HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — It has exceeded all hype, this off-season. A few wintry months were expected to be mostly devoid of fireworks and partnership changes and drama, especially on the men’s side, where it appeared that most pairings were quite set. And even though Theo Brunner didn’t initiate the eventual cascade of changes, he knew it wouldn’t have made much sense for the top four U.S. men’s teams to stay as they were. He and Chaim Schalk, he said, sort of had a case, as the No. 1 American team and the only one to accomplish anything of note on the Beach Pro Tour last season, with a fourth at the World Championships. Yes, there was some late success in the fall events — Troy Field and Chase Budinger winning silver in the Maldives, Andy Benesh and Miles Partain winning gold in Dubai, Taylor Crabb and Paul Lotman winning bronze in the next Dubai, Lotman and Miles Evans finishing fourth in Torquay — but they were mostly watered down and not the most useful barometer for how those teams will fare in fully loaded Olympic qualifying events.

So Tri Bourne, of all people, did something about it, shocking much of the beach volleyball world when he and Schalk announced their pairing. That kicked off a slew of changes — Brunner to Trevor Crabb, namely — that will trickle all the way down into the qualifier ranks of the AVP. It put Bourne firmly on the hot seat of this week’s episode of SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, answering half-a-dozen questions on the move, and what the future looks like for him.

How did Tri break the news to Trevor?

Bourne explained it on this week’s SANDCAST: “I just called him, and he says ‘All right, yeah, do what you gotta do.’ And I said ‘All right.’ That was it. Quickie.”

Sorry for the lack of drama, folks.

Both have been in the business long enough to understand that beach volleyball is, to individuals at their level, exactly that: A business. When the breakup happened, Bourne explained his line of thinking well enough, that it was a partnership initially intended to be short-term, to bring a little fun back into Crabb’s game during a relatively disappointing season with John Mayer, and for Bourne to get back on the sand with a good friend after sitting out nearly two years with an autoimmune disease.

Five years later, they were still playing together.

“Trevor and I turned potentially what was supposed to be a three or four event partnership into five years, split-blocking and entertaining,” Bourne said in December. Entertaining it was. Successful, too, as Bourne and Crabb won back-to-back Manhattan Beach Open titles and were the 2022 VolleyballMag and AVP Team of the Year. But with an Olympic run set to begin in March, Bourne sought something new in Chaim Schalk, and Crabb, who is now with Theo Brunner, understood.

“Do what you gotta do,” he told Bourne.

And then, after a few days to let the emotions settle, they were back to barbecuing together in Hawaii.

Not that the amicable split kept Crabb from lobbing a few shots over social media.

“Trevor and Theo, their hype of it all, I think they’re going to be relentless about it,” Bourne said, laughing. “Theo is buying in. He was somewhat a fan of it but also hated it when Trevor did it. And him and Trevor are good friends. But now it’s oh screw it, if Trevor’s going to be on my team, I’ll be sliding into it.”

So no drama — not off the court, anyway. But on the court?

We have the best new rivalry on Tour.

Chaim Schalk-Tri Bourne
Chaim Schalk and Tri Bourne have partnered for the next two seasons.

Why aren’t Bourne and Schalk playing Doha?

The first event of the Olympic qualifying window begins next week, in Doha, Qatar with an Elite 16. Notably absent on the entry list were Bourne and Schalk, and now Brunner and Crabb, too, as well as Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander. It’s fair for fans to wonder why the top three American teams would pass up the first opportunity for Olympic points.

In Bourne’s case in particular, he’s still recovering from a platelet-rich plasma shot he took in his knee in November. He played fine in Central Florida in December, obviously, finishing second with John Hyden, but it’s bothering him enough not to rush a critical period of off-season preparation, with a new partner, new system, new everything. When you take into account the fact that there are more than 30 Beach Pro Tour events on the schedule — with more likely to come — plus AVP, plus King of the Court, plus NORCECA, there’s no real need to rush into anything.

That same line of thinking applies for everyone who is opting to sit out. Brunner is rehabbing a niggling calf injury, and Julia Scoles and Betsi Flint also pulled out so as not to shorten their off-season as a new team. There will be plenty of events to play. Missing one, and shortchanging your off-season, is simply a risk-benefit analysis that every team evaluates differently. For Bourne and Schalk, Brunner and Crabb, Sander and Crabb, and Flint and Scoles, among others, the risk wasn’t worth the reward, and so they’re staying home, lifting, practicing, prepping for the March slate of events in Mexico.

Betsi Flint-Julia Scoles
Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles celebrate a point at the Torquay Elite 16/Volleyball World photo

When is the AVP schedule coming out?

You never really know, but this much I do know: The season will start earlier than it has since 1998, and it’ll be in a location that hasn’t hosted an AVP since 2008.

There are your bread crumbs for the season-opener. Do enough research and you might just figure it out!

What are Phil Dalhausser’s plans?

By any measure, Phil Dalhausser enjoyed one of the coolest seasons in 2022, playing with more partners than he ever has in a single season (4) and winning three events with three different partners, joining a venerated list of April Ross and Kent Steffes as the only players to win three tournaments with three partners in one year.

We don’t know what, exactly, Dalhausser’s plans are for the 2023 season. All we know is that an Olympic run, despite the encouragement of his good friend and former partner, Nick Lucena, is not in the cards. We also know that whomever he picks up will have a good shot at winning any tournament they enter.

Phil Dalhausser-Taylor Crabb
Phil Dalhausser and Taylor Crabb

Why don’t more top USA teams play King of the Court?

King of the Court, the high-octane blitz of a beach volleyball format made professional by Wilco Nijland and Sportworx, is unanimously beloved by any player who participates in it. It’s fun, wild, and always provides a raucous atmosphere with engaged fans. It’s also, for North and South Americans, usually far and expensive to get to. The 2022 season featured stops in Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Doha, none of which are easy or cheap trips for Americans.

The prize money is OK, but when you take into account the wear and tear of travel, the week (at least) of missed training or rest, switching time zones once again, and the actual expenses incurred, most of the top teams don’t deem it worth it. Which isn’t to say that King of the Court doesn’t make it tempting. Everyone wants to play in a King of the Court, and soon — sooner than many of you think — the top U.S. teams will be playing, as there will be a King of the Court in the United States in 2023…around the same time as the AVP…in the same city.

The AVP and King of the Court will be making their own announcements in regards to their respective events, so for the moment, all I’ll say is this: Be prepared to buy a flight somewhere in the continental United States in March.



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