NVL season kicks off at Club Med Sandpiper Bay

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Meghan Mannari

The National Volleyball League kicks into high gear Friday at Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Fla., the first of seven stops for 2016.

NVL founder Al-B Hanneman commented on the NVL season: “Heading into our sixth season it is an important year for the NVL and for the sport of beach volleyball as a whole. The future has never been more promising with the popularity of the sport in the Olympics and beach volleyball becoming a recognized official NCAA sport. College players are looking to continue playing at the highest level and the NVL pro tour has become a great platform for them to continue showcasing their talents.

The NVL Academy here at Club Med in Florida has grown to over 100 student athletes in less than two years and beach volleyball in Florida has recently become an official high school sport. The NVL is proud to be a part of this great sports growth at all levels.”

THe Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Fla. could be the best place to host a volleyball tournament. The sand courts are close to Sandpiper Bay with all of the distractions and gastronomic sensations that accompany Club Med.

The NVL at Club Med Sandpiper Bay is also a very interactive experience. After the last ball drops, the players, staff, and fans head over to the NVL private dining room en masse, where everyone from the lowly photographers to the founder of the NVL, Al-B Hanneman, enjoy their post-tournament meal.

Of course, the volleyball is what brings everyone together, so let’s review the top four seeds going into NVL season opener.

Men

No. 1 seed Dave Palm/Matt Henderson: Dave Palm is the reigning NVL MVP from 2015. Palm is a force at the net and from the service line, and has a sweet setting touch. This year Palm teams with Matt Henderson, who partnered with Piotr Marciniak much of the year, including a first-place finish at Madeira Beach. Henderson is a 10-year veteran of pro beach volleyball, undersized but over-skilled. The pair will definitely get their wins, but there is a great deal of parity this year.

No. 2 seed Piotr Marciniak/Skylar DelSol: The NVL’s Best Offensive player of 2015, Piotr Marciniak, married NVL star Karolina Sowala in the offseason. He returns with Skylar DelSol, who received the NVL Best Setter Award for 2015. The duo won the NVL Championships at Club Med, and are a threat to repeat. Marciniak hits a heavy ball, and features a signature jump bump set. DelSol is one of the most impressive athletes on the tour, with terrific speed around the court; his only limitations stem from his lack of height. Marciniak/DelSol will be in the mix at each event. Asked about the 2016 NVL season, Marciniak said: “I’m happy and excited to play another NVL season. I’m even happier to play with Skyler DelSol again and hope to play better and have a lot of fun”.

No. 3 seed Skyler McCoy/Mark Williams: There isn’t much that Mark Williams hasn’t done. He was an indoor Olympian for Australia, has won on both AVP and NVL stops, and has a pair of NCAA Championships from his time at UCLA. Williams was named the NVL’s Best Blocker of 2015. For 2016, Williams returns with Skyler McCoy, the NVL’s Rookie of the Year. McCoy is the Energizer bunny of the tour. He received the NVL Crowd Pleaser award for 2015, and has limitless energy at the age of 23 but possesses skills beyond his years. Williams/McCoy won last year’s Midwest Championships in Milwaukee, and are looking to add to their trophy case. We asked McCoy about the 2016 season. Ready for the training wheels to come off – to go for the cherry. See ya in a Kia!”

No. 4 seed Travis Schoonover/Jeff Samuels: Travis Schoonover spent 2015 behind the block of Andrew Russell. This year Schoonover partners with Jeff Samuels, the NVL’s Most Improved Player of 2015. Schoonover is a deceptively fast defender for his size, and the high flying Samuels is a deceptively impressive blocker for his size. This team will be very difficult to side out against.

Samuels is looking forward to getting started: “Just very blessed and honored to be out on the court for another season especially with a partner like Uncle Schoonover. Training’s been great, focused on new ways to stay motivated and focused. Looking forward to the 2016 season.”

The 2016 season promises parity. The top six teams all have players who have won NVL tour stops. It is doubtful that any team will have three wins this year, as Dave Palm and Eric Zaun (Zaun is currently in Vietnam) did last year. Look for partner shuffling to occur mid-season, as players seek the chemistry to give them the extra edge.

The qualifying field is impressively strong; so much so that a qualifier team is likely to wander into the semifinals. A few particularly intriguing teams are:

Steven Grotowski/Mike DiPierro: Grotowski, a beach volleyball Olympian from England, is matched with Mike DiPierro, a cagey veteran.

Mark/Steve VanZwieten: The VanZwieten name is well known at the top level of volleyball, and is synonymous with skills and beach savvy.

Cody Kessel, a recent Princeton grad and son of USA Volleyball stalwart John Kessel, is an impressive blocker. He and partner Christopher Patz have the potential to do some damage this weekend.

Women:

No. 1 seed Raquel Ferreira/Karolina Sowala: Last year Raquel Ferreira went 6-for-6 with partner Vivian Cunha, dominating the tour. With this year’s NVL restriction on foreign players, Ferreira chose Karolina Sowala, Piotr Marciniak’s newlywed bride. Sowala is clearly top dog in that household at No.1 seed to Marciniak’s No. 2 seed. Seriously, this is the team to beat. Ferreira and Sowala are both tall powerful players with no weaknesses to speak of. This team will certainly be in the winner’s circle multiple times this season. When they get rolling, the rest of the tour should fear them.

Ferreira was cautiously optmistic in her preseason interview.

Pre-season has not been my normal one as I started a little late so I do not have the highest expectations for this first tournament but I am really excited to be on the court with Kaya and see how our partnership will go. I believe we will get stronger in every tournament as we develop our team chemistry and also training more and better (health wise for me). I certainly have high expectations and hope this will be a great season for us. Can’t wait to be on the court again! ”

No. 2 seed Priscilla Piantadosi-Lima/Kristen Batt-Rohr: If any team will consistently unseat Ferreira/Sowala, this team has the horses to do it. Piantadosi-Lima/Batt-Rohr play the game at a high altitude and scored two championships last year to prove it. Batt-Rohr has some of the best blocking hands on the tour and Piantadosi-Lima digs well and scores a high percentage in transition. This team will be in contention at every tour stop and will likely take home multiple championships.

Piantadosi-Lima had this to say: “My biggest inspiration this season is my wife. I really want to play well for her. She’s my biggest inspiration because she fought for her life. Everything seems so dull in comparison to the fight we went through this makes me want to fight even harder this season.

My other inspiration is my partner Kristen Batt-Rohr. We are going to play all the tournaments together. I still have another season in me, so Im pushing the pregnancy plan off until later on in the season.

Lastly, I want to play well for my grandmother.”

No. 3 seed Meghan Mannari/Taylor Nyquist: Mannari, the NVL’s Best Defensive player for 2015, continues her partnership with Nyquist, the NVL’s Breakthrough Athlete of 2015. Together, the pair broke through to three consecutive thirds to finish the season. Will they continue their upward trend? Unlikely, if the depth and strength of the signups for the NVL season opener is an accurate indicator of the field. As Mannari/Nyquist have an extensive partnership history together, they should stand out in early season play while other less experienced teams acclimate.

No. 4 seed Jennifer Snyder/Chara Harris: Snyder, the NVL’s Best Blocker of 2015, is no longer with Chelsea Hayes, who chose to reunite with Mariko Coverdale. Instead, Snyder will open the campaign with Harris, who finished 2015 with a 2nd at the NVL Championships. As Snyder is West Coast, and Harris is East Coast, it will be interesting to see how this team develops. As they both share the same easy sense of humor, they should develop chemistry quickly.

“Playing volleyball makes me happy. So that’s what I do, Snyder said. I enjoy this adventure that is my life, and look forward to NVL 2016!”

At first glance, the 2016 season looks to be dominated by Ferreira/Sowala and Piantadosi-Lima/Batt-Rohr. There are eight or nine teams in the second level that will be contending and occasionally breaking through. With a number of new partnerships to start the year, it will be interesting to see which teams come out of the gate quickly.

Other teams to watch include Chelsea Hayes/Mariko Coverdale: This team has extensive experience together, having played together since 2009, finishing fifth in a Jose Cuervo stop. This team is a dark horse that no one wants to face in the early rounds.

Molly Menard/Michelle Williams: Williams is one of the most potent blockers on the tour. Menard has been working hard and steadily improving each year, as witnessed by her NVL Most Improved Player 2015 award. Menard/Williams have partnered together for two years; it is time for them to reap their rewards.

Sara Putt/Vendy Strakova: This team was named AVCA All-Americans, posting a 32-3 record at the No. 1 pairing for the Stetson Hatters. As they have just completed their NCAA season, they are in end-of-season form as other teams are entering their season. This team has the weapons to outperform their seed easily.

Tournament schedule is as follows:

Friday, May 20th- Qualifier
9:00 AM Qualifier Meeting at Club Med NVL Academies
10:00 AM Qualifier Play to Begin
6:00 PM Main Draw Player Meeting at Club Med NVL Academies
8:00 PM Player Party Bar Fusion Taphouse
**Cocktail hour tickets will be available for sale on-site

Saturday, May 21st- Main Draw
9:30 AM Main Draw Play Begins
11:30 AM Live Webcast Begins (center court matches)
5:00 PM NVL Corporate Challenge
8:00 PM Player Party Location TBD

Sunday, May 22nd- Quarter Finals, Semi Finals, Finals
9:00 AM Main Draw Play Begins
9:00 AM Live Webcast Begins (center court matches)
1:00 PM NVL Academy Indoor Banquet at Club Med NVL Academies
Contact Melissa Piazza at Melissa@TheNVL.com on Banquet information
2:00 PM Women’s Finals
3:30 PM Men’s Finals
5:00 PM Fan Meet, Greet & Play with the NVL Pros

Live streaming is available

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