day/Lauren Fendrick
Kelley Larsen/Emily Stockman
Q1: Karissa Cook/Jace Pardon
Q2: Amanda Dowdy/Zana Muno
Q3: Kelly Reeves/Terese Cannon
Q4: Kim Hildreth/Sarah Schermerhorn
Q5: Kenzie Ponnet/Sheila Shaw
Q6: Corinne Quiggle/Allie Wheeler
Q7: Crissy Jones/Traci Callahan
Q8: Molly Turner/Katie Hogan
Q9: Katie Spieler/Delaney Knudsen Mewhirter
Q10: Kim DiCello/Kendra VanZwieten
Q11: Lane Carico/Kaya Marciniak
Q12: Carly Wopat/Brittany Tiegs
It doesn’t get any better than Klineman/Ross vs Pavan/Humana-Paredes. This is the match we were looking toward in Tokyo, the USA vs. Canada, a rematch of the World Championships, where Canada won 23-21, 23-21. The Olympics were postponed, but chances are good we’ll see that vaunted matchup here.
From what we saw in 2019, we should expect several of those battles over the course of the Champions Cup, and feel free to wave your USA or Canada flags at the TV.
There could also be plenty of upsets. There are plenty of quality teams capable of crashing the final, especially as competition reps have been minimized by the coronavirus. To name a few: Claes and Sponcil wish to continue their upswing on the World Tour, Hughes and Wilkerson are a dynamic and physical team that can control any match, Day and Fendrick have blocking skills aplenty, and Larsen and Stockman are one of the most well-integrated teams on tour, capable of a gold-medal type performance.
Rob Espero recently interviewed Wilkerson (the interview follows), where the Canadian acknowledged the strength of the loaded field.
“I think it will be exciting. We are so prepared to play against the best in North America.”
The qualifier has 12 main-draw-level teams that will compete for two spots in a one-day, single-elimination pressure cooker. We’re expecting plenty of knock-down, drag-out battles on these three AVP Fridays.
Two of the qualifier players won events last year (Cook/Pardon), three were finalists (Hogan, Hildreth, Schermerhorn), and four made semifinals (Jones, Cannon, Reeves, Muno). All teams in the qualifier will receive prize money.
“It’s a lot of pressure, not only because there’s a lot of opportunity in the tournament, but because there’s not a lot of opportunity this summer,” Muno said. “I think that’s something that we’re trying to remember, that everybody’s in the same boat.
“Everybody had a long layoff from the sand during quarantine, and everybody’s a little anxious about everything. Just normalizing everything has been helpful for the both of us, and we’re excited that we get to play at all, so we’re just trying to be grateful and excited.”
For most, the beaches have only been open for a month. Weights and sprints can only take you so far. The lack of training could act like an equalizer, improving the parity throughout the draw.
Emily Day, the top prize-money winner on the AVP last year with partner Betsi Flint, understands that the quarantine-limited training period might not allow her to play at her best.
“I was able to keep lifting throughout quarantine, but I wasn’t able to get the quality reps and ball touches with the beaches being closed,” Day said. “I know I might not be playing the best volleyball that I can play, and that can be frustrating.”
The new teams include Day/Fendrick, Dowdy/Muno, Quiggle/Wheeler, Jones/Callahan, Turner/Hogan, and Tiegs/Wopat. They know there will be no time to figure things out in this format, especially in the qualifier.
The AVP said it is employing numerous safety measures, including weekly testing, mandatory non-participant masks, and a contact-less ball system utilizing sanitized balls placed on stands with properly distanced sanitary pods.
The top finishers in the three-event series, the “Race to the Champions Cup,” will receive a share of the $100,000 total bonus pool. The top team per gender receives an additional $25,000, second receives $15,000 and third $10,000.
As mentioned, Amazon Prime Video has got you covered, except the Monster Hydro women’s final, which will be shown live on NBC. NBC will also carry a Saturday afternoon men’s match, and NBCSN will simulcast one of the Wilson Cup finals July 26 and a Third Cup final August 2. Broadcast info can be found here.
Read our other new AVP Champions Cup Partnerships features:
- Avery Drost moves to defense behind Ryan Doherty
- Marciniak, Rodriguez revive 2017 partnership
- Loomis finds his fountain of youth in 18-year-old Miles Partain
- Wheeler, Quiggle, longtime friends and opponents, on same side of the net
- Callahan, Jones, both 6-foot-2, ready for AVP debut
- Fiery Turner, calm Hogan enjoying AVP partnership
- Tiegs excited to partner with Wopat for AVP Champions Cup
- Muno, recovered from coronavirus, and Dowdy working hard
- With Flint out, Day partners with Fendrick