It seems like every week I hear about another Atlantic City casino closing, but that didnt deter beach volleyball fans from showing up and packing the stands this past weekend as the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour rolled into town. The sand-filled event sitewe were actually on the west side of the boardwalk, not the ocean sidewas right in the middle of two recently-closed casinos, which left me, and Im sure others, a little concerned with what the turnout would be the weekend after Labor Day.
I took the red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Philly and arrived Friday morning. I then hopped onto a shuttle for the hour and half ride to Atlantic City, stopped by the hotel, dropped off my luggage at the bell desk, and headed straight to the event site where the qualifier was underway. Groggy and exhausted, I was pleasantly surprised with the turnout of the fans on qualifier day. At one point in the early afternoon, the stadium stands were easily 70 percent full. I knew then that we didnt have anything to worry about for the rest of the weekend as far as fan support went.
The weekend prior to this Atlantic City event, the AVP was in Cincinnati, Ohio. After that event, some players decided to stay in the Eastern time zone, while others chose to fly back to the West Coast for a couple days. Perhaps it was all that travel and the back and forth time changes that affected the players. Whatever it was, many of them just seemed a little bit off. They didnt look as crisp as normal, and you werent seeing the typical resultsespecially in the first few rounds of the main draw.
For example, No. 5-seeded Brad Keenan and John Mayer and No. 4-seeded Todd Rogers and Theo Brunner both lost in the first round, meaning they played each other in the first round of the contenders bracket with the loser of the match taking a thirteenth. Brad and John ended up beating Todd and Theo 21-15, 22-20 but lost in the next round to finish the tournament with a ninth, making for both teams worst finish of the year.
On the women’s side, with Nicole Branagh unable to attend this tournament and Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat not playing due to injury, there were some new teams finishing in the top five. With Branagh out, her partner Amanda Dowdy, who is really making her case for the Newcomer of the Year award, played with Branagan Fuller, taking a fifth. Megan Wallin-Brockway and her partner Kathryn Piening placed thirdboth women’s best finish in their careers on the AVP Tour.
Even with the unusual finishes in Atlantic City, the finals saw some familiar faces. We welcomed Emily Day and Summer Ross back to the finals for the first time this season. They faced Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross who were looking to make it six-for-six on tour this year. With all the unexpected results in the early rounds, I felt like this might be the tournament where Kerri and April were most vulnerable. However, even when Kerri and April dont playing their best, whoever they are playing still has to play close to perfect, and unfortunately for Emily and Summer, Kerri and April seemed unfazed by whatever was in the air. They stayed steady and won 21-19, 21-12, putting themselves one AVP tournament win away from sweeping the AVP Tour this season.
Speaking of Kerri and April, two things may have gone under the radar this weekend. As Dusty Avol announced to the crowd in Atlantic City, this win gave April her 40th overall victory and Kerri is now the third winningest player of all time. Notice I didnt say third winningest woman, I said player. Kerri is third all-time behind Sinjin Smith and Karch Kiraly.
The men’s final had Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson looking for their second-consecutive tournament victory and trying to become back-to-back DO AC Invitational champions. They faced Nick Lucena and New Jersey native Ryan Doherty. Ryan had unfortunately tweaked his ankle in the semifinals and was rocking a serious tape job. You could tell it was inhibiting his movement, and Nick and Ryan eventually fell to Jake and Casey 21-15, 21-14. The win gave Jake and Casey their third victory on the AVP this season, $15,000 to split, and two giant poker chips to take home.
The AVP is off for a week as we approach end of the season. Competition picks back up for the last time this year at the AVP Championships in Huntington Beach, California, Sept. 19-21. The seeding for this final tournament is based on best team finishes, so dont expect much partner swapping as Jake and Casey look to make it three tournament victories in a row and Kerri and April fight for the season sweep.