The first leg of the 2022 beach volleyball season is over. Or maybe January through April was just the prequel. While Volleyball World has hosted three events of every tier of its new-look tour, the AVP has yet to make its debut under the ownership of Bally’s, although the first satellite qualifier, an AVPNext in Panama City Beach, Florida, has been played, main draw berths earned.

With the prequel, or the warm-up, finished, questions, as many as we have ever had on our somewhat-monthly mailbag episode of SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, poured in. Questions about the AVP. Questions about Volleyball World. Questions about partnerships new and old. Questions about the future of the sport and the individuals playing it.

For an hour, we answered as many as we could. We took the help of Gabby Bourne, who after nearly five years of hosting the podcast in her home, made her debut on the show as the moderator, as Savvy Simo had already left for Panama City Beach, where she would finish third and qualify for AVP Austin with Toni Rodriguez.

Below are a few of the questions addressed in our mailbag.

What drill has been addressing a weakness in your game recently?
What does a typical practice look like?

These are two versions of the same question, for a practice typically looks like whatever drill is required to address a weakness, or many of them, in our respective games. What’s beneficial here is that Tri and I both use the same coach, Jose Loiola, so our drills and practices look quite similar.

In a word, a typical practice looks ugly. Practice isn’t used for show, to hone the aspects of your game that are shiny and polished and look wonderful. Otherwise, Tri would simply do blocking drills and I would do nothing but hand set. Seeing as Tri can block a ball as well as anyone in the world, save for perhaps Anders Mol, and I’m quite proud of my hand-setting, we don’t do much of either unless it’s in warm-ups or it comes into the competitive portion of the practice.

Instead, Loiola breaks out the boogie board.

The blockers at the most elite level of the game are enormous, and only growing bigger. Loiola, mighty as he was in his days as a player, does not still possess a 48-inch vertical, and cannot simulate blockers such as Robert Meeuwsen or Michal Bryl or Oleg Stoyanovskiy. So he brings a boogie board and holds it high above his head, demanding we still find a way to hit five shots in a narrow target down the line, five into the angle, five into the cut. Then he’ll modify the drill, forcing us to see the block — the menacing boogie board — and either shoot over it or swing away from it. He’ll make late moves that are entirely unrealistic. He’ll block us. Frustrate us. He’ll win, every time.

It’s ugly.

This drill has made me punt balls and yell a great many four-letter words that are not fit for print in this family-friendly publication. But it’s necessary, for what is a human block when compared to a boogie board at 14 feet in the air? Loiola delights in our misery and frustration at practice, for he knows that it’s going to be easier when the real matches are being played and the blockers do not have the perfect and solid press of a boogie board.

In short: Practice looks like a maddening bout with a boogie board.

Jose Loiola
Jose Loiola coaching Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb/Michael Gomez photo

What are Casey Patterson’s plans for this summer?
What’s Reid Priddy up to?
Where is Stafford Slick?

These questions about the Dads of the AVP Tour came from three different individuals, and have three separate answers, but it’s easiest to sum them up in one.

Let’s start north, in Thousand Oaks, California, with Casey Patterson. The biggest plans for his summer is to have another kid, a boy, which means that, come July, he and Lexi Patterson will be more than doubly outnumbered by their children (5!!). As far as volleyball goes, he is competing with Ed Ratledge, at least for AVP Austin May 6-8, which makes sense. At this phase in their careers — Patterson is 41, Ratledge 45 — neither Patterson nor Ratledge need a ton of reps. Both know how to play volleyball just fine. And they’ve been playing against one another for more than a decade, so they understand each other’s games as well.

While we’re in Huntington Beach, that’s where Reid Priddy can be found most mornings, running dozens of people through workouts at his startup business, InSand. They’re 60-minute high intensity interval workouts on the sand off of Newland Street in Huntington Beach. I’m not totally sure if Priddy is still playing any volleyball or not, but because the AVP turned back the clock on who has points and who doesn’t, he could still get into a main draw if he wanted to.

Maybe he’d even do it with Stafford Slick. Who knows. That, for the record, is just pure speculation. Two Januarys ago, Slick had a third child, a daughter named Camille, and moved down to San Diego to take a real person job. He still plays occasionally, sending me a clip of an amusing attempt at a pull dig one weekend. He won’t be playing any more international tournaments, but, like Priddy, he still has points, and I wouldn’t rule him out to play an AVP or two here and there.

Casey Patterson
Casey Patterson engages with the crowd in Austin/Tony Galindo photo

If I travel to one AVP event this year, which one should it be?

What a question! Let’s rule out the Manhattan Beach Open, since that’s the obvious pick every year. Of the cities I’ve played in that are currently on the schedule, Chicago is without question the choice. Lake Michigan is beautiful, the city is vibrant, and “morale in Chicago in the summer,” as Eric Zaun loved to say, “is high.” Chicago was Zaun’s favorite stop, and the choice of many AVP players.

That being said, Fort Lauderdale has a reputation for throwing tremendous events when it hosted the Beach Major Series, and has been home to 14 previous AVP tournaments. It’s been a long time since Florida hosted an AVP, and I’d expect that to have a great showing on July 29-31.

The event I’m personally most excited to play is a Tour Series stop in Denver on July 2-3. I’ve heard nothing but the best things about Denver, and I’ve never been. Colorado has a decent beach community as well, the longtime host of the annual Motherlode and the former home of Skylar del Sol and current home of the up-and-coming Mike Groselle.

AVP Chicago
AVP announcer Mark Schuermann works the Chicago crowd/Michael Gomez photo

Who are the most underperforming teams? One for each gender.
First male and female team to break up this season?

What’s with the negativity here, gentlemen? We’re three tournaments into the 2022 season — three! — haven’t played an AVP yet, and most of the teams who even have competed have only played a single event. And we’re talking about breakups and underperformances already?

C’mon, guys.

What I’ll do with your questions instead is to flip them around. Which new team has enjoyed a promising start, and which partnership seems destined for the long-term?

I love, absolutely love, the team of Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint. Love it. They’ve only played one event, the Rosarito Elite 16, but if you watched, there was no chance you left unimpressed. Aside from the constant service pressure, aside from the cheeky, option-heavy offense for which Cheng and Flint have both become known, aside from Cheng’s outstanding blocking, what I was most impressed with was Flint’s demeanor as a teammate.

She’s quiet, Flint. Not super emotional. Not touchy feely. And yet there she was, a bikini-clad chatty Kathy, giving Cheng five or six high fives after every point, constantly talking, her presence forever felt. She became whomever her partner needed her to become for the team to thrive. This was especially noticeable because, while undeniably supportive, she was different with former partners Emily Day and Kelley Kolinske. Essentially, Flint’s a chameleon, molding into whatever personality that allows her partner to play at her best, and she did just that in Rosarito with Cheng.

It’s just one tournament, yes, but they looked as if they’ve been playing together for years. A potential honeymoon effect, perhaps, but a heck of a good start, as they finished fourth in Rosarito, sweeping Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes on the way, the first time Flint has been able to collect a win against that team.

Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske, too, have a similar personality mesh that seems destined for long-term success. In two events thus far, they’ve claimed two top 10s, including a fifth in Rosarito where they needed to beat Brazilians Taiana Lima and Hege Almeida dos Santos just to qualify.

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