Trevor Crabb, left, and Theo Brunner celebrate their Chicago win/Mark Rigney photo

CHICAGO — Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner employed a simple-yet-effective strategy in the title match of the AVP Chicago Gold Series Open on a blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon to take down top seeds Miles Partain and Andy Benesh.

Crabb and Brunner, seeded second, would serve Partain, the 21-year-old phenom, until his legs figuratively fell off, banking on 92-degree swelter and the super-heated fine quartz sand of Oak Street Beach to create fatigue that might limit Partain’s ballyhooed offensive creativity.

With the sand temperature at Oak reaching 128 degrees, Crabb and Brunner were deeply focused and efficient during a 21-18, 21-19 victory in 51 minutes that gave Trevor back-to-back titles and Theo his first in Chicago, which ranks among the most popular cities on tour for the athletes and is one the three Gold Series “majors” on the AVP schedule.

They allowed only three “real points” in the first set and five in the second, and two of that total came on an ace by Partain in the opener that caught the edge of the backline tape and a tape-snake dribbler ace by Benesh in the second.

“Our plan was to go every ball at Miles and take away his option,” Crabb said, referring to the left-handed second-ball attack that is Partain’s stock-in-trade.

”I think the two balls that we served to Andy, Miles was too tired to hit the option ball. So the game plan worked.

“And we sided out well, that’s what won it for us and against all the world’s top teams, if you’re not siding out ‘X’ number, you’re not winning. We know those guys are two of the best in the world. We have to bring our ‘A” game whenever we play them.”

Brunner called it “our best performance in a final on the AVP.”

The first set was tight until the closing points. A hitting error by Brunner knotted the score at 18, but the victors notched the final two points when Partain wailed a ball long and Theo put a spike down after a controlled block and bump set by Crabb.

The second set pivoted on an attack error by Partain, who perhaps had gotten gassed in the high heat from the relentless serve-receive pressure put on him. He cranked a ball past the endline after a lengthy rally to give Crabb-Brunner a 17-14 edge. Miles and Andy clawed back to 18-17 at the final side switch, but Trevor and Theo sided out from there, the clincher coming on a roll shot down the line by Brunner.

Crabb has achieved noteworthy success in Chicago over the years, besides his titles in 2022 with Tri Bourne and ‘23 with Brunner. He was a semifinalist in 2016 with younger brother Taylor and finished second in 2021 with Bourne.

But even advancing to the last day broke new ground for Theo, who said that he had “never played on Sunday in Chicago before and I’ve played here 10 years.”

Their victory muddies the picture for the paper award of Team of the Year on the AVP. Trevor and Theo have two victories (Hermosa Beach Pro Series and Chicago Gold Series), a second (Manhattan Beach Open, a Gold Series event) and two thirds (Huntington Beach Pro Series and Atlanta Gold).

Partain and Benesh were considered the frontrunners with victories in Atlanta and Huntington Beach, but Chicago was only their third event. Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander have to be considered, too, with victories in the Miami Beach Pro Series and the MBO, a second in Hermosa and a third in Huntington, but Chicago was their second fifth.

Trevor and Theo, who will split the tournament’s $30,000 first prize, didn’t drop a set in Chicago and beat fourth-seeded Chase Budinger and Miles Evans in the semifinals 27-25, 21-18. Partain and Benesh advanced to the title tussle with a 21-16, 21-14 victory in the semis over sixth-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Avery Drost.

Dalhausser and Drost cleared one hump by dispatching the Taylors 21-16, 21-16 in the fifth-place game, but could get over the second, Phil saying that Partain and Benesh “were just at another level.”

Trevor Crabb, left, and Theo Brunner/Rick Atwood photo


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