There was a new ball in town.
Gone was the standard white-and-yellow look that has been Wilson’s signature for so long, and in was a new design, with black and a bit of red splashed in. Hawai’i was its debut event, a bit of a preview before the balls go on sale to the general public in a few months.
Dubbed the AVP OPTX, the new ball was, as Wilson notes on its website, “designed specifically to perform in the beach game, the all-new VST (visual spin technology) uses color variance to allow easier spin detection, and Optic Flow graphics enhance ball tracking in the diverse environments of beach volleyball.”
So: Did it make a difference? Is the ball actually different, or is it just a splashy new design?
The reviews were mixed. Some players didn’t notice any difference at all. Chris Vaughan, who practiced with it in the days leading up to Hawai’i, said it didn’t feel any different. Same as the old ball, just a new design. The most common review amongst players was that it was a tad more “pingy” — it came off the platform and hands with a little more bounce, making passes a little higher, and serves and swings carry a little father.
Betsi Flint jokingly said she wished she could blame the new ball for her nine service errors on the first day of the tournament, “but unfortunately,” she said, “that was all in my control.”
On a positive note, “I didn’t get called for any doubles!”
Some, like Karissa Cook, said it feels smaller than its former version, though Cook also mentioned that it’s “likely because I’m comparing it to my 6-year-old Wilsons that have been in the rain more times than I can count, but I found it hitting one arm on my platform a couple times more than usual.”
Another common review was that, with the ball entirely covered in some kind of ink, it was a bit more slick than usual, at least until it was broken in with a few matches of play on it. This, of course, also could have been due to Hawai’i being arguably the hottest tournament of the year, a close rival to Austin where, yes, the balls were also quite slick with sweat and humidity, ink or not.
“I think when the ball was brand new it was a little bit slippery and a little bit pingy,” Chaim Schalk said. “But once you work it in a little bit it moves fairly similar to the other one. Not much of a difference, in my opinion, once we got it going.”
But could all that ink actually help players see better, as was the point of the new OPTX design? Yes and no. Schalk said the design was easier to track, and Cook noted she had a better time seeing the ball on foggy days and during sunset, “so definitely a win on that.”
On the flip side, during a practice the day before the qualifier, Ric Cervantes noted that, on a court with trees in the background, the black ink had almost a camouflage effect, making it difficult to track out of the darker backdrop.
At the end of the day, however, “if you think the ball made a difference, it would make a difference,” AVP announcer Kevin Barnett said. “If you didn’t think it made a difference, it wouldn’t make a difference.”
The overriding sentiment from the players is that they were excited that Wilson was making the effort to improve its product for the players.
“It’s fun to bring something so new and different out to the beach,” Tri Bourne said. “It’s nice to know that Wilson has put so much effort in to improve a ball that was already the top product on the market.”