The AVP pulled off the Champions Cup, players take a break, and now what?

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Beach volleyball future 8/16/2020-Alix Klineman
Alix Klineman goes all out during the AVP Champions Cup/Mpu Dinani, AVP

By Ed Chan and Travis Mewhirter

The AVP successfully pulled off its three-weekend tournament.

What’s next in beach volleyball?

The FIVB is conducting events, mostly in Europe. Fud’s is still on for the fall on the Florida panhandle.

But start with the AVP.

“What a wild season it was,” Jeremy Casebeer said. “All four weeks of it.”

Sun told us he was “very pleased.”

And could there be another event in 2020?

“As we’ve learned so far in 2020, we can’t be sure about anything,” the AVP’s Donald Sun told us. “We will keep everyone posted.”

We’ve heard the AVP is considering a King of the Court event.

But for months, we had no such clue what might lie around the corner. Was there going to be a season or not? Would sports continue to exist or would they fade into obscurity, deemed too unsafe, too much contact, too much shared space?

For three weeks, that uncertainty was, blissfully, gone. The AVP eradicated it with a brilliantly organized series of tournaments, put together with little runway and an even tinier margin for error or slip.

The AVP Champions Cup, it was coined, with name sponsors for each: Monster Hydro, Wilson, and Porsche. New and fun sponsors jumped on, including the aforementioned luxury car giant, as well as White Claw, the drink that allegedly has no laws but has found its sweet spot in the beach-going, lifestyle-craving demographic the AVP targets.

For three weeks, we knew what we’d get: The players would finally compete, for prize money, able to make some semblance of a living. Coaches could coach, commentators could commentate, Amazon Prime would be on the television. Any who were unable to compete would be able watch the best beach volleyball players in the country play some of the best beach volleyball they’ve ever played.

For the first time of 2020, we craved uncertainty of a different ilk: the adrenaline-stoking uncertainty that only sports provide.

Could Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena continue turning back the clocks, resembling more the kids who took the mid-2000s by storm rather than the 40-year-old fathers of two? Could anyone topple April Ross and Alix Klineman? Who would make it out of these brutal qualifiers?

What would Casey Patterson say next?

The AVP, in putting on the Champions Cup, flipped uncertainty on its head. We loathed the uncertainty, the constant wondering, for the first seven months of the year, when we didn’t know when or if our jobs would return, if our favorite restaurant would make it, if we could attend church on Sunday — then suddenly loved it, craved it, sought it.

It was a brief reprieve, but an excellently staged one. The AVP outshined, outexecuted, outdid every other sport thus far in this Covid-altered chapter of life.

“Unlike other pro sports, our footprint onsite was small and manageable,” Sun said. “We were able to control our environment, facilitate efficient testing procedures and offer a contact-less experience for athletes (outside of net play or medical) and not compromise the quality of play in any way. 

“The AVP did a superior job and our athletes came ready to play at their best.”

And when it was said and done, Ross and Klineman dominated, winning all three weekends. On the men’s side, Dalhausser and Lucena won the first two weekends, and thus the overall title, while Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb broke through the third weekend.

The AVP delivered and it did so with staff living in a parking lot for four weeks.

“It’s not so bad,” senior vice president Josh Glazebrook said, with players donning masks and layering on the sanitizer between matches.

“Seeing what my team was able to put together and execute on with three weeks of preparation was perhaps the biggest source of joy and pride for me as an SVP,” Glazebrook said. “My ops team worked flawlessly under extreme conditions, around the clock and with no room for error or mismanagement to pull this off. We truly have the best team in sports right now.”

So back to the original question: What’s next?

There is some volleyball to be played, yes. Internationally and we have a list below.

There are one-stars — with health precautions, of course — in Austria, France, and Lithuania. There are two-stars in Cyprus and Rwanda. There’s a King of the Court, set for the Netherlands in September, in which Bourne and Crabb, and Emily Stockman and Kelley Kolinske are planning to compete. And there are the smaller, domestic events with various organizations that a sport such as golf would refer to as “mini-tours.”

That would include the aforementioned Fud’s in Okaloosa Island, Florida.

“We have just received our approved permit for the fall event and are moving forward with plans,” said Mike Minich, director of the event scheduled for October 14-18. “We have modified the four-player tourney to take place over four days with different divisions playing on different days so we can spread out the nets (from 60- to 30) to accommodate social distancing.”

There are the Midwest championships, in Cincinnati, on August 22. The AVP America Nationals, in Clearwater, Fla., is October 24-25.

The pros, meanwhile, have taken advantage of the break, many hitting the great outdoors.

Sarah Pavan headed to the Grand Canyon:

Ross found a spot in the mountains:

Stafford Slick packed up the kiddos and drove — he drove! — to Minnesota. Trevor and Taylor Crabb hit the road, to Connecticut. Billy Allen’s finishing up his next book. Ed Ratledge launched an open-level league in Huntington Beach.

The mountains were a big post-tournament draw. Dalhausser and Lucena went to Yosemite. Sarah Sponcil and Emily Stockman also headed for higher altitudes. Ryan Doherty said right after the tournament he was going camping on Catalina Island.

Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb have adopted a regular, five-week training block: four weeks on as usual, one week off. It’s the same program being followed by Bourne and Crabb. They’ll do that as long as necessary, until a typical off-season block rolls around.

“A lot of people were questioning whether or not they wanted to continue to play,” Bourne said. “Then you have Donald Sun come out: ‘Here’s a little stimulus check. I want to keep you guys afloat, and give you the opportunity to earn more.’ You can’t take your foot off the pedal and say ‘Whatever happens, happens.’ ”

Speaking of which, Bourne and his wife, Gabrielle, took little Naia on a road trip.

Tri Bourne and family enjoying a post-AVP break

“I can’t take that long of a vacation but that’s a good thing to have something (King of the Court) to train for,” Bourne said. “We don’t want to be taking too much time off anyway.”

Dozens of others pondered what’s next for them. Do they train or not? Get a side gig or not? Rest and relax or keep their feet on the metaphorical pedal?

At the end of the day, every player knows what lies in their immediate future, tournaments or not: Mornings on the beach. They’ll practice, whether there’s a second miniature season or not. Because that is what beach volleyball players do. Even in the most uncertain, bizarre times of the majority of the players’ lives, at least two hours of their day will be as reliable as the ocean’s tide: The beach will still be there, and they’ll be on it.

“The gratitude and love of the game was palpable on site and anytime you were around athletes, coaches and staff,” Glazebrook said. “Having had our sport ripped away from us has brought us all closer together and given us so much more appreciation for what it is we all get to do in this life. The opportunity to compete and work as a professional in sports is something most of us won’t take for granted for a long, long time.”

While some Americans who play pro have gotten special visas to travel to Europe to join their indoor teams, most beach players will have a hard time getting to play in any international tournaments.

Here’s a look at what’s ahead on the international beach scene:

August 20-23 — FIVB one-star in Baden, Switzerland. Both genders will compete, but must quarantine ahead of time.
August 25-29 — FIVB one-star in Montpelier, France, for men only. Competitors must have a negative test or quarantine for two weeks.
September 9-12 — King of the Court, Utrecht, Netherlands. This tournament is accepting foreigners and a 14-day quarantine is “strongly advised.”
September 10-13 — FIVB one-star in Vilnius, Lithuania, for men and women. A 14-day quarantine is required.
September 25-27 — FIVB two-star in Larnaca, Cyprus. Women only and the USA is “category C,” meaning athletes must have a valid negative COVID test within 72 hours and more.
November 10-15 — U19 in Roi Et, Thailand, both genders. U.S. citizens must have a Thailand Health Declaration and can stay for up to 30 days without a visa.
Click here for the FIVB beach volleyball website, which has more information and features.

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