It has been a record-setting year for Ed Keller, though not in the way he would ever desire: 2020 has been — surprise, surprise — the lowest number of beach volleyball events he has ever attended. Typically, he’s a world traveler, following his favorite teams to FIVBs, AVPs, anywhere the schedule will take him.

The total for the year is zero.

That changes this weekend. Keller, who lives on the Hermosa Beach Strand and is the self-proclaimed “word’s greatest volleyball fan,” will alas get to see an event, in person, at the 2020 Florida Pro Best of the Beach Tournament, presented by the Norelli Family Foundation, this weekend in Hickory Point, Florida.

“It’s the one event I can go to,” he said in Hermosa on Wednesday morning. “I can’t miss that!”

Neither, it seems, can the majority of the top players in the United States. While $60,000 in prize money is an allure — $10,000 thanks to the Miami Volleyball Academy — it’s mostly competition, and a fun King of the Beach format in an extraordinarily non-competitive year that is the biggest draw.

“I’m stoked. It’s going to be something a little different,” Chaim Schalk said. “Something that’s been the most fun for me with this COVID year is playing all these fun tournaments — fours and mixed and we did that King of the Beach with the McKibbins. It’s been different from the last 10 years of structured practice with your guy.

“I’m excited to play other positions with different guys and you’ll see Phil (Dalhausser) playing defense. That aspect of it is really cool. I feel like the key to a King of the Beach is to figure out what you need with this guy for an hour, and what he needs to be really good. That stuff is really fun.”

While fans such as Keller will be attending the event to finally see some volleyball, in person, the format also provides an extra treat for the viewers and players alike. Every pool will feature a whimsical matchup, of course, such as Dalhausser and Theo Brunner on the same side of the net in pool three, or Bill Kolinske and Ricardo Santos in pool one.

But some will have a preview of what could be to come.

Avery Drost, for instance, has been making the switch from a predominantly left side blocker to a right side defender. He’ll have at least two excellent opportunities, with Dalhausser and Brunner, to showcase his abilities in pool three.

“It’s not the easiest pool that you can end up in but I’m obviously excited for a chance to play with Phil, which I’ve never got to do before, and it’s a chance to compete against him which I always love to do because he’s the best,” Drost said. “I’m excited to play against him twice and to play on his team. That’s really really cool. Then you got Theo in there who’s one of the best blockers and typically a left side. Here I get to test it against two of the top guys. The main part of this tournament is to show up and show what you got. I don’t feel like I have anything to lose but everything to gain.”

It’s a stacked pool that Drost is in, featuring two of the best blockers in the United States. Others are a bit comical, like the all-defender pool four of Miles Evans, Chaim Schalk, and Chase Frishman, or the 6-foot-4 tweener pool two of Trevor Crabb, Miles Partain, and Travis Mewhirter.

The women’s side has worked out to be relatively balanced, with — mostly — two true defenders and one true blocker in each, with the fourth member of the pool to come out of the qualifier. Kelley Larsen is the feature blocker of pool two, with Kim Hildreth and Katie Spieler; Sarah Schermerhorn is the blocker of three, alongside Emily Stockman and Brittany Tiegs; and Allie Wheeler is the net presence for pool four, with Corinne Quiggle and Kendra VanZwieten.

The main exception is pool one, with Kelly Claes, Zana Muno, and Delaney Mewhirter. While Claes has blocked the majority of her career — with a split-blocking exception at the 2019 AVP Huntington Beach with Brandie Wilkerson — and Muno has been exclusively a defender, Mewhirter has, similar to Drost, flipped both positions and sides.

She made her breakthrough on the AVP defending on the right side with Jess Sykora, split-blocked with Wheeler at 2019 AVP Austin, defended on the right side for Emily Hartong in New York and Seattle, then became a left side blocker for the next year and a half with Katie Spieler.

“I’m super stoked. I’m super excited to compete,” said Claes, who recently competed in a McKibbin-produced fours event with Mewhirter, Spieler, and Sponcil. “The fact that we have some competition and can get out of our comfort zones of what we usually play and our normal rhythms — that’s been a cool factor of 2020, just switching up and getting new perspectives. That’s been really fun. I’m not used to playing with a bunch of different people, but you gotta adapt and find a way to win. That’s going to be the most fun part of this weekend: How am I going to bring the best out of everyone I play with.”

Qualifying begins Friday. Click here for more on the Florida Pro Best of the Beach tournament.

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