TAVARES, Florida — Delaney Mewhirter has been practicing a lot lately. Roam the Hermosa Beach strand and you’ll find her, with anyone, any street. It’s around this time of year that her usual partner, Katie Spieler, spends the majority of her time in Santa Barbara, coaching for her club, East Beach Volleyball Academy. It leaves Mewhirter to find practices of her own.
So she’ll block on the left for Traci Callahan and defend on the right for Terese Cannon. She’ll split-block with Kelley Kolinske and block on the left for Kendra Vanzwieten. She has been, whether intentional or not, training to become the optimal King of the Beach partner, the exact season-finale format happening this weekend here, put on by the Florida Region of USA Volleyball.
“I think having trained with a lot of different players and styles this off-season has benefited me here,” said Mewhirter, who went 2-1 on the day in a pool with Zana Muno, Kelly Claes, and Carly Kan. “I think even just the deeper history that I have with the KOB style, having been how I grew up playing and how I learned to play, taught me early on how important it is to be a good partner and to get the best out of your partner.”
Mewhirter (who, it should be note, is my wife) was in a pool that favored utility. In her first match, with Claes, she defended on the right side, winning 21-18, 21-17. In her second, with Kan, she blocked full-time on the left, winning 21-17, 28-26. With Muno, she was, again, blocking on the left, losing in the third, 13-15, but doing enough to make it out of her pool as the top seed.
What comes with the top seed in this tournament is a fun twist of format as well: A draft pick. At the end of Saturday, the top finishers from each pool drafted one of the remaining 12 players in the field for Sunday’s single-elimination, bracket-style semifinals and finals.
Mewhirter chose a familiar face in Claes, with whom she also competed in a fours tournament in Hermosa Beach last week.
“I know that Kelly came into this tournament with every intention to win it,” Mewhirter said. “I think she should and I want to be with her when she does it.”
“I don’t really know how the order goes,” Kolinske said. “But I’m picking Emily regardless. I’m glad I came out on top. It was an awesome format and I got to play with three girls I’ve never played with before. It was good volleyball.”
Winning Stockman’s pool was Sarah Schermerhorn, who sided with Corinne Quiggle. That, of course, was cause for some drama. Most expected Schermerhorn to pick up her usual partner, Hildreth. With Quiggle then off the table, Allie Wheeler, Quiggle’s partner in the AVP Champions Cup, scooped Hildreth.
“I just thought it was a super fun, competitive event,” Schermerhorn said. “I honestly thought they would implement a rule of, you can’t pick your normal partner, and I was kind of surprised they didn’t. But in true queen of the beach fashion, we’re mixing it up.”
The men’s side went mostly expected, save for one pool. Phil Dalhausser won his pool with Avery Drost, Theo Brunner and the up-and-coming Caleb Kwekel, who qualified on Friday. Taylor Crabb won a hotly contested pool with Kyle Friend, Bill Kolinske, and Ricardo Santos. And Chaim Schalk took his pool against Chase Frishman, Miles Evans, and Logan Webber.
The lone unexpected — for some, anyway — winner was young Miles Partain, the 2019 AVP Rookie of the Year, upsetting Trevor Crabb to take pool two, which also included Dave Palm and Jake Landel.
“You just gotta make sure you know their game and get on the same page as quick as possible,” said Partain, who didn’t lose a single set on Saturday. “We’ve done so many KOBs in practice and I’ve played with a lot of different people so I’m used to switching it around.”
Partain, with his choice of partner, opted for Brunner. Taylor Crabb, with the option of reuniting with his brother, chose Trevor, with whom he has made three professional finals. Dalhausser chose his pool-mate and new defender, Drost. Schalk, without the option of his new partner, Brunner, on the table, took Kolinske.
“It’s such a good opportunity to compete,” Claes said. “This is a great atmosphere, a great opportunity to mix things up. I feel like that’s what this year’s been about: Being able to pivot, and that’s what you gotta do in these types of tournaments.”