HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — We recorded this episode of SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter just a few days ago … and already it’s out of date. You’ll see why in a few days. But just know this: Seismic changes are coming. And also know this: For all of the listeners who give us grief over not recording episodes to keep up with all of the changes — partner changes, schedule changes, ball changes — this is why. With one episode per week, we can’t keep up, nor do we plan on it.

What we do plan on doing is continue providing the best answers we can, at least once a month, to as many fan questions as we can get to in roughly an hour and a half. And I can provide as much insight to many of the ones we don’t in the write-up below.

Without further ado …

Can you predict new partnerships for the 2023 beach volleyball season?

This is actually a much more straightforward question to answer than either of us would have thought, for there is hardly any crystal ball needed.

The teams we’re seeing now are virtually all the teams we’ll see come 2023. Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes aren’t splitting up. Neither are Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth. Julia Scoles and Betsi Flint have just one tournament together as a team, but that tournament — the Torquay Elite 16 — ended with a silver medal, so I wouldn’t expect to see any changes there. Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft appear locked, as do Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn.

The biggest free agent out there, and the one who will likely begin the trickle down, is Kelley Kolinske. She has no shortage of options, as the United States is home to an embarrassment of riches in terms of elite defenders who aren’t yet locked in for next year: Zana Muno, Hailey Harward, Savvy Simo, Carly Kan, Molly Turner, Katie Horton, Brook Bauer — the list goes on. When Kolinske makes her move, the rest of the defenders can then find their respective blockers, but the top, aside from Kolinske, is mostly settled.

For the men, too, the off-season will be surprisingly quiet.

What a laughable sentence that was to write, which I did just one day ago.

Now? The off-season is about to become a wild ride. Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner have split. The former has settled on a new partner, which will be announced soon, the latter is now the highest-demand blocker in the United States.

Get your popcorn ready, y’all. The landscape of USA Volleyball is about to shift from the top all the way down.

Theo Brunner-SANDCAST
Theo Brunner celebrates a point at the Volleyball World Championships/Volleyball World photo

Is Kerri Walsh Jennings making an Olympic run? Possible partners? 

I don’t know what Walsh Jennings’ plans are for the Paris Olympics, whether she’s making a full run at it or just retesting the competitive waters, but I do know that she’s been training regularly in Hermosa Beach with Logan Tom. With Walsh Jennings being 44, and Tom 41, they’d be the oldest team on both the AVP and Beach Pro Tour, but with how lavishly decorated they are, both indoors and on the beach, I will never, ever, ever count them out.

Tom, an all-world indoor player who was twice named the NCAA Player of the Year at Stanford, hasn’t played a beach event since 2007, when she played in 16 AVPs, finishing in the top 10 in 14 of them. Walsh Jennings’ last event was at the Ostrava four-star in 2021, where she and Brooke Sweat fell in the second round of the qualifier to Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam, who would soon become the top team in the world. If they are making a run, they’ll start with zero points, unless Walsh Jennings was able to freeze hers. Even if that were the case, they’d likely begin in Futures events and NORCECAs, although I’d imagine every promotor on the Beach Pro Tour would be happy to grant a wild card to the greatest player of all-time, who is also one of the best players in the world with the media, and still has as much of a fan draw as anyone.

p1440 Pro Challenge 11/6/2019Kerri Walsh Jennings
Kerri Walsh Jennings passes a seam serve at the 2019 World Championships in Hamburg/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Thoughts on the Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng alliance?

I’m not just on board the Hype Train for Hughes and Cheng — Chughes?? — I may as well be the conductor of the dang thing. In three tournaments since rekindling their wildly successful collegiate flame, Hughes and Cheng haven’t so much as dropped a set. Not a single set! Granted, one tournament was an AVP Tour Series, an event they were expected to win (and did), and another was a diluted Challenge in Torquay, Australia, and another was a diluted Elite 16 in Torquay as well. Their best win is a semifinal sweep over Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, who are ranked No. 8 in the world and No. 1 in the United States, but Cheng and Hughes had also logged wins over Nuss and Kloth with their previous partners. Given that, it’s difficult to say how good Cheng and Hughes are just yet, but I was, frankly, floored by how they won. They smashed — absolutely smashed — everyone in their path. While Nuss and Kloth, and Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, are the only teams I’d describe as elite, there were still a number of very good teams who could easily take a set off of anyone — Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft, Lvwen Yuan and Jie Dong, Xinxin Wang and Jinjin Zeng, Meimei Lin and Xinyi Xia. None did.

My thoughts? This is a top three team in the world, alongside Duda and Ana Patricia and Barbara and Carol of Brazil.

“They got their mojo back,” Tri Bourne said. “They have experience now. They’re veterans now.”

Kelly Cheng-Sara Hughes
Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes celebrate a point at the Torquay Challenge/Volleyball World photo

Three stops to keep, three stops to drop from the 2022 AVP season

What a fun question. The first rule we made for this question was that the Manhattan Beach Open was off limits, because that’s stop is a unanimous keep for every player (and fan, probably) on Tour. Given that, Bourne went with Chicago, Atlanta, and Phoenix, though he made an addendum that Phoenix doesn’t have to be a six-team event. Hermosa Beach, for me, is as obvious as Manhattan Beach, and I’d love to see it become a Gold Series. My other two were Denver, which showed up in fantastic numbers and was such a surprisingly wonderful event — it helps, of course, that I finished fifth and beat the one seed, so take it as you will — and Huntington Beach, a stop I’ve missed dearly. The only asterisk I’d put on the Huntington Beach answer is that both Bourne and I would love to see it upgraded to a Pro Series. There’s just too many fans, and the site has too much history, to downgrade it to a Tour Series.

Now, for the fun part: Three stops to kill.

Comedian Sam Morrill described Atlantic City perfectly, saying “People leaving Vegas are what people who are driving into Atlantic City look like.”

If I never go back to Atlantic City for the rest of my life, my life will be better for it.

Austin, too, was chopped by both of us. There’s a good fan base there, and Austin as a whole is a fantastic city, but playing in a recreational baseball and softball park is just weird. We both understand that playing at Krieg Fields is the cheapest option for the AVP, and allowances have to be made for budgeting purposes, but Austin’s on our chopping block.

My last chop is Waupaca. It’s a fun event, and a bucket-lister, but it just shouldn’t be an AVP tournament. It’s cool and all, but it’s mostly a grass event, the courts are usually in less than great condition — I’ve played three times and twice the courts have been flooded with standing water — and it doesn’t have the vibe of a professional tournament. Looking for a fun open event? I’d recommend. But a professional event? It’s off my schedule.

Zana Muno-Sarah Pavan
Zana Muno and Sarah Pavan celebrate a point at the Phoenix Gold Series Championships/Mpu Dinani, AVP

If you had to sum up your season in one word, what would it be?

My one word will be published in my annual season-ending recap in a few days, so be on the lookout for that. But as for Tri? He settled on roller coaster. Is it one word? No. Is it fitting? Absolutely. It was only a few months ago when we recorded a podcast that wound up with the headline: ‘Jesus, what am I doing?’ That’s how rough Bourne’s 2022 season was going at the moment, derailed, momentarily, by a few tough finishes on the World Tour, and an untimely case of COVID before their ninth-place match at the World Championships. How’d it finish? With three AVP wins, Team of the Year, and Bourne’s first AVP MVP.

A wild ride — but also a roller coaster Bourne would no doubt ride again and again.

Tri Bourne laughs off a point at the World Championships in Rome/Volleyball World photo

Talk about the SANDCAST double-header in Tavares!

Playing against Tri is similar to playing anything against a sibling. The most apt comparison I have is when my older brother and I would play golf a few years ago: I was the natural talent, a four-year starter in high school, team captain, MVP, blah blah blah. I could beat him with tree roots. But then my brother, Tyler, started putting in work, hours and hours of work. He became a range rat, hitting balls all day long, putting, chipping, playing constantly. He closed the gap considerably, but even on my worst day, I was shooting 77 or so, and he was lucky to break 80. He could compete, but I wasn’t worried. A year or so later, there was an overlap, where my bad days were well worse than his best. It wasn’t likely, but he could beat me if the Earth rotated on its axis just so. Was I ever particularly worried? No. But I knew it could happen.

That’s roughly where Tri and I are now: On my best days, and his not so great days, I can beat him. But it’s still unlikely. Twice, I should have at least taken a set off of him — the second set of Fort Lauderdale, where JM Plummer and I were up 18-14 and blew it, and the second set of our first match of the double-header in Tavares, where I dug a John Hyden cut shot and … we were whistled for a double on set point. Tough.

Like any sibling rivalry, Tri doesn’t want to lose to me. He knows he’d never hear the end of it, particularly from our listeners, who, from what I understand, were (are) rooting for me quite heavily. I appreciate that. I’m close, but like my older brother in golf, I’m maybe a year away from being less of an underdog and more of a toss-up.

But when — not if, but when — I do beat him, rest assured: He won’t hear the end of it.

Travis Mewhirter
Travis Mewhirter

After this season, who are players you think will win their first AVP next year?

After nearly 2,000 words, I’ll be brief here: My men’s pick is Troy Field. If not Field, my next two closest seconds are Evan Cory and Logan Webber, who would win their first together, so they’re a package deal. For the women, it’s Brandie Wilkerson by a long shot, and then Zana Muno.


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