SANDCAST: Off season is free-agent season for beach volleyball

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Chase Budinger jump serve with full house crowd looking on/Jim Wolf photography

After every Olympic quad, the massive trickle begins. It starts at the top, when Olympic partnerships dissolve, and the dominos begin to fall.

The quad is still going, mind you, but on the men’s side, with just three or four teams remaining in the Olympic hunt, the remainder are all back on the market.

Let the free agency season begin.

This week on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, hosts Bourne and Mewhirter discuss all of the potential free agents and where they may land, what partnerships make sense, what up-and-comers could receive big-time promotions, and how the landscape of the 2020 season could see a seismic shift. Below are a list of free agents, listed in roughly the order of largest influence and pull, and where they could end up this season and in the future.

Chase Budinger — In the span of two years, Budinger has played with two of the best American defenders of this decade in Sean Rosenthal and Casey Patterson. He has won Rookie of the Year and AVP Most Improved. He has won an AVP event, in Hermosa Beach this past season with Patterson. And now he’s looking for more.

He and Patterson have supposedly split, making the former NBA player one of the hottest commodities on the beach volleyball market. Two players immediately come to mind when factoring in Budinger’s skill set – left side blocker, good setter, physical offensive player – and his aspirations to compete internationally: Reid Priddy, and Chaim Schalk.

Priddy makes sense to attempt an aggressive push to qualify for Tokyo. They would have enough points to at least get into country quotas, and no two athletes have competed at a higher combined level in sport than these two. It’s improbable they’d make 2020, but not impossible.

The longer-term option is Schalk who was recently released from his FIVB transfer period and is now available to compete for the United States.

Good partner fits: Reid Priddy, Chaim Schalk, Miles Evans.

AVP Hermosa Sunday 2019-Chase Budinger
Chase Budinger earned his first AVP win in Hermosa in front of his home crowd/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Casey Patterson — With Patterson back on the market, that leaves an Olympian defender left to pick between a menagerie of high-level blockers. There’s Theo Brunner, with whom Patterson has played before, and who will likely be as healthy as he has been in his career headed into 2020. Should Schalk and Jeremy Casebeer split, however, that would leave Casebeer, one of the fastest-improving players at the highest U.S. level, available. They’d make an excellent team: Two big servers with a physical offense, who have both won on the AVP Tour and could compete internationally, albeit likely not full-time.

Patterson’s mindset will be a huge factor here. Does he want to stay in the FIVB rotation? Traveling the world to compete? Or does he want to follow in Rosenthal’s footsteps and take a step back on focus exclusively on the domestic side of things? That would open up the possibility of Patterson picking up an up-and-comer like Troy Field, who has already made multiple Sundays, including the finals of AVP New York. The two are good friends and an absolute sponsor’s dream, with big personalities, fun playing styles, and tremendous fan engagement, not to mention two of the more popular social media presences.

Good partner fits: Theo Brunner, Jeremy Casebeer, Troy Field.

AVP Chicago 2019 photo gallery-Casey Patterson
Casey Patterson races to the end line for a block touch/Michael Gomez photo

Theo Brunner — Whether the world likes it or not, blockers control the beach volleyball landscape. It’s simple supply and demand: You can’t teach height. Brunner has been at the top of the ladder for quite some time, and he’s made enough partner switches where he has become one of the more consistent power brokers in the sport in terms of who plays with whom. After Budinger, he’s going to be the blocker in highest demand, and while he didn’t mention any specific names on SANDCAST last week, he did mention that he had sent a few messages out to various players to gather interest.

Like Patterson, Brunner’s goals and mindset will be a big factor in whom he goes with for 2020 and beyond. If, say, Paris in 2024 is a goal, Brunner will be looking for a partner who will be playing for the next five years, at the least. This brings to mind a few players, notably, again, Schalk, Miles Evans, a reunion with Patterson, or perhaps a younger, still-developing talent like Eric Beranek, which would be an investment more than an immediate grab at success.

Good partner fits: Chaim Schalk, Miles Evans, Casey Patterson, Eric Beranek

SANDCAST Theo Brunner 11/20/2019-Theo Brunner-Taylor Crabb
Hawai’i native Taylor Crabb looks for open sand against the block of Theo Brunner/Robert Beck, AVP photo

Chaim Schalk — The former Canadian becoming available to compete for the United States has made this off-season fascinating. It’s still possible, it needs to be noted, that he and Casebeer stick together. They were magnificent this year on the AVP. However, it’s also highly possible that Schalk seeks a partner where full-time FIVB play, and Paris 2024, would be the goal, and maybe Casebeer is that guy and maybe he’s not. But Schalk, having qualified for the Olympics in 2016 and establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the world, has high stock right now and will likely have no shortage of suitors. He could turn to an experienced, high-level blocker in Brunner, scoop Budinger, or turn to a blocker like Bill Kolinske – though he’s likely locked in with John Hyden – or an up-and-comer like Field.

Good partner fits: Chase Budinger, Theo Brunner, Bill Kolinske, Troy Field

Chaim Schalk pumps a fist/Mark Rigney photography

Reid Priddy — A generational talent, with a generational arm, and a generational work ethic, will determine much of the remaining trickle. If Priddy is still making a push for Tokyo, he is going to snag a blocker he can make it with, and there are only a select few: Budinger, Casebeer, Kolinske, Brunner. He’s already played with Casebeer and Brunner, and though they aren’t off the table, reunions are unlikely. If Kolinske and Budinger aren’t available, Priddy’s goals will likely have to take a shift, with Tokyo off the table and a more domestic focus in mind, which would bring up-and-coming or international blockers, where domestic play is the goal, to the forefront: Ricardo Santos, Field, David Lee, Paul Lotman, Avery Drost.

Good partner fits: Chase Budinger, Jeremy Casebeer, Theo Brunner, Bill Kolinske, Troy Field, Ricardo Santos, David Lee, Paul Lotman, Avery Drost.

AVP Manhattan Beach 2019 Sunday-Reid Priddy
Reid Priddy runs down a cut shot/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Other **potential** free agents to consider:
Tim Bomgren
Ryan Doherty
Miles Evans
Jeremy Casebeer
Troy Field
Sean Rosenthal
Ricardo Santos
Mike Brunsting
Ty Loomis
Eric Beranek
Paul Lotman
Miles Partain
Andy Benesh
Kyle Friend
Duncan Budinger
Mark Burik
Ian Satterfield
David Lee
Skylar del Sol
Dave Palm

Women’s Beach Volleyball

While the men’s side is going to see a seismic shift in its landscape, the women’s will be mostly at the middle and lower tier levels, as more teams are still in the Olympic hunt, making less moves at the top and less of a trickle down throughout. There are, however, question marks remaining, much of which depends upon Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, and whether the two will continue making a run at Tokyo. It’s expected they will, since they do still have a shot, so we’re leaving them off the free agent list. The women’s side has had much less movement thus far than the men’s this off-season. Most of these partnerships are still together, as far as we know, but could produce big trickle-down effects should there be a shift.

Karissa Cook, Jace Pardon — Cook and Jace Pardon played one of the most efficient games on tour this season. They score however they will, be it on one or two or, Lord forbid, with a pass, set, and hit. It’s entirely likely they continue next season together, seeing how successful their debut year as partners went, with a win in Austin and top-10s regularly. But with both players displaying a skill set that allows them to play any position, be it blocking, defending, left side or right side or split blocking, their list of potential partners – and partnership offers – is endless. Cook hasn’t shown a huge willingness to play on the FIVB, unless it’s something funky like snow or fours or a NORCECA, which is potentially limiting, but that could also make her a prime candidate for players such as Maria Clara Salgado or Zana Muno, two high-ceiling athletes who either can’t compete for the U.S. (Salgado) or might be waiting for a better time to do so (Muno).

Pardon has gotten out on the world tour a bit more, but her list of potential partners is similar to Cook’s. Both could turn essentially wherever they’d like in 2020 – outside of the top six teams – and probably get a ‘Yes’ if they asked to play.

AVP Austin women 2019-Karissa Cook-Jace Pardon
Karissa Cook and Jace Pardon celebrate their first AVP victory in Austin/Robert Beck/AVP

Terese Cannon, Kelly Reeves — Cannon, fresh out of USC, is one of the more promising up-and-coming blockers on tour. In her first AVP of the season, two weeks after finishing second in the NCAA Championships, she took third in Austin with Irene Pollock. Then she did it again in Manhattan Beach with Kelly Reeves, nearly stunning Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan in the semifinals. Most recently, she played with Sara Hughes in the Chetumal four-star, though whether that sticks as a partnership is yet to be seen.

Her and Reeves are an excellent team together, but with Cannon being a rare, 6-foot-3 blocker, she could be receiving a fair amount of interest from various defenders. It’s likely her and Reeves remain a team, as a third in Manhattan is a phenomenal result for a new partnership, and both seem to have international aspirations as well. But if there were to be a split, it would create a trickle that would impact a number of players down the line.

AVP Manhattan Beach 2019 Saturday-Terese Cannon
Terese Cannon gets a transition opportunity on an open net/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Zana Muno, Crissy Jones — Muno will be one of the most intriguing defenders to watch over these next couple years. A lot will, of course, depend upon what she wants to do with her beach career, whether she wishes to keep the AVP her focus or expand to the FIVB for a bit. But already she has made an AVP semifinal, in Hermosa Beach with Crissy Jones, followed by three consecutive top 10s in Manhattan Beach, Chicago and Hawai’i. Given that, it’s entirely possible they stay together, but nothing at this point in the off-season is set in stone, and who knows who will grab who. But Muno and Jones are both going to get attention and messages and offers from various players, no doubt.

Jones, meanwhile, is in a similar situation as Cannon, where her being a blocker will give her options, and her being a blocker who hand-sets even more options beyond that.

Zana Muno yells in celebration/Mark Rigney photography

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