The NVL arrives Thursday n Hermosa Beach, one of the meccas of beach volleyball, with main-draw action commencing Friday.
As you might expect, this is the most difficult qualifier of the year. On the men’s side, newer teams like Cody Kessel/David Smith and John Moran/Adam Cabbage are battling along with NVL stalwarts Jake Dietrich/William Robbins, Kibbee Jelks/Buddy Krueger, and Gary Barnes/Christian Honer. On the women’s side, a number of top college players are competing, such as UCLA’s Laurel Weaver and Long Beach’s Kobi Pekich and Sammee Thomas.
The deep sand of Hermosa Beach offers an advantage to defensive-oriented teams.
The top four teams on each side:
No. 1 Dave Palm/Eric Zaun
Palm/Zaun have been knocking on the door this year, with second-place finishes in Columbus and San Antonio. The pair won in Hermosa Beach and Seattle last year and are used to being top dog. They are the most physical team on the tour.
“I’m very excited to be back in the beach volleyball capital of the world,” Zaun said. “We are looking to defend our title from last year’s West Coast Championships.”
No. 2 Skylar DelSol/Piotr Marciniak
Delsol/Marciniak have won three of the last four NVL events. It helps that DelSol has the best night vision in the league, with the remarkable ability to defend high-speed Eric Zaun spikes in San Antonio and Columbus while staring into the lights. Unfortunately for DelSol, his night vision superpowers won’t help him in Hermosa, since the finals will be played in natural light.
At the NVL’s last event in Columbus, the Marciniak household scored a double win as Karolina Marciniak and Raquel Ferreira won immediately before Marciniak/DelSol. Having tasted a double win, the Marciniaks are definitely hungry for more. The Marciniak/DelSol is a force to contend with, as Marciniak’s presence at the net and DelSol’s backcourt speed are a daunting combination.
No. 3 Jeff Samuels/Travis Schoonover
On paper, this team should be at the top of the rankings, with Samuels, a high-altitude blocker, and Schoonover, the NVL’s top defender of 2015. The team has been a bit up and down, with a third, fifth, and ninth this year.
“I’m excited to play in some deep Hermosa sand with no night games or long breaks,” Schoonover said.
They have lacked consistency, as evidenced that many of their matches go three sets. It is still early in their partnership, so look for them to improve, especially in Schoonover’s home sand of Hermosa Beach.
No. 4 Drew Mallin/Jon Mesko
This is a relatively new team with two events together. They finished ninth in San Antonio and third in Columbus. They are not as physical as some of the other top contenders, but physical doesn’t always win games, especially in the deep sand of Hermosa. This team plays smart, and has proved that it can contend at the highest levels.
Teams to watch
Anybody that survives the brutal qualifier. Adam Cabbage and John Moran were playing well in Columbus before Moran was derailed by a back injury. Veteran David Smith and young gun Cody Kessel will surprise some main draw teams if they get through.
No. 1 Karolina Marciniak/Raquel Ferreira
With Kristen Batt injured and out of the picture, Marciniak/Ferreira are likely top dog. This new team for 2016 has two firsts and one second-place finish in three events. They were upset in San Antonio by Anne Osburn and Megan Rice in a thrilling final, so they are certainly vulnerable.
No. 2 Megan Mannari/Taylor Nyquist
This team is one of the most difficult to score against. Nyquist is long with excellent blocking technique, and Mannari is the fastest defender on the tour.
“Meghan and I are very excited to be out here in Hermosa for the NVL tour stop again this year.” Taylor said. “Last year we finished with a third so we’re definitely hungry to make it to the finals this year. We’re looking forward to enjoying the weather and beach and put all of our hard work into action. The atmosphere and fans here are always so great and this tournament especially has some great competition so we’re focused and excited to be here.”
Against the very top teams Mannari can occasionally have issues siding out, but her offense is significantly improved over last year. This year they have a third and a seventh, this could be the event where they break into their first final.
No. 3 Megan Rice/Anne Osburn
This team possesses the most potent offensive weaponry on the tour and rode it to a victory in San Antonio and a third in Port St. Lucie.
“Ready to show Cali what the Florida girls can do!” Rice said.
Their seed is steadily rising, look for them to be in contention for a title.
No. 4 Maryna Samoday/Kim Hildreth
This team keeps improving. Samoday is a force at the net, and Hildreth is a superb defender with a tough serve and excellent ball control. So far this year they have earned a second, third, and seventh.
They are capable of defeating any team on the tour, but have been unable to do so on a consistent basis. Hildreth has won NVL Hermosa previously with Marciniak, so she knows how to win here.
Again, anybody who makes it out of the qualifier. In particular, Rasa DiSalvo/Dalida Vernier are a powerful, experienced team. Majo Orellana/Megan Schmidt can compete with anyone on the tour, as Orellana has international experience playing for Guatemala. In the main draw, Mariko Coverdale and Chelsea Hayes have underperformed so far this year, with a fifth and a ninth. This is a seasoned team with years of experience and excellent chemistry that should break into the semifinals.