Two professional beach volleyball tournaments get underway Thursday as both the AVP and Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour kick off their seasons. The AVP is in Miami Beach, while Volleyball World is in La Paz, Mexico. There are top Americans in both. In this report, we have news from our interview with Phil Dalhausser, who is in Miami, finally some info about how to watch the AVP, and a look at who’s in Mexico:
Phil Dalhausser’s partnership plans for the AVP season don’t extend beyond the opening event.
The seemingly ageless former Olympic gold medalist, who won three AVP titles with different partners in 2022, will play this weekend in the Pro Series stop at Miami Beach’s oceanside Lummus Park with Troy Field. Dalhausser’s immediate goal is to help his new partner win his first AVP tournament.
Beyond that, who knows?
“I’m a free agent,” Dalhausser said during a lengthy interview this week with VolleyballMag.com. “I had a lot of fun last year playing with all those different guys. I got to split-block in one tournament with [6-foot-9] Andy Benesch, which was awesome, and we got him his first win.
“I am going to play with Troy this weekend and then we’ll see what happens after that. Troy has been knocking on the door of winning an AVP for a while now and I want to see if I can help him get his first ‘W.’ Troy’s a really good guy and I would like to get him that first win this weekend. That would be awesome.”
Field, 29, joined the AVP tour in 2017 and is 0-for-32, having advanced to finals twice and semifinals four times. Field played with Chase Budinger during the 2022 season and had one second, two thirds and two fifths in eight tournaments. In their only shot at a title, Field and Budginger were bounced in straight sets by Dalhausser and Benesh in Austin, Texas.
Dalhausser and Field played in the Queen & King of the Court event last weekend on Miami Beach, but were eliminated early on. Dalhausser lamented that they might have been on the court for “five minutes,” and thus did not get much quality get-acquainted time.
At age 43 and 20 years into a legendary career on the beach that began in 2003, Dalhausser still remains capable of replicating the dominating “The Thin Beast” who represented the United States in the Olympics in 2008 (winning the gold medal), ‘12, ‘16 and ‘21. After stepping away from international competition following a ninth-place finish in the 2021 Tokyo Games, hecontinued to be a force on the domestic tour, which returned to a regular schedule in 2022. He won Pro Series titles in Austin, in New Orleans with Casey Patterson (who has since retired) and in Central Florida with Taylor Crabb. He also advanced to the semifinals with fellow grizzled vet Patterson at the Pro Series Hermosa Beach stop and top-level Gold Series events in Atlanta and Chicago.
The pairing of an icon in Dalhausser and a charismatic and athletic relative youngster in Crabb at the Central Florida stop played near Orlando was a proverbial “Dream Team” that captured the imagination of numerous beach-volleyball fans. With it carried an expectation of success. Dalhausser still might be the best blocker and Crabb likely is the top digger among American men.
“Taylor and I were supposed to win, so there was some pressure going in,” Dalhausser said. “We were the odds-on favorites to win, but it was a pleasure playing with him. Taylor just knows the game. We just kind of clicked, and we didn’t even practice. We figured it out and immediately were on the same page. If [Crabb’s regular partner] Taylor Sander were to get hurt, I would definitely enjoy playing with Taylor again, but hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
Dalhausser said he plans to play in all seven of the 2023 AVP Pro and Gold Series events in the AVP’s 40th anniversary season. He seems singularly motivated by the prospect of adding another plague on the pier, an honor bestowed to champions of the storied Manhattan Beach Open, noting that, “It would be nice to win another Manhattan and catch Karch [Kiraly]. Karch has eight and I have seven.”
When pressed, Dalhausser said that his goal for victories on the 2023 AVP Tour would be three: “Let’s go for three again. A lot of teams will be gone this year playing world tour to get those Olympic qualifying points, so, yeah, I think three is doable.”
Does Dalhausser hear the clock ticking? Not particularly.
“At this point in my life, I’ve played so much volleyball that it’s like riding a bike,” he said. “Sure, I have to shake off the rust a little bit at the beginning of a tournament, but once I get rolling, I feel pretty good out there. As long as I stay in shape, which I always will, because I enjoy working out and doing physical things, I should be OK. I’m 43 now, and I’m curious to see how long I can actually be able to do this.”
Adding to the prospect of longevity on the contemporary AVP is that the four Pro Tour events of 2023 are spread out from March to July, allowing plenty of time for physical recovery for Dalhausser, who is not doubling up on the international circuit. Not to mention that the typical AVP tournament has matches in a 16-team draw spread out over three days, whereas “when I first started playing AVP, it was 32-team draws over three days,” Phil said.
Dalhausser and Field are seeded No. 2 in the men’s field in Miami Beach with Taylor Crabb and Sander at No. 1, Billy Allen-Benesh third, Budinger-Miles Evans fourth and Timothy Brewster-Kyle Friend fifth. On-site qualifying is back for the AVP, and it starts on Thursday, with competition in the 16-team main draw following Friday through Sunday. Pro Series prize money in each gender totals $62,500.
The draw seemingly leaves the door wide open for Phil to claim his 64th domestic-tour title and Field his first.
“It sucks for Theo [Brunner] that he’s banged up, but it helps our cause for sure,” Dalhasser said. “Tri [Bourne] and Chaim [Schalk] are in Mexico. Miles Partain isn’t playing. You can make an argument that Miles and Tri are the two best players out there right now, so that makes things a little easier for us. But it’s still tough. The Taylors will be there, and the sand [on Miami Beach] is really hard-packed, so especially for Taylor Sander, those are favorable conditions for him.”
Golden opportunity for Sponcil-Cannon
The women’s side of the AVP draw looks to be easy pickings for three obvious teams: Second-seeded Sarah Sponcil-Terese Cannon, third-seeded Betsi Flint-Julia Scoles and top seeds Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes, the Canadian stars who tuned up last weekend by winning the Queen & King of the Court on Miami Beach.
Sponcil, 26, who represented the U.S. in the Tokyo Olympics, and the 6-foot-3 Cannon, 27, will begin their second season as a team bearing the burden of greater expectations. They took a breakthrough victory in 2022 in winning the Pro Series stop on Hermosa Beach, California, and came close in the Gold Series events, with a runner-up finish in Atlanta and thirds at Manhattan Beach and Chicago.
“A partnership is like a marriage,” Sponcil told VolleyballMag.com. “We’ve moved past the honeymoon phase, and as T and I have become more comfortable with each other, it’s translated to the court. We’ve had a great month-and-a-half of preparation since [the world tour event] we played in Doha [Qatar] and we’re excited to get going again in this first AVP tournament.”
Eight American women’s pairs have entered the Beach World Tour’s second-tier Challenger event in La Paz this weekend. Sponcil and Cannon chose to play next to the Atlantic Ocean in Florida rather than chase Olympic qualifying points on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
“That was a decision made by our coach [Scott Davenport],” Sponcil said. “He keeps track of the points and made the call for us to play here. He’s mapped out a plan and when we go [overseas], it will be for more for the bigger Elite 16 [events] than the Challengers. But we leave that all up to him.”
A result from 2022 that cemented the new pair as legitimate threats on the world stage came in the semifinals of the Capetown Elite 16 in November when Sponcil and Cannon took down Brazilian standouts Duda and Ana Patricia, who won the FIVB World Championships in Rome last summer and were the top seeds in the South Africa event.
“We had come off a bit of a rough stretch, so beating them definitely boosted our confidence,” Sponcil said. “Winning at Hermosa was huge, too. That was the first AVP [tournament title] for both of us and those moments will be pictured in my mind forever.”
Click here for the entry lists and brackets.
AVP on ESPN
The AVP, which is owned by Bally’s Corporation, has reached an agreement with ESPN to stream its matches from Stadium Court live behind a paywall on its massive ESPN+ streaming platform, which has nearly 25 million subscribers. The schedule for this weekend’s tournament is up on ESPN’s website. Click here for a link to ESPN for coverage that begins Friday.
ESPN will air coverage of the finals from AVP events on a delayed basis on one of its linear cable TV channels, and has plans to televise live finals of some events later in the season. During the AVP’s early glory years of the 1980s, ESPN was a continuing TV partner, airing the Jose Cuervo series that carried the tour’s richest purses. A working relationship with the ESPN family of networks figures to provide the tour with a boost in mainstream cachet. In 2022, cable channel Fox Sports 1 packaged what the AVP had shown of Pro and Gold finals on its YouTube channel and aired it on delay, typically a 90-minute program shown on the following Tuesday nights.
Meanwhile, fans will have a different streaming platform for watching matches on outer courts, the free Bally Live app. The AVP has a dedicated channel on Bally Live. For the tournament this weekend, the action from Court 1 will be streamed live. Evidently, the app is not compatible with all computers and devices.
Last year, the AVP streamed its events for free, as well as archived all the matches shown, through its AVP Beach Volleyball channel on YouTube, which remains in operation with around 108,000 subscribers. Putting many of the matches, particularly those showcased on Stadium Court on Saturdays and Sundays, behind a subscription paywall might generate some pushback from the AVP fanbase, but the move cannot be argued from a pure business perspective. This also marks another change in platforms for the AVP, which has hopped from Amazon Prime to YouTube to ESPN+ and the new Bally Live app.
USA pairs in Mexico
There are four teams on the men’s side, two in the qualifier: Billy Kolinske and Hagen Smith and Evan Cory and Logan Webber. The pairs of Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk and Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner await in the main draw.
Three USA women’s pairs are in the qualifier. Toni Rodriguez, back from injury, and Savvy Simo, and Jessica Gaffney and Zana Muno play in the first round. Muno played King of the Court last week with Kerri Walsh Jennings. Corrine Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn await in the second round of the qualifier.
The top seed in the tournament is the USA pair of Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes and the No. 2 seed belongs to Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss. Also in the main draw are Kelley Kolinske and Hailey Harward and Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman.
well done thanx
Pretty disappointed in the multi-platform viewing requirements. I’d be ok paying for quality event programming (the only reason I subscribed to Prime was the AVP) but I’m not going to hop around multiple platforms, especially when the free one will likely just be a webcam set up (on only one of the outer courts, no less).
Count me among the lost viewers.