There was both minor and major league beach volleyball this weekend. You know about the major league tournament — the finale of the AVP Tour’s three-part Champions Cup Series, won by Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb and April Ross and Alix Klineman.
The minors were played not in Long Beach, but in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It isn’t an official term, of course, the “minor league” of beach volleyball, but that’s precisely what the AVP Next Gold Series has become: An opportunity for lower-level professional players to compete against a strong field, make a good chunk of change (when not in college, of course), and earn their way into the big leagues, either through points, wild card, or proving themselves to be good enough to get scooped by a bigger partner.
Winners of each AVP Next Gold are awarded a main draw wild card to an AVP event next season. Sometimes, those winners don’t even need wild cards, like Crissy Jones and Zana Muno, who made their second main draw in 2019 via an AVP Next Gold win in Colorado and rose through the ranks fast enough to be straight into the draw for the AVP Champions Cup.
Atlantic City, like every other AVP Next Gold, featured a who’s who of the upcoming talent on the AVP Tour. It was won by Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth on the women’s side and Bruno Amorim and Angel Dache on the men’s.
If you don’t know Nuss by now, you should, and if you hadn’t yet heard of Kloth, you will. Nuss, alongside Claire Coppola, has won more than 100 matches in a brilliant career thus far at LSU, joining the company of USC’s Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes and UCLA’s Nicole and Megan McNamara as the only pairs to eclipse that milestone. An All-American for three consecutive years, Nuss had led the Tigers to the No. 1 ranking in the country after back-to-back wins over UCLA.
Kloth, meanwhile, does not yet have the extensive beach resume of Nuss, but talents like her come in limited supply. A transfer from Creighton, she’s a 6-foot-4 blocker with excellent ball control, good hands, and an unwavering steadiness on the court. It shouldn’t go unmentioned, either, that she, alongside Kelli Agnew, was the only pair in the country not to drop a set during the shortened 2020 beach season.
Even after Atlantic City, she still has yet to drop a set.
Nuss and Kloth, who won a tournament in New Orleans the week before, seeded an amusing 26th, ran the table in Atlantic City. They swept a difficult gauntlet on Saturday in beating Jessica Gaffney and Chelsea Ross, Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft in the quarterfinals, Carly Skjodt and Katie Dickens in the semifinals, and Carly Kan and Katie Horton in the finals.
Amorim and Dache didn’t have quite as smooth a ride as Nuss and Kloth did. But while they dropped a few sets, they didn’t lose a single match. On Saturday, they beat Waupaca Boatride semifinalists Mike Groselle and Nate Yang, Pete Connole and John Schwengel, Chris Vaughan and I in the semifinals, and Andrew Dentler and Raffe Paulis in the finals. Two of those matches went three, including an endless 23-21 third-set win over Connole and Schwengel in the quarterfinals.
Both winners receive an automatic main draw bid into an AVP tournament — which tournament is to be determined — in 2021.