From May 1-6, 179 of the best domestic and foreign beach teams will compete for a $300,000 purse in Huntington Beach.
An FIVB four-star event?
An AVP event?
Yes to both.
It’s a collaborative event between the FIVB and AVP, perhaps the most innovative competition since the King of the Beach format in 1991, which allows any team a shot at the four-star main draw. It’s called the FIVB Huntington Beach Open.
“The AVP’s partnership with the FIVB for the event in Huntington Beach is all about growing the sport of beach volleyball in new and exciting ways, which will always be at the core of our business,” AVP managing partner Donald Sun said.
Not only will the tournament feature a new format, it will also showcase many new teams, since it’s the first stop on the 2018 domestic tour.
There are 44 American teams and perhaps the most anticipated debut is that of Chase Budinger, a former NBA player and recipient of the Volleyball magazine 2006 Player of the Year award. Budinger has paired with Sean Rosenthal.
Three-time Olympian Reid Priddy will kick off the season with Jeremy Casebeer, whose former partner, John Mayer, will join forces with Trevor Crabb.
And a promising young team to watch: 18-year-old Californians Tim Brewster and John Schwengel will make their FIVB senior debut. The pair recently qualified for the FIVB U19 championships in Nanjing, China.
On the women’s side, the split of Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes and Kim DiCello’s pregnancy created a number of new partnerships. As reported on SANDCAST, Kelly Reeves, the former UCLA indoor standout, will kick it off with Brittany Howard, the former Stanford All-American who played a season of beach at Pepperdine before turning pro last summer.
The litany of new teams include Hughes and Summer Ross, Lane Carico and Caitlin Ledoux, Lara Dykstra and Sheila Shaw, Betsi Flint and Emily Day, Brittany Hochevar and Claes, Emily Stockman and Kelley Larsen, and Jenny Kropp and Kendra Vanzwieten. Ali McColloch, who recently had a baby, returns to the tour and will play with Geena Urango.
Also, look out for reunited 2016 USA Olympians Brooke Sweat and Lauren Fendrick, who have the points and experience together to do well.
It’s a loaded field, even by four-star standards. Most of the top 20 teams are playing for both genders. The only teams that won’t be there are No. 13 Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle of Belgium and No. 20 Christopher McHugh and Damien Schumann of Australia for the men, and No. 15 Joy Stubbe and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands and No. 18 Katharina Schutzenhofer and Lena Plesiutschnig of Austria.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled that this new venture will collectively amplify opportunities for AVP athletes to compete and hone their skills on the international stage,” Sun said. “Knowing that this new collaboration ultimately creates a stronger pipeline of American beach volleyball athletes for the Olympic Games is important to us all and we look forward to continuing to grow our partnership with the FIVB far beyond the 2018 season.”
Here’s how the tournament works (subject to change, details are still being finalized):
Pre-qualifier: 28 men’s teams will fight for 16 qualifier spots in single elimination play on Tuesday. Because there are fewer women’s teams (the NCAA’s National Collegiate Beach Championships are the same weekend), their qualifier starts Wednesday. The top 72 teams will sit in the shade and await Wednesday’s qualifier.
Wednesday single-elimination qualifier: Teams ranked 33-72 will be joined by Tuesday’s 16 top finishers, while the top 40 teams get more shade time. Eight teams will emerge and make the main draw.
Thursday-Sunday double-elimination main draw: The top 40 teams plus the eight qualifiers will compete in true double-elimination format. The finals will be shown on NBC Sports. Only the top six teams will receive FIVB points, but AVP teams will receive AVP points based on a $300,000 scale.
Tournament director Jeff Conover said the main draw will start that Thursday on 10 courts on the north side of the pier and Sunday’s matches will all be on the stadium court.
“While we like the pool-play formatting of other (FIVB) World Tour events, we wanted to run this main draw as a double-elimination format to stay true to our AVP lineage and pride we have in the double-elimination programming,” Conover said.
“Additionally, we love the drama and grit that is ultimately showcased in the double-elimination process. So many times in the past, there have been underdogs seen grinding their way through the contenders bracket similar to NCAA March Madness, catching fire at just the right time, making a run at the podium that may have otherwise been cut short far earlier with the random draw of typical FIVB events. It’s May Madness.”
The tournament format allows unprecedented access for any domestic team. In doing so, it expands the size of the qualifier. Where teams would typically have to win two matches to advance to the 32-team main draw, a team seeded outside the top 72 would have to survive both the pre-qualifier and qualifier just to make the top 48. By returning to its double-elimination roots, the AVP eliminates the fairness issue that occurs when a winners-bracket team loses to a losers-bracket team in the semifinals, eliminating the winners team from the tournament even though both teams have one loss.