The USA’s Olympians dominated in the finals of AVP Chicago, the tour’s last stop of 2016.
Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena trounced Tri Bourne/John Hyden 21-12, 21-16, followed by Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat defeating Betsi Flint/Kelley Larsen 14-21, 21-10, 19-17.
Dalhausser took control of the finals from the very start with 10 blocks. Lucena nimbly scrambled behind the block to pick up the leftovers, and the result was all Dalhausser/Lucena.
“Don’t ask me where it came from,” Lucena laughed when talking about the pair’s effort. “I had zero energy going into the semifinals. Phil set the tone with his block, and he brought my energy level up.”
“My blocking timing was on today,” Dalhausser said. “I don’t think Tri had his best match today, and that helped our cause. We had Tri thinking out there about what we’re doing rather than what he’s doing, and anytime you do that, you have your opponent in the weeds, so to speak.”
Their coach, Paul Baxter, praised his team.
“They did a great job executing and just sticking with it in the finals,” Baxter said. “Especially after the battle they had in the semifinals with Ryan (Doherty) and John (Mayer).”
The women’s final was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde performance, as Flint/Larsen made all the right reads and controlled the first set 21-14.
Set two went 21-10 the other way.
“I think we had to get into our rhythm in our sideout game,” Sweat said. “We honed in on the over two balls, got scrappy, and turned up the pass/set elements.”
Set three was an exciting affair, with four lead changes after 14-all. This is the kind of match that AVP CEO Donald Sun had in mind when converting the end of the match to sideout scoring, which featured momentum shifts that would have ended the match at 16-14 and lost 10 minutes of taut drama without the rules change.
Those were also the rules changes that caused Kerri Walsh Jennings to boycott the tournament, leaving her partner, April Ross, to play with Kelly Reeves.
The championship match ended with an exclamation point, as Fendrick stuffed Larsen to close out it out.
“Whoo! Man!” Fendrick exclaimed, recalling that block. “We had had several chances throughout the match, and they were playing phenomenal ball, the match could have gone either way. It feels so good to end the season with a win.”
Andrew Fuller, the Fendrick/Sweat coach is also Fendrick’s husband.
“The team did a really nice job of adding variety to the depth, trajectory, and spot that they were serving to,” Fuller said. “I think that really got them going, and once we did that, the defense just starting rolling. The sideout game was just a grind, and it really came down to the serve and pass. Most high level matches come down to serve and pass, and it was nice to see them turn it around.”