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Beach Volleyball Digest: $800,000 World Tour Finals in Doha begins Thursday

We have an Alix Klineman update, sort of, but first …

It wasn’t difficult to see why Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, and Sophie Bukovec and Sarah Pavan, immediately took to social media to celebrate what was then the best of Christmas presents: Wild cards into the season-ending Volleyball World Pro Beach Tour Finals in Doha, Qatar.

They were given an opportunity to play in one of the most exclusive events on the Beach Pro Tour calendar, with just a 10-team field and four guaranteed matches. They were gifted the perfect tune-up for the onset of Olympic qualifying, which begins the weekend following World Tour Finals, ironing out any kinks in their new chemistry in a risk-free setting — there are no points on the line, and therefore no points to lose, in the World Tour Finals.

They were also, of course, given the shot to compete for $150,000.

That’s not the total purse, nor is that a typo: $150,000 is the prize given to the gold medalists this weekend in Doha.

Prize money has been a common gripe amongst players on the Beach Pro Tour. But that will not be a gripe this weekend, where 20 teams will compete for a grand total of $800,000 in prize money. Even the teams finishing last will pocket nearly $8,000, roughly the equivalent of winning a silver medal in a Challenge, as Italians and men’s wild cards Adrian Carambula and Alex Ranghieri did in Torquay, Australia in November.

“This is the culmination of an incredibly competitive year on the sand around the world and one look at the teams involved shows just how exciting and competitive the first ever Beach Pro Tour Finals is going to be,” Volleyball World CEO Finn Taylor said. “With Olympic champions, world champions, in-form teams and new and returning partnerships taking to the sand, we have an event that promises to be packed with intriguing stories from the best teams in the world.

Kelly Cheng-Sara Hughes-World Tour Finals
Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng celebrate a point at the Torquay Elite 16 (Photo/Volleyball World)

“We are looking forward to receiving a wonderful welcome from our hosts at the magnificent Aspire Park in Doha, and are grateful to our partners at the Qatar Volleyball Association and Aspire Zone.”

Cheng and Hughes, and Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, are the only Americans in the field. Doha will provide the first look at the new team of Pavan and Bukovec, who formed after Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson, both former partners of Pavan and Bukovec, became a team.

You can watch all of the matches on Volleyball TV. 

Alix Klineman announces partner for 2023 season 

Alix Klineman announced some big news earlier on Monday morning. Far too big for a simple Beach Digest item. We’ll have a full story soon.

Americans dropping out of — and dropping into — Doha Elite 16

The field for the season-opening Doha Elite 16, which follows the World Tour Finals and begins February 1, is constantly shifting. Americans Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, who were seeded fourth in the qualifier, and Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, who were directly into the main draw, have both dropped out of the Elite 16. This made for some excellent news for Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend, who slipped into the qualifier and are now seeded No. 15, in front of Canadians Jake MacNeil and Alex Russell. Friend is racking up the frequent flier miles early in 2023, as he only just returned from the King of the Court in Doha, where he finished fifth with Troy Field, barely one week ago.

Little else has changed on the women’s side, where Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez are still No. 2 on the reserve list.

Silila Tucker, Paul Lotman announce partnership

There are few sports where the cliche of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” has more relevance than in beach volleyball. Paul Lotman has taken the saying to heart, joining forces with Silila Tucker, the 2022 Eric Zaun Award winner and a defender who had beaten Lotman in their previous three meetings.

Lotman enjoyed a breakout year in 2022, winning his first AVP, in Atlanta with Miles Partain, and then nearly won the season-ending Phoenix Gold Series Championship. He received a last-minute call from Taylor Crabb to compete in back-to-back Challenge events in Dubai in the fall, and after finishing fifth and third, respectively, he added another top-five with a fourth in the Torquay Elite 16 with Miles Evans. All of those finishes vaulted Lotman, who led the AVP in total blocks in 2022 — earning the nickname Paul Blockman — onto the USA National Team, where he’ll use those points to carry Tucker into Challenge events to begin the season.

Tucker had a bit of a breakthrough himself in 2022, quadrupling his previous high in prize money, winning the Laguna Open with Andy Benesh, where he beat Lotman and Troy Field in the finals.

Silila Tucker
Silila Tucker/Rick Atwood

Sun Belt adds beach, forms eight-team conference

A week ago, it was Idaho who was adding beach volleyball. Now the Sun Belt has grabbed onto the fastest-growing sport in NCAA history, adding beach volleyball as its 19th sponsored sport.

Four Sun Belt Conference institutions currently sponsor Beach Volleyball — Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, ULM and Southern Miss. In addition, the Sun Belt will welcome affiliate members College of Charleston, Mercer, Stephen F. Austin and UNCW to form the eight-team league. Georgia State is a two-time NCAA Championship participant (2016, 2022) and advanced to the round of six last season.

“We are pleased and excited to welcome Beach Volleyball as our 19th championship sport,” Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill said. “As the fastest growing collegiate sport, particularly within the footprint of the Sun Belt, it is a perfect fit for our conference. We’re looking forward to providing an elite competitive and championship environment for the student-athletes, coaches and fans of Sun Belt Beach Volleyball.”

Nike sponsors Kelly Cheng

The Swoosh will now be a regular feature in American beach volleyball. Kelly Cheng and Sarah Hughes, the No. 1 team in the USA, have both inked contracts with the sporting-goods giant. Hughes has been a longtime Nike athlete, signing almost immediately after graduating from USC, while Cheng was briefly with Adidas during her run with Sarah Sponcil. 

Brenden Sander signs with Panathinaikos Athens

This past September, the brotherly duo of Taylor and Brenden Sander drew no small amount of eyeballs when they teamed to take a fifth at the Laguna Open, upending a number of accomplished AVP players in the process — Seain Cook and David Lee, Evan Cory and Logan Webber, to name a few. With Brenden, the younger of the two, putting in regular time with the USA Volleyball developmental group, many wondered if he would be transferring to the beach, as older brother Taylor did.

Not yet.

Last week, Brenden, a former standout at BYU, signed with Panathinaikos Athens to play outside hitter.

Thais Treumann claims SSOVA open title at 14 years, one month

I made a deal with LT Treumann, a proud father and an excellent beach volleyball coach who oversees B Volley in St. Petersburg, Florida: When his daughter, Thais, won an open, with a solid field consisting of professionals, then, and only then, would she get a write-up. That day came on Saturday, when Treumann, an eighth grader at the age of 14 years and one month, and Lydia Smith, won a SSOVA event, beating Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough in the finals.

The field included USC recruit Ashley Pater and UCLA recruit Kennedy Coakley, who finished third, as did Violet Slabakova and Regan McGuire. Treumann, it should be noted, has received interest, according to her father, from all of the aforementioned schools, among several others.

Treumann, however, is not the youngest to win an open. Sarah Wood, a 14-year-old from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, is the youngest I could find. She won an open at Highline Arena in New Jersey on December 19, 2020 — when she was just 12 years and seven months. Earlier this year, Wood became the youngest player to qualify for an AVP, when she and Ashley McGinn qualified for the Muskegon Tour Series when Wood was just 14 years, one month and 16 days. She snapped the record by more than two years.