ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — The procession of players on Sunday morning at the AVP Tour Series stop in Atlantic City was a walking, limping, dragging advertisement for Tuff Socks. Amy Ozee, a 23-year-old from Hawai’i who had played six matches with Mariah Whalen by that point, was even caught hopping on more than one occasion. Mary Lorenz and Jeff Samuels? They worked their way off the sand late Saturday night on their knees.

Even those who wore some sort of layer on their feet — the AVP, it should be noted, advised the players to bring sand socks — were left blistered and cut, battle wounds of a combination of heat that broached triple digits, sand temperature that went well north of that, and needling shells. It made Sunday’s seventh-place rounds through the finals as much a battle of attrition as it was winning: Who could push their bloodied and gnarled feet, their depleted and dehydrated muscles, the hardest?

It is no coincidence, then, that the two victors in Atlantic City — David Lee and Cody Caldwell, and Larissa and Lili Maestrini — took the quickest routs there. Neither team lost a match, and therefore took the most expedient path to the finals, limiting their matches to six and five apiece, respectively.

Had the 40-year-old Lee, a three-time USA indoors Olympian, and 29-year-old Caldwell lost earlier? Had they dropped their third match of the day on Saturday, a an hour-long, back-and-forth slugfest with Logan Webber and Seain Cook that would have required them to play a fourth that evening? Lee isn’t so sure they’d have been able to play. Both felt the familiar twinges of cramps snaking up their legs — calves, hamstrings, quads. They knew it was invaluable the moment they sealed up the 14-21, 21-13, 15-13 win over Webber and Cook.

There was just no way they could have known it would have been the harbinger to the first AVP titles of their careers.

Three matches later, all played on Sunday, Caldwell and Lee stood, caked in the brown sugar sand of Atlantic City, the only team remaining, having defeated Avery Drost and Chase Frishman in the finals, 21-15, 21-18.

David Lee, left, and Cody Caldwell celebrate their victory in Atlantic City/AVP photo

“I’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of effort and it just all seems to be coming together on the court,” said Caldwell, who had been blocking for the entirety of the season for Adam Roberts before switching to defense to play with Lee.

“They call this the honeymoon phase,” Lee said with a laugh, “and we’re in it.”

Indeed. The two were indomitable on the weekend, finding something in one another they hadn’t previously found in any former partners. Lee’s best finish in his last 11 AVP tournaments was a ninth; Caldwell’s career-high was a seventh in Muskegon.

“It gives me some fire,” Lee said. “I’ve been jumping around, partner swapping every other weekend. I played with Avery [Drost] in the last two, I tried to get Chase [Frishman] to play with me, now he’s roommate, so the bragging rights on that alone, you have no idea. I might get evicted tonight.

“We’re stoked man, we’re ready to train the next two weeks once these blisters heal. I have gashes all over my feet. It was tough this weekend. We battled.”

Click here for complete men’s results, courtesy of BVBinfo.com.

The women’s side featured no such rookie victors — though no less elated.

It doesn’t matter how often Lili and Larissa Maestrini win, they’re just as excited to conquer new territories as Caldwell and Lee were to claim their first win. Thus far in 2022, they’ve won Tour Series stops in Muskegon and Denver, and with a 21-16, 21-17 victory over Aurora Davis and Teegan Van Gunst in the final, they’ve now won three; the only Tour Series event that has not been won by the Brazilians is Waupaca, when the Maestrinis were competing in a Pro Series in Hermosa Beach.

Larissa, left, and Lili win in Atlantic City/AVP photo

“It feels really good,” Lili said. “Hard work. We came here to give our best and we did it. I’m really happy.”

The Maestrinis are now the highest-earning team on the AVP this season, banking more than $17,000 in prize money apiece. And they’ll be earning more this upcoming weekend as well, one of the favorites in the AVP Pro Series stop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Click here for complete women’s results, courtesy of BVBinfo.com.

Dutch sweep Volleyball World Morocco Challenger

Lee and Caldwell were not the only first-time winners on the weekend. Across the pond in Agadir, Morocco, the Netherlands swept the gold medals, as Stefan Boermans and Matthew Immers, and Mexime van Driel and Emma Piersma both won their first events as a team. Only Boermans has a previous victory on the World Tour, having claimed gold in Gstaad in 2021 alongside Yorick de Groot, who has been out for months with an injury.

Boermans and Immers swept Norway’s Hendrik Mol and Mathias Berntsen, 21-13, 21-8, while Piersma and van Driel won via forfeit over the Czech Republic’s Barbora Hermannova and Marie-Sara Stochlova.

Bronze was won by Switzerland’s Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer, and Italians Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi.

Andy Benesh and Miles Evans were the highest-finishing American team for the men, taking their second consecutive ninth — both out of the qualifier — after an equally  successful weekend in Espinho, Portugal. The only other American men to compete in Morocco were Evan Cory and Bill Kolinske, who fell in the first round of the qualifier.

Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn wrapped up a successful — and long — trip overseas with a ninth. After winning a silver medal in Espinho, Quiggle and Schermerhorn broke pool but were knocked out by Canadian twins Nicole and Megan McNamara, who won multiple NCAA Championships on court one for UCLA. They finished fourth in Morocco.

Tying Quiggle and Schermerhorn for ninth was Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman, who were knocked out by the Italian bronze medalists. It’s the third straight ninth for Kraft and Stockman, who began their international partnership with a fifth in the Kusadasi Challenger and won a gold medal in a Futures event in Poland.

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