VBM’s Year-End Beach Awards

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The Year-End Beach Awards celebrate the top performances of the 2014 beach season.

Our American beach volleyball players compete from late April all the way to the early sunsets of October in hopes of becoming the best in the world. For many players the Sao Paulo Grand Slam in Brazil marked the end of the season, though others officially entered the off-season after the AVP’s Huntington Beach Championships. Now that the 2014 season is officially closed, well look back and honor the top performers in each of these eight categories.

Best Server

Brad Keenan

Keenan finished the 2014 AVP season with 58 aces, two fewer than tour leader Casey Patterson. However, Keenan, winner of the 2014 St. Petersburg event, played three fewer sets than Patterson, making him the leader in aces per set at .773. The 2002 and 2003 NCAA Player of the Year first employed his deadly serving tactics indoors at Pepperdine where he remains the program’s career leader in aces (187).

April Ross

No one came close to touching this reigning VBM and AVP Best Server. Racking up 94 aces over her 36 matches on the AVP tour this season, Ross maintained her reputation as the world’s deadliest woman from behind the service line. Lane Carico clocked in as runner-up but was still more than 20 aces behind Ross.

Best Blocker

Theo Brunner

This UC Santa Barbara former middle blocker put each of his 79 inches to work this season collecting 163 blocks. He also employed his net-play prowess to earn a bronze medal at the Long Beach Grand Slam with partner Todd Rogers in late July. In college, Brunner accumulated 389 total blocks, good for seventh all-time at UCSB.

Lauren Fendrick

Fendrick, despite sitting out the Atlantic City event due to her partner Brooke Sweat’s back injury, led the AVP women in blocks by more than 30. The Long Arm of the Law as this licensed lawyer is called on tour, used her 6’1″ frame to stuff an impressive 108 balls to the sand over the 2014 season.

Most Improved Player

Jeremy Casebeer

Casebeer earned his highest finish in 2013 at the St. Petersburg event, where he and partner Andrew McGuire took seventh. This season, Casebeer took two fifths and a career-high third with Casey Jennings, never finishing outside the top 10. Casebeer and Jennings played some thrilling matches this year, including a big upset of No. 4-seeded duo John Mayer and Brad Keenan in the first round of the Huntington Beach Championships.

Kim DiCello

DiCello played her first pro tournament in 2007, qualifying for the first time in 2009. This season, the 30-year-old San Diegan has turned the corner from relative obscurity to a force to be reckoned with. Pairing up with Lane Carico in early August, the duo scored four third-place AVP finishes. Then, traveling to Brazil for the Sao Paulo Grand Slam, DiCello and Carico scored an international career-high ninth, including a huge upset over Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler, the No. 9-ranked team on the FIVB tour.

Best Defensive Player

Brooke Sweat

This 5-foot-8 dynamo scooped up 443 digs on the AVP this year, good for a tour best 6.15 per set (among those who competed in a minimum of 50 sets), despite suffering from a back injury for the better part of the summer. This is the second consecutive year the 28-year-old has led the tour in digs per set.

Todd Rogers

The Professor has still got it. Even with his partner Theo Brunner collecting the most blocks on tour, Rogers picked up 441 digs, 5.73 per set. The 41-year-old played in his first AVP tournament almost 20 years ago but continues to compete with the best on the domestic and international tours, including earning a bronze medal at the Long Beach Grand Slam in July.

Best Offensive Player

Phil Dalhausser

Even with a pulled abdominal muscle and the birth of his daughter Sophia mid-season, Dalhausser boasted the highest hitting percentage on the men’s side of the AVP tour, ending the season at .486. In spite of an up-and-down season for Dalhausser and partner Sean Rosenthal, the duo earned three international golds and five total podium finishes on the FIVB, besting their 2013 haul, and proved that even in a tough, injury-riddled season, Dalhausser is a side-out machine.

Kerri Walsh Jennings

Walsh Jennings hit .511 on the AVP tour this year. Her partner April Ross hit .509, meaning Walsh Jennings is only a slightly better hitter than she is a setter. In college, the four-time All-American was the first player in the Pac-10 to collect over 1,500 kills, so it comes as no surprise the 36-year-old is continuing to dominate the international and domestic tours.

Most Valuable Player

Kerri Walsh Jennings

The reigning queen of American beach volleyball has officially returned to her full glory two years after winning her third Olympic gold and more than a year after the birth of her third child. Adding 11 titles to her career haul this summer, Walsh Jennings broke the women’s record for domestic titles, surpassing former partner Misty May-Treanor, and with the win in Atlantic City climbed ahead of Randy Stoklos to become the third winningest player of all time, regardless of gender.

Jake Gibb

Though quiet and unassumingespecially in comparison to his trash-talking, victory-dancing partner Casey PattersonGibb excelled in all areas of his game this season. Third ranked on tour in aces at 53, fifth in blocks with 127, and second in hitting percentage at .472, Gibb received great respect from players on tour who often served his younger partner Patterson instead of giving Gibb the chance to side out.

Newcomers of the Year

Jason Lochhead

Though at 30 years old Lochhead is hardly a rookie, he is a newcomer to the AVP tour. The New Zealand native competed on the NVL in 2013 before moving over to the AVP this summer. Partnering with Russ Marchewka, Lochhead earned three career-high sevenths this season and is sure to continue improving as he becomes more established in the American beach volleyball scene.

Amanda Dowdy

This 24-year-old former Texas Tech middle blocker played in five professional events in 2013, taking a third at the NVL’s Hermosa Beach event with Jessica Stubinski, but this summer she made the jump to the AVP after being picked up by Nicole Branagh. With Branagh, Dowdy collected three fifth-place finishes, and when Branagh had to take a weekend off, Dowdy earned a fifth in Atlantic City with fellow rookie Branagan Fuller.

Team of the Year

Kerri Walsh Jennings & April Ross

This was the easiest choice we had to make in any category. Ross and Walsh Jennings completed an undefeated AVP season on their way to collecting all seven titles on tour. Additionally the pair finished the season with four FIVB golds, which ranked them as the No. 4 women’s team in the world. In their entire partnership, which began halfway through the 2013 season, the duo boasts a record of 110-9.

Phil Dalhausser & Sean Rosenthal

If you only follow domestic beach volleyball, you probably wont agree with this selection. For the second year in a row, Dalhausser and Rosenthal earned only a single title on the AVP tour. But in international competition they were impressive, taking gold in three FIVB Grand Slams, including on their home turf at the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, California. A silver medal in The Hague and a bronze in Moscow earned the duo enough points to be ranked second in the world, even with Dalhausser suffering from an abdominal injury for the last couple months of the season.

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