In the women’s final of the 4-Man by the McKibbin brothers and SharpeVision in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Team AVP California’s strategy was to set Olympic gold-medalist April Ross.
It was an excellent plan: Ross, at one time one of the most feared outside hitters in the college indoor volleyball scene and a two-time NCAA national champion at USC, scored prolifically hitting out of the middle for Team AVP California. Setter Karissa Cook (also a former indoor star and four-year starting setter for Stanford) went to Ross with the two ball, the bic, and the slide, and teed her up on the pins when the play allowed.
But the thing was, Team AVP Midwest had a game plan too: Stop April Ross.
And with the combined digging prowess of Kristen Nuss and Corinne Quiggle and the absolutely monstrous block of Taryn Kloth and Falyn Fonoimoana, Team AVP Midwest successfully implemented their game plan a few more times than Team AVP California did, and that was all it took.
Team AVP Midwest won the SharpeVision 4-Man ATX title and with it the $10,000 first-place prize. The finals outcome was the first real upset of the event, which saw Team AVP Midwest get past Team SharpeVision, a squad made up of high-level local Austin-area players, in the semifinals, and Team AVP California defeat the team from Houston, which made it to the semifinals through the three-team Texas mini qualifier on Saturday morning.
Team AVP California, which also featured Geena Urango and Macy Jerger, won the first set of the women’s final, putting the set away on an April Ross kill, fittingly. But between sets, Team AVP Midwest’s senior member, Fonoimoana (who by the way is still only 29) recentered her team.
“I was like, ‘Look, they showed us everything. Now it’s time for you to turn on and go hit, go be aggressive,’” Fonoimoana said. “I think it’s all confidence. It’s empowering women to be able to feel that. It was something that was just uplifting for everyone, and they just started going off.”
Team AVP Midwest won the second, thanks to plenty of bombs from Kloth on the left side, who reminded everyone exactly how she and Nuss won the 2021 AVP Atlanta title and went 36-0 in the 2021 NCAA beach volleyball season at LSU (also with Nuss). Team AVP Midwest sent the match to a third set with an impressive dig from Nuss, and a quick-thinking poke over by Fonoimoana.
They jumped out to a quick lead in the third, but then Ross went back to serve for the California team. If you’ve ever watched April Ross play volleyball, you know that she never loses without a fight, and on Saturday night, under the lights at Moontower Saloon in South Austin, she went on a long serving run, to tie the third set back up at 11s. Even the crowd spilling onto the sand and forcing her to clear fans out of the way to make a runway for her legendary jump serve didn’t rattle the three-time Olympic medalist.
So Fonoimoana made another strategic call. She bumped Nuss out of the setter spot and sent her into serve receive.
“I put Kristen back on serve receive and said, ‘I’m setting,’” Fonoimoana recalled after the match. “Go dig me a ball so I can set (Taryn).”
With Quiggle and Nuss taking the majority of serves and Fonoimoana dishing the ball to Kloth, they stopped Ross’s serving run and got back on track. Fonoimoana and Kloth double-blocked a Ross attack out of the middle to win the match.
“It was a very evenly matched team,” Cook said of the finals matchup. “They had really physical blockers and we obviously had April who we were trying to set a lot. They just made good adjustments to make sure that they stopped our weapons and they lit up some things in the end that we couldn’t stop.”
After the ebullient on-court celebration and champagne toast, Kloth took a moment to reflect on what it meant to win a match versus a player as decorated at Ross.
“Just having (April) on the court and just everything that she represents — just a grind, an absolute grind all the time — is absolutely unbelievable,” Kloth said. “It was a really cool experience.”