By Andrew Alexander
Kenner, La. — The top seeds reigned supreme in the AVP New Orleans Open Sunday afternoon.
Men’s No.1 pair John Mayer and Ryan Doherty and women’s No. 1 Kim DiCello and Kendra Van Zwieten navigated the fierce competition and windy conditions this weekend to capture the first AVP titles of the 2016 season.
Mayer and Doherty dispatched the Crabb brothers in straight sets to advance to the finals against Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb, who advanced to their second straight New Orleans Open finals after Mark Burik and Russ Marchewka forfeited the semi-final round Sunday morning.
Last year Patterson and Gibb defeated Mayer and Doherty in three sets in the semi-finals of the New Orleans Open. This year was a different story.
Patterson started off the finals with an ace, an omen of a dominant first set in which he and Gibb would blast Mayer and Doherty 21-9.
“We were trying to move on, and we knew we’d play better,” Mayer said of the poor showing in set one. “I thought we needed a little energy to come out in the second (set). The big mantra for me all weekend was ‘Be present.’ If I’m thinking about 21-9 at the start of the second set, then I’m not present.”
After weathering a difficult first set, Mayer and Doherty stormed back for a 21-17 win in the second set. The top seeded pair found its swagger in set two, and Mayer rediscovered his serve, which had been erratic for most of his first three sets Sunday.
“I think it’s just confidence in my training,” Mayer said. “It’s like one of those deals, like a good shooter, when you miss a bunch, you just keep shooting. I didn’t need to change, I just needed to be me and hit my serves. I didn’t overthink it.”
Doherty said his partner never wavered on the court Sunday.
“At some point I started scoring some points with my serve,” Doherty said. “(Mayer) was just saying ‘Hey, you keep being aggressive and go for it. I’ll make sure to get mine and that way we have a good balance of being able to play defense and possibly scoring some points.’
“I think when just you just do that, when you think about I’m just going to be calm and get the ball in, then all of the sudden a lot of your serves get much better. It’s one of those Catch-22’s that the more relaxed you are the better you can serve.”
Mayer and Doherty finished off the comeback with a 15-8 win in the third set, capturing their second AVP win together.
“This is what we work our butts off for,” Mayer said. “Our families make a lot of sacrifices. I’m balancing two jobs, coaching and playing. It means a lot because I feel like if come here and lay an egg, I’m letting a lot of people down.”
Doherty said winning the first AVP tournament of the season felt “fantastic.”
“Johnny has been an absolute fantastic player for me to play with,” Doherty said. “It’s been such a pleasure getting to compete with him. Getting a win in a tournament like this in New Orleans was kind of a dream come true for me.”
The women’s final featured DiCello and Van Zwieten against Angela Bensend (the LSU grad and local favorite) and Geena Urango in a rematch of Saturday’s quarterfinals.
DiCello and Van Zwieten defeated Misty May-Treanor and Jenny Kropp in the semifinals Sunday morning to advance to the women’s final round.
“Kendra and I both have so much respect for Misty,” DiCello said. “She has changed the sport. She has been an amazing ambassador for the sport. She’s been a mentor to both of us. It was really fun being out there on the court with her, and it was an honor to compete against her.”
Bensend, a former outside hitter on LSU’s indoor volleyball team, and Urango dropped a hard fought first set 21-19 to DiCello and Van Zwieten.
“They did a great job changing their game plan on us,” Bensend said. “They were siding out a little bit better than they were yesterday. Kim blocked amazing, and Kendra had some amazing defense.”
Bensend and Urango battled back to capture the second set 21-19.
In the third set, with match point on the line at 14-13, DiCello and Van Zwieten called timeout.
“Kendra looked at me and told me to side out,” DiCello said with a smile. “It was just taking a moment to catch my breath and bring myself back into the moment.”
DiCello and Van Zwieten closed out the set on the next point, securing their first victory on the AVP tour.
“It’s awesome,” Van Zwieten said. “We’ve been working real hard in the offseason. It was real nice to see it come together, especially with the kind of crazy conditions.”
“The results feel great, but I’m most of all proud of our team for battling hard and getting better on the things we needed to get better at,” DiCello said.