As the partnership dominoes have mostly fallen, the Olympic race having already begun, there still remained two oft-asked questions: What is Zana Muno’s partnership status? And are Kerri Walsh Jennings and Logan Tom actually going to make a run at the 2024 Games?
Neither of those questions have a certain or permanent answer, but a temporary one has been provided: Muno and Walsh Jennings will be competing in next week’s King of the Court season-opener in Miami, and they are also on the entry list for the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge in Itapema, Brazil, April 6-9.
“I’m just excited about the opportunity to play with a true champion in the sport of beach volleyball,” said Muno, a 26-year-old playing in her fifth professional season. “There is so much to learn from such an accomplished and experienced player and I’m honored to take the court with the her.”
Walsh Jennings has expressed a desire to maintain a low profile — as low as the most decorated player in the sport’s history can maintain, anyway — and politely declined interviews at least until April.
There are a few obvious appeals that would draw Walsh Jennings to Muno, most notably that Muno led the AVP in digs per set in 2022 and has demonstrated an ability to find success no matter who’s blocking for her. She has finished as high as third on the AVP with Crissy Jones (twice), Kelley Kolinske (once), and Brandie Wilkerson (twice), qualified for the Phoenix Gold Series Championships with Sarah Pavan, and won medals internationally with Jones (gold in the Leuven one-star in 2021), Toni Rodriguez (bronze in the Coolangatta Futures last March), and Allie Wheeler (silver in the Aguascalientes NORCECA in April). She was even competitive in an emergency split-blocking scenario with Savvy Simo in Manhattan Beach of 2021, when Jones had to pull out last minute with an injury, and finished fifth in Hermosa Beach with Lauren Fendrick, which marked the best AVP finish for Fendrick in 2022.
There is also the critical matter of points.
Tom doesn’t have any, either on the AVP or Beach Pro Tour, and unless Walsh Jennings has been able to freeze hers on the Beach Pro Tour, she will also be entering events with zero. If Tom and Walsh Jennings were to play together, they’d need to either begin in a Futures event or sign up for Challenges and Elite 16s in the hopes of attaining a wild card (they had signed up for the upcoming Futures in Coolangatta but withdrew). Muno has 510 points on the Beach Pro Tour, which should be enough to at least get them into the qualifier for Itapema.
Whether it’s a temporary Band-Aid or a permanent partnership is yet to be seen, but at the moment, it’s a win-win for both: Muno gets the rare experience of playing with a five-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist, while Walsh Jennings has a talented partner with international points.
And, of course, it’s also a win for King of the Court, who will no doubt draw quite a few fans interested in witnessing the return of Walsh Jennings.
Cook, Casebeer partner for 2023 AVP season
A social media dream team — and decent beach volleyball partnership — has been born: Seain Cook and Jeremy Casebeer have announced they’ll be playing the 2023 AVP season together. The move is the latest in the rapid rise of Cook, a Scotland native who made his first AVP main draw last year as Logan Webber’s on-again, off-again partner. The two won the AVPNext in Panama City, which was roughly the equivalent of winning a Tour Series before the Tour Series began. When Webber would return to play with John Hyden, Cook turned to various individuals: Noah Dyer in Manhattan Beach, Max Martin in Waupaca, Bill Kolinske in Seaside, David Lee in Laguna.
Casebeer, meanwhile, played with Billy Allen in 2022, with mixed results, the high being a fifth at the Manhattan Beach Open. The partnership makes sense on virtually every level: Cook can’t yet compete for USA, which limits his elite partnership options; Casebeer is an elite blocker whose interest in playing internationally seems to have vanished (he hasn’t competed for the US since 2019). Cook is a right-side defender, Casebeer a left-side blocker. Both have tremendous jump-serves with considerable power. Both are also delightful presences on social media, Casebeer delivering thoughtful prose on his own sports psychology and various environmental projects he has going on, while Cook’s Instagram is one of the funniest and most entertaining reel collection in the sport.
Dalhausser, Field form (at least) temporary partnership
Troy Field once took a selfie with Phil Dalhausser. Sort of. He didn’t really take it with Dalhausser so much as he took it of Dalhausser, standing there, in the background, somewhat ignorant to the fact that another adoring fan wanted a picture with the Thin Beast. Now that fanboy is defending for Dalhausser in the King of the Court and AVP Miami, forming a high-flying, physical, and hilariously goofy-footed partnership. We had Field on SANDCAST last week — the episode will be out in a few weeks, after Miami, so we recorded alternate endings, one if he wins Miami, one of he doesn’t — so there will be more on the partnership then, but the two have only committed through Miami, with AVP New Orleans in mid-April being the next question mark for both.
It still leaves the matter of who Field will play with internationally. He’s not in any particular hurry, since every blocker he could reasonably qualify with for the Paris Olympic Games is off the table, and his points are back-loaded, with a silver medal in the Maldives Challenge and two disappointing finishes — but finishes nonetheless — in Dubai, all in October. So he can bide his time, hop around on the AVP — or stick with Dalhausser, if all goes well — and either be the first choice should someone get injured or a top partnership go south, or wait until another blocker establishes himself as a viable prospect.
Hagen Smith, Jake Dietrich part ways
Both Hagen Smith and Jake Dietrich enjoyed career seasons in 2022, with a fifth-place finish in Hermosa and a third in Chicago. It was the first time Dietrich even qualified for a main draw, much less competed on a Sunday, which he did twice. They’ve moved on, with Smith now defending for Bill Kolinske and Dietrich blocking for Avery Drost. Dietrich and Drost will begin in the main draw for AVP Miami, while Kolinske and Smith will kick off their partnership at the King of the Court followed by the La Paz Challenge, where they are currently seeded No. 31 in the qualifier.
This leaves Chase Frishman, Drost’s former partner, as a free agent, though he is expected to begin his season with Cody Caldwell in Miami, and will be on the cusp of main draw and qualifier. Caldwell is currently playing as an outside hitter in India’s RuPay Prime Volleyball League.
Emily Capers, Sheila Shaw announce they’re pregnant
More AVP babies are on the way in 2023. Both Emily Capers and Sheila Shaw have announced that they, too, are pregnant. Both are due in August. Shaw hasn’t competed since 2021, after a 10 year career on the beach. Day played a full season in 2022, beginning with April Ross in the Rosarito Elite 16 before partner hopping a bit, playing AVP events with Emily Stockman, Hailey Harward, Savvy Simo, and Geena Urango.
They join a growing list of expecting parents. Delaney Mewhirter (my wife) and Melissa Fuchs-Powell are due in mid-April, as is Mark Burik’s wife, Janelle; Alix Klineman is due later this summer, as is Kendra Van Zwieten; and now Day and Shaw, who will round out the Summer of AVP Daycare.