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Beach Volleyball Digest: USA women’s partnerships; ESPN coverage

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — The beaches in Hermosa Beach, Calif. have been unusually rainy, and therefore unusually empty, in the first two weeks of January. But when the sun has occasionally decided to resume it’s normal habit of showing itself during the day, the courts on first, eighth, sixteenth, 29th, and up past Marine Street in Manhattan Beach have been host to mostly the same players, only different teams.

The upheaval in partnerships, a reorganization that was largely expected before the onset of Olympic qualifying, has been fairly major on the women’s side.

It has been an avalanche of switch-ups triggered by Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes rekindling their college flame. Betsi Flint, Cheng’s former defender, has officially picked up Julia Scoles, after a successful test event in Torquay, Australia, where they won a silver medal in a Volleyball World Elite 16. Kolinske, Hughes’ former blocker, announced a partnership with 24-year-old Hailey Harward, who played with seven different players in her rookie professional season and was the runner-up Rookie of the Year.

All four of the aforementioned players won at least one AVP in 2022, most notably Kolinske, who claimed her first Manhattan Beach Open title with Hughes. Harward and Scoles, the 2022 VolleyballMag and AVP Rookie of the Year, both claimed their first AVP wins, Harward in Fort Lauderdale with Tina Graudina, Scoles with Geena Urango in Atlanta.

A little ways down the rankings, Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez also confirmed their expected partnership, understanding that the odds of a berth into the Paris Olympics are low, but they’re going for it anyway.

After all of those mixups, it places, in order of Volleyball World entry rankings — which are different than World Rankings, and different than AVP rankings, and different than Olympic rankings — Cheng and Hughes on top, Flint and Scoles No. 2, Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon three, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth four, Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft five, Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn six, Kolinske and Harward seven, and Simo and Rodriguez eight. It leaves Zana Muno as arguably the top free agent at the moment, and there is always the question of what April Ross and Alix Klineman are doing, as well as Kerri Walsh Jennings and Logan Tom.

Others with international points and evident aspirations to keep an eye on are Molly Turner, Carly Kan, Maddie Anderson, Xolani Hodel, Brook Bauer, and Katie Horton, among others.

Hailey Harward
Hailey Harward reacts to a big block by teammate Lauren Fendrick/Mark Rigney photo

Sweden’s Ahman, Hellvig are Kings of the Court

While Anders Mol and Christian Sorum may be kings of the beach volleyball world, David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig are Kings of the Court. The young Swedes, best known for their audacious jump-setting style, won the 2022 King of the Court Finals in Doha, Qatar, beating Troy Field and Matthew Immers of the Netherlands, and the Dutch pair of Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen in the final round.

It was a weekend of double-duty for Field, who played with Kyle Friend and made the quarterfinals, but also blocked for Immers, who was originally slated to play with Christiaan Varenhorst, and made the podium.

The only other Americans in the field were Avery Drost and Chase Frishman, and Hagen Smith, who played with Austrian blocker Clemens Doppler. Both failed to make it out of the first round.

The Queens of the Court are the Dutch pair of Brecht Piersma and Wies Bekhuis, who beat out Switzerland’s Anouk Verge-Depre and Menia Bentele, and Germans Julia Sude and Isabel Schneider.

David Ahman-Jonatan Hellvig
David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig are the Kings of the CourtKing of the Court photo

ESPN and beach volleyball finally, kind of, sort of collide

The long-awaited marriage between ESPN and beach volleyball finally kind of, sort of happened last Monday night before the College Football National Championship.

ESPN, in collaboration with Maddison McKibbin, put on a four-man exhibition for its tailgate, hauling in Sarah Sponcil, Terese Cannon, Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth, Emily Stockman, Kelly Reeves, Ed Ratledge, Casey Patterson, Tri Bourne, Chaim Schalk, Silila Tucker, and me to play co-ed fours to entertain the tailgaters.

The set-up was cool, and the court was built by Mark Paaluhi of SandCourt Experts. The issue, of course, was the rain. It dumped, to the point that even SoFi Stadium, with its $5 billion bill, was leaking throughout the game. There weren’t many fans who braved the rain to watch the fours, although there was a very cool viewing deck, where fans could watch — and did — while enjoying the comforts of an open bar and a number of delicious food options.

McKibbin might do some kind of video on it; I’m not totally sure. But our contacts at ESPN and Disney were happy with it, the players had fun, and Chaim Schalk and I both won money when Georgia covered a 13.5-point spread, so wins were still had.

ESPN-Beach Volleyball
The ESPN Four Man/Daniel Frito photo

Kendra VanZwieten expecting an even smaller VanZwieten

Finally, Steve VanZwieten joked on social media last week, Kendra [his wife] will be taller than someone. That “someone” will be their child, who is expected this summer. Kendra was the 2015 AVP Best Defensive Player and Most Improved. The next season, she’d win her first and only AVP, in New Orleans with Kim DiCello, now a mother of two.