Skip to main content

Miles Evans, Chase Budinger win gold they’ve been “waiting for all year”

There was little that suggested that Miles Evans wanted to be in China this past week. His social media featured regular pictures of Hermosa Beach — whose translation in Spanish is “beautiful” — living up to its name. Gorgeous sunsets. Colors everywhere. Idyllic temperatures. These photos were regularly contrasted with those from China. A bit smoggy. Bit gray.

Not Hermosa.

Maybe Sunday changed his mind.

On Sunday afternoon, he and Chase Budinger won their first tournament as a team, winning six straight matches at the Haikou Challenge to claim a gold medal. Nearly as significant as the medal itself is the teams they beat to earn it: Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk in the semifinals (21-15, 21-19), and Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb in the finals (21-14, 23-21).

“We’ve been waiting all year for this gold medal,” Evans said. “That’s a really good team, we’ve lost to them all year, it’s finally time we beat them.”

Miles Evans-Chase Budinger

In three previous meetings with Crabb and Brunner — an AVP in Chicago, a Challenge in Espinho, the World Championships — Evans and Budinger hadn’t won a single set, outscored by 26 total points. Sunday in Haikou was a stunning reversal. A 9-9 first set tie was pushed to a 13-9 lead on a blend of errors and blocks, which was then extended to 18-12. The ball control throughout a windy week in Haikou that had gotten Brunner and Crabb to the finals began betraying them. Errant passes. Over-sets. Errors on swings and even the occasional shot. Meanwhile, Budinger and Evans played the calm, patient, smooth game they had all tournament, rarely gifting errors, hitting on-two when available — and it was often available, kudos of the near-perfect passing — serving aggressive but controlled. Budinger, in fact, opened up the second set with a line shot and consecutive aces, which preceded a Brunner hitting error.

While Brunner and Crabb would tie the score at 8-8, and again at 18-18 after trailing 13-15, they’d never lead again.

It was a testament to the tremendous poise showed by Budinger and Evans all week, poise they displayed in a pair of hot and humid three-set wind-ball matches against Australians Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher (21-15, 19-21, 15-10), and England’s Bello Brothers, Joaquin and Javier (21-19, 18-21, 15-12).

The win vaults Budinger and Evans four spots in the Olympic rankings in what is quickly becoming a four-horse race for the USA. Evans and Budinger are now No. 22, their first time in the top-24. More important: Their average finish per event (489) is catching that of Bourne and Schalk (506) who are No. 16 in the Olympic ranks and finished fourth in Haikou, and Brunner and Crabb (587) at No. 13.

“I hope,” Budinger said afterwards when asked if he and Evans might be competing in Paris 2024. “That’s the goal. We’ve been training all year. That’s our journey right now.”

This year, as a whole, has been a welcome journey for the USA men. Sunday marked the nineteenth time since 1997 that the USA men have won multiple medals in significant events — significant meaning four-star and above in the star system or Challenges and above in the Elite16s, or opens and grand slams in that system — and the eighth that featured an all-American final. Had Bourne and Schalk beat Australians Zach Schubert and Thomas Hodges for bronze (they lost, 15-21, 21-23) it would have been just the second all-American men’s podium, the other coming at the 2011 Quebec Open, with Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers winning gold, Matt Fuerbringer and Nick Lucena silver, and Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal bronze.

The women’s podium also featured two teams from the same country: Brazil’s Barbara and Carol claimed their third gold medal of the season, while countrywomen Taina Silva and Victoria Lopes defeated Lithuania’s Aine Raupelyte and Monika Paulikiene for bronze. China’s Shuting Cao and Lingdi Zhu were a delightful storyline, emerging from fourth in the qualifier to the finals, where they lost to Barbara and Carol, 21-14, 21-9.

Barbara Seixas-Carol Salgado
Barbara and Carol celebrate a gold medal/Volleyball World photo