FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There was something amiss. It wasn’t especially difficult to see that Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb were not the same team who won the 2021 Manhattan Beach Open. That something had gone awry in leading to their plummet from a top 10 ranking in the world at the beginning of the year to where they are now: No. 30. Theories abounded for why the two Hawai’ians, formerly the No. 1 team both on the AVP and in the U.S., were suffering the worst stretch of their four-year partnership, but there was nothing definitive, no tangible reason, for the slump.
Which gave Crabb an idea: “Slap a guarantee on dat ass.”
“It just felt time to do that,” Crabb said on SANDCAST of his guaranteed win at AVP Fort Lauderdale last weekend. “Felt like the right time to give us the extra boost we needed, call it a confidence boost or swag.”
They thrive on a sense of urgency, those two. Problem is, 2022 has provided little in the way of urgency. Prize money has dropped. The Olympic race for the Paris Games isn’t set to begin until early 2023. Compared to the first three years of their partnership, which began at the onset of the Tokyo Olympics qualification — they won their first tournament, a three-star in Qinzhou, China — there was no added pressure to win a tournament. The sense of urgency that had fueled them for the entirety of their partnership was amiss.
“We had an intention to enjoy things a little more this year,” Bourne said. “It’s possible that had a little bit to do with our slow start to the year.”
That intention to enjoy things more backfired in the most ironic of ways: Neither of them were enjoying much of anything about the season. A five-week road trip that included stops in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Latvia, and Italy, saw them finish outside of the top-10 twice. They didn’t get so much as a whiff of a medal. A seventh-place finish at AVP Hermosa, in which they were stunned by 16th-seeded Jake Dietrich and Hagen Smith, was backed up by a ninth at a Challenger in Espinho, Portugal, where they were summarily dismissed by Italians Enrico Rossi and Adrian Carambula, 16-21, 13-21. It was one of the ugliest matches of their partnership.
“Espinho was brutal,” Trevor Crabb said. “We had just beat Australia in the match before that so we were feeling pretty good and we had a nice big win in a close game. We felt pretty good going into the Italy game and shit hit the fan. It was tragic. We couldn’t do anything right. It’s not like they were playing out of their minds. They were playing how they normally play so that was pretty rough.”
What did Crabb do in response to that thrashing?
Guarantee that they’d win the next tournament they played.
He doesn’t tell anyone he’s about to do it, either. Doesn’t give Bourne the heads up that the other 15 teams in the tournament will now be focused primarily on ensuring that the guarantee does not hold up. Just types out the caption on Instagram and lets it fly.
“We all hear the guarantee at the same time,” Bourne said with a laugh. “It’s a gnarly thing. I like to say I’ll rise up to the challenge. I don’t want to be the type of player who gets crippled by that type of thing. I like the challenge. And now we know they’re spontaneous. It’s not like he’s thinking about it.”
Both, however, were thinking about ways to turn around this season, which is nearing its halfway point. They lost their coach, Jose Loiola, at the beginning of the season — Loiola took a job with USA Volleyball — and his absence had a bigger impact than either expected. The transition to Leandro Pinheiro wasn’t a bumpy one — Pinheiro had been their assistant coach — but it took time to adjust to a new energy, a new style, a new mind. Add onto that the fact that Pinheiro couldn’t travel with them during their extended Volleyball World trip, and Bourne and Crabb idled in a sort of holding pattern as a team.
“Our coaching change was a big factor, bigger than we both thought it was going to be,” Crabb said. “Two totally different styles of coaching. Just having to buy into a new style and getting used to that was a big change. And then not having a coach on the road for all of those international events was tough.”
There is no telling which factor was more important in Fort Lauderdale: the coaching transition or the sense of urgency on which they seem to thrive, be in manufactured or natural. But there is no doubting that Bourne and Crabb have at least a fraction of their swagger back. In the immediate moments after beating Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner in the finals, 23-21, 21-14, Crabb guaranteed another win this upcoming weekend in Atlanta, for the debut of the Gold Series.
“If there was no mic, maybe the Atlanta guarantee wasn’t going to happen,” Crabb said with a laugh. “But I never back down on a bet.”
So they’ll head into Atlanta villains once more, the target on them growing ever bigger, which seems to be exactly the way they like it, maybe even exactly the way they need it.
“We both had talked about it and both felt like it was a matter of time,” Bourne said. “It gets a little nerve-wracking when it takes longer than you thought. We were both definitely looking at it like ‘When’s it going to click.’ Now we need to maintain it, stay in that same zone we’re at.”