MIAMI, Florida — Of all the calendar days in the sporting world in 2023, Thursday, March 16, was not the one to expect normalcy. There was nothing mundane about March 16. Nothing usual or run of the mill.

It was March Madness, to be exact, as it marked the opening day of college hoops’ national holiday. And as it does every year, it delivered on its namesake. A 15 seed beat a No. 2, a 13 topped a 4, and a 16 gave a 1 a run for its NIL money.

And yet, somehow, that paled in comparison to the carnage on South Beach at AVP Miami and also at the Volleyball World tournament in La Paz, Mexico.

In the second round alone, seeds No. 1 (Travis Mewhirter and JM Plummer), 2 (Ed Ratledge and Noah Dyer), 3 (Caleb Kwekel and Dylan Zacca), and 4 (Raffe Paulis and Brian Miller) all bowed out, guaranteeing four on-paper underdogs into the first main draw of the 2023 season.

Some were bona fide upsets, take Joey Osmani and Brad Connors, the No. 16 seed, over Plummer and me, or 15th-seeded locals Andrew Holman and TJ Jurko over Dyer and Ratledge. Others, take Steve Roschitz and Pete Connole over Paulis and Miller, or Jordan Hoppe and Charlie Siragusa over Kwekel and Zacca, were upsets only on paper, where the points didn’t necessarily match the talent level of the “underdog” team in question.

In reality, those matches are coin tosses.

But between the upsets and the coin tosses and even the occasional rare chalk walk, chaos reigned on a gusty and mostly beautiful day in South Beach.

Alex Diaz and Brandon Joyner qualified in their first event together, as did the new young duo of Hoppe and Siragusa. Jake Urrutia and Ian Satterfield ended Holman and Jurko’s Cinderella run in the final round, while Roschitz and Connole, long one of the top teams in Texas — since relocated to Kansas City — alas reunited after myriad injuries, are back in their first main draw as a team since Chicago of 2019.

“It’s hard to describe what it’s been like waiting years to do something you feel like you should have been doing,” said Roschitz, who is fully healthy for the first time in, by his count, 575 days after a health scare nearly ended his career. “We played some very tough teams to qualify but the whole time it felt like we were supposed to make it. This weekend was the first time since 2019 where we were both healthy and actually confident about how our bodies felt. Being in Kansas City, we really didn’t get to train much recently due to weather but we made sure we were 100 percent as far as our bodies went. It’s a huge relief to be back in a main draw so early into the season and we hope to build on this weekend.”

Not everyone has had the long grind back to the main draw as Rochitz. Others, like Hoppe, are playing in their first career Pro or Gold Series main draw, while Siragusa, Urrutia, Joyner, and Diaz are in just their second. It’s Diaz whose name most might not recognize, yet it’s Diaz who could have been expected to produce upsets more than anyone else in the field.

He’s a local, Diaz, a refugee from Cuba who made his way to the United States via Mexico. South Beach is his beach, and he showed it, winning six straight sets with Joyner, despite the two having never played together, despite going down 16-19 in the first set of the tournament, and 17-18 in the next.

“I can’t say enough about Alex and the crew here in Miami,” said Joyner, who made his first main draw in Fort Lauderdale a year ago with Mark Burik. “He’s an amazing player and one of the easiest players I’ve ever played with. He stays calm. He has an amazing touch. I’m happy he’s getting to show his talent in his home town.”

The women’s side was nearly a local sweep, with Floridians Aurora Davis, Kennedy Coakley, Ashley Pater, and Katie Hogan all making it through. Just three of the women’s qualifiers, Megan Gebhard, Amy Ozee, and Mariah Whalen, currently live in California, and Katie Pyles represented Colorado. While Ozee and Whalen, as the seventh seed, are, on paper, the largest underdog to qualify, the nod must go to fourth-seeded Coakley and Pater. Teenagers both, Pater will soon be donning a USC jersey, while Coakley will play for UCLA. Both will be making their Pro or Gold Series debuts on Friday.

Ozee and Whalen, both of whom finished their collegiate careers with Cal Poly — Ozee competed during her undergrad years at Hawaii — clinched their second career Pro or Gold Series main draws after winning a thriller in the final round over Lydia Smith and Kahlee York, 12-21, 21-17, 16-14.

Friday’s main draw begins at 9 a.m. Eastern, and all stadium court matches will be streamed on ESPN.

Savvy Simo-Toni Rodriguez-March Madness
Savvy Simo, left, and Toni Rodriguez celebrate a point at the La Paz Challenge/Volleyball World photo

Click here for the AVP Miami brackets.

Simo, Rodriguez shine in La Paz qualifier

The March Madness upsets weren’t limited to hoops or Miami. Oh, no. The madness extended south, down the coast of Baja California Sur to La Paz, Mexico, site of the first Challenge event of 2023. Fittingly, neither No. 1 seed made the main draw and Friday’s pool play.

Down went Switzerland’s Marco Krattiger and Floridan Breer, dropping to No. 17 Arthur da Silva and Adrielson Dos Santos. Down, too, went Switzerland’s Zoe Verge-Depre and Esmee Bobner, to Austrians Dorina and Ronja Klinger.

That was just the prelude for the cavalcade of upsets to come, with Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez authoring one of the more notable wins. They followed up a sweep of Japan with a convincing sweep of Austria’s Lena Plesiutschnig and Katharina Schutzenhofer, 21-12, 21-16. It’s Rodriguez’s second international main draw, her first coming almost exactly a year ago at the Coolangatta Futures, where she won bronze with Zana Muno.

They were the only Americans to make it through, as both Muno and Jessica Gaffney, and Sarah Schermerhorn and Corinne Quiggle were upset by Paraguayans Erika Bobadilla and Michelle Valiente.

The upsets continued on the men’s end as well.

France’s Remi Bassereau and Julien Lyneel upset Argentina’s Capogrosso brothers, while rookie Brazilians stumped Latvia’s Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins. Australians and seventh-seeded Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher didn’t make it out of the first round, leaving the door open for 10th-seeded Portugal’s Joao Pedrosa and Hugo Campos to qualify.

The only men’s teams to hold their seeds were Cubans Jorge Alayo and Noslen Diaz, who survived a scare against Bill Kolinske and Hagen Smith and went on to qualify (note: Kolinske and Smith hedged their bets, remaining in AVP Miami in case they didn’t qualify; they’re catching a late flight and will be competing against Jake Dietrich and Avery Drost in the first round). Canadians Sam Schachter and Dan Dearing qualified as well, winning their only match of the day, against Italy’s Gianluca Dal Corso and Marco Viscovich. Poland’s Piotr Kantor and Maciej Rudol left no doubt in a sweep over Evan Cory and Logan Webber 21-15, 21-13.

Rounding out the men’s matches was second-seeded Leon Luini and Ruben Penninga, who fended off a number of set points against Chileans Noe Aravena and Vicente Droguett to win 21-16, 26-24.

Only two Americans remain for the men in what will be the debut tournament for both Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, and Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb. Bourne and Schalk will open up against the new Brazilian duo of Evandro and Arthur, while Crabb and Brunner will see the Netherlands Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot, who is back after missing most of 2022 with a hernia.

With Simo and Rodriguez qualifying, there are still five American women’s teams in the field, including Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft, Kelley Kolinske and Hailey Harward, and Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes.

For full schedule and results, head to Volleyball World.

More TV/streaming info on AVP Miami

From VBM’s Larry Hamel:
The AVP and ESPN disclosed that linear TV coverage of the finals of the season-opening Miami Beach tour stop will air Thursday (March 23) on ESPNU from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Eastern. ESPNU primarily televises college sports, can be seen in 39.58 million households in the United States and had an average hourly prime-time viewership of 49,000 in 2022.
On the plus side, the two-hour replay of the AVP Pro Series finals from Sunday will be televised in prime time. The negative is that ESPNU typically is not included in the top tier of most cable TV subscription packages. It has far less market penetration and is less popular than ESPN or ESPN2, both of which are available in about 74.2 million homes. Flagship ESPN has the second-highest average prime-time hourly viewership on cable, with 1.87 million in 2022, and ESPN2 averaged 335,000.
The replay day of Thursday is two days later than Fox Sports 1 typically had aired its delayed 90-minute coverage of the AVP in 2022. FS1’s subscription base numbers 73.7 million and the channel averaged 273,000 viewers in prime time. However, having a two-hour window on ESPNU means that all of one final can be included, and most or all of the other, which fans should view as a significant positive. Whether AVP coverage will remain on ESPNU or move to one of the channels with greater household penetration later in the season was not addressed.

Jessica Gaffney-MArch MAdness
Jessica Gaffney blocks against Paraguay in the La Paz qualifier/Volleyball World photo


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