The NVL is back in action Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, with a qualifier followed by the main draw Friday and the finish Saturday.
Previewing the top four seeds on both sides:
No. 1 Dave Palm/Eric Zaun settled for second in the NVL’s last event in San Antonio (Zaun did not play the first event in Port St. Lucie). Palm/Zaun lost narrowly in the third set to Skylar DelSol/Piotr Marciniak 18-21, 21-8, 15-13.
“Have been in this situation before,” Palm acknowledged, “but this time things will be different.”
Palm/Zaun are bombers. They jump serve tough and hit high and hard. That may give them an advantage in the night sessions, where it can be more difficult to pick up the ball defensively. Since there are probably eight teams that could win it all, it’s tough to pick one out of the crowd, but this is the pair that is most likely to win.
No. 2 Skylar DelSol/Piotr Marciniak. This team knows how to win, as evidenced by their Port St. Lucie and San Antonio championships. They’re no strangers to champagne celebrations. They’re one of the most difficult teams to side out against between Marciniak’s technically sound blocking and DelSol’s athletic speed on defense. They will certainly be in the mix, and can win if they make a play or two at crunch time.
No. 3 Jeff Samuels/Travis Schoonover: This is one of the most exciting teams to watch on the tour. Jeff Samuels has an impressive vertical. Even 1984 silver medalist Rita Crockett (who had an impressive 42-inch vertical herself) was impressed by Samuel’s leaping ability. Coupled with Schoonover’s “2015 Best Defensive player” status, this team has the ability to take over a match. But they have not been as consistent as they would like, landing them in more three set matches more often than not. So far this year they have a fifth and a third and if they can smooth things out a bit they will upgrade their finish.
No. 4 Drew Mallin/Jon Mesko: Not the biggest, just one of the best. This team doesn’t bounce balls and won’t impress you in warmups. They do a great job of staying in system the vast majority of the time, which wins matches. Mesko might rank near the bottom in vertical reach for full-time blockers, but he’s a great problem solver. Teams that underestimate them will pay the price.
Dark Horse: Adam Cabbage/John Moran are seeded 16th in the qualifier. This is a team that could come out of the qualifier and muck things up for the top seeds. Cabbage is an aggressive scrapper and Moran has good range and reach for a blocker. Moran has only played one pro beach tournament this year; keep an eye on this team.
No. 1 Raquel Ferreira/Karolina Marciniak: Still the class of the field. Sure, they dropped a tight finals to Megan Rice/Anne Osburn 21-15, 13-21, 15-13 in San Antonio. They have finished 1-2 in Port St. Lucie and San Antonio, which is more than any other team can say. Playing finals under the lights is an equalizer, making it more difficult to read the ball when spiked cross-court. That’s good news for the field. The bad news is that this team will come back hungry ready to put San Antonio behind.
No. 2 Kristen Batt-Rohr and Priscilla Piantadosi-Lima: They should always contend and are good at all aspects of the game, strong in transition and veteran players that know how and when to make plays. So far NVL 2016 has yielded a second and a third.
Piantadosi-Lima is looking forward to Columbus: “Ohio is always a special event for me. I have family friends here and this one in particular I have my wife with me. We just celebrated her battle with cancer.”
“Kristen and I want to start even stronger than the way we started last tourney and finish even better.”
“We lost in the semis when she wasn’t feeling well the whole day. Unfortunately that took a toll on her body and her game. I’m so proud of her to have pushed through the whole match. She always gives her all. We want to reach the highest place this weekend in front of my wife Michelle and Kristen’s parents.”
No. 3 Chara Harris/Jennifer Snyder: They have potential. Snyder was named the NVL’s best blocker in 2015 and Harris is defending well. This year they have two fifth-place finishes; other teams have been able to find higher gears late in matches that this team has been unable to find thus far. They have good chemistry together, and they have only played two events together, so look for them to find the next level.
No. 4: Kimberly Hildreth/Maryna Samoday: They should outperform their seed. Hildreth’s ball control is solid, and Samoday plays with athleticism and composure. This team is coming off a nice win at the Waupaca Boatride, so they have confidence and rhythm. This team will likely earn some opportunities to get to the finals. If it converts them, look out!
Dark Horse: Two qualifiers have what it takes, Q1 seed Kyra Lancon/Lindsey Shepard have the physical tools to not only qualify, but to trouble the main draw teams, as demonstrated by their ninth in Port St. Lucie. They lack the physicality of the elite teams at this level, but stay consistently within themselves and play well together.
The tournament is played at Flannagan’s Dublin, 6835 Caine Road, Columbus, OH 43235.
Thursday’s qualifying results can be found here:
Livestream Friday and Saturday can be seen here:
or on Facebook live.