Let it sink in, if just for a second, that in a tournament where a pair of Sunday regular teams — John Hyden and Ryan Doherty, Reid Priddy and Theo Brunner — were elsewhere in the world, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb were in an elimination match for fifth.
Six of the eight AVP tournaments in 2018 were won by either Dalhausser/Lucena or Gibb/Crabb. And they had to play one another, in the contender’s bracket, on a Saturday evening, for fifth.
Meanwhile, the No. 8 seed — Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb — had emerged unscathed from the upper half of the winner’s bracket, and the 6 — Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger — from the bottom half.
Yes, yes, the No. 1 seed still won the tournament. In an event in which Crabb and Gibb didn’t really play their finest volleyball until that late Saturday evening, they still emerged victorious. But gone, possibly, are the chalk-walk days of the men’s AVP, where one can safely bet on few upsets, where qualifier teams are dismissed quickly, painlessly, where the mid-tiers are the mid-tiers and the top teams are untouchable.
The same team that won the entire tournament was pushed to three sets in its first match, by qualifiers Kyle Friend and Duncan Budinger. Then they went three, again, with Riley and Maddison McKibbin, and again with Dalhausser and Lucena, and again in a semifinal rematch with Bourne and Crabb.
This was a tournament where the 21st seed — qualifiers Logan Webber and Christian Honer — beat the 11 — Chase Frishman and Piotr Marciniak — 21-11 in the deciding set, and that 21 then pushed the 14 seed — the McKibbins — to three.
It was a tournament where Sean Rosenthal, one of the best defenders in United States history, paired with Ricardo Santos, one of the best blockers in the sport’s history, were relegated to the contender’s bracket after a first-round loss to Troy Field and Tim Bomgren.
“What kind of a draw is that?” Field said, laughing.
It’s a draw begat from an ever-deepening talent pool, where the older establishment continues to win — “Old man Jake Gibb, still doing it,” Bourne said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter — and the younger generation, with the likes of Field, is pushing its way up.
“I’d like to see a year where, unless it’s me, we see a new winner every time,” Bourne said. “We went for a while where it was always Phil or Jake and Casey.”
That era may be gone. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a record for new winners this year. Same goes, too, for the women’s side, which is seeing its average age of main draw players sink and sink and sink, as 16-year-olds Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft qualified, along with high schoolers — and USC recruits — Audrey and Nicole Nourse.
“We’re getting to a point where there’s no good draw,” Bourne said. “A few years ago, we were watching blowouts in the finals … the better our domestic tour is, it’s good for the sport. And if the AVP keeps growing, adding more prize money each year, more points, that’ll create enough opportunity for the back of the main draw players to stay afloat, to keep living. That’s the goal.”