King of the Court-Brandie Wilkerson-Melissa Humana-Paredes-Kusti Nolvak-Mart Tiisaar
The King of the Court at AVP Miami/King of the Court photo

After Brandie Wilkerson buried yet another cut shot, extending hers and Melissa Humana-Paredes’ lead in Sunday’s finals of the King of the Court to nine points over the next closest team, Brazilians Lili and Larissa Maestrini, and the three final pairs went into a timeout, announcer Lewie Lett did a most admirable job of containing his enthusiasm for the new Canadian duo.

“Are we looking at one of the world’s, I want to say best teams, they’re not there yet … ”  he said, pausing. “I don’t know the right word, but they are going to be there, aren’t they?”

Rich Lambourne, Lett’s partner in the box, attempted no such restraint.

“I’m not afraid to say that they’re one of the world’s best teams,” said Lambourne, who was also coaching Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander at the event. “You’ve got a world champion in Mel and you’ve got a world champ runnerup in Brandie. You combine the two and they’re two of the best individual players in the entirety of the sport. You put them together, and just the chemistry already.”

Last weekend’s King of the Court in Miami marked just the second event for the Canadians, and yet, as Lambourne mentioned, the immediate chemistry — not to be confused with a honeymoon phase — was impossible to miss.

Humana-Paredes earned their tiaras with a beautiful, signature line shot, sealing a 15-5-3 finals win over the Maestrinis and the Czech Republic’s Barbora Hermannova and Marie-Sara Stochlova, a dominant showing to cap a dominant weekend. All told, the Canadians played nine rounds of King of the Court, winning six of them, including five of the final six. That came against competition such as Germany’s Svenja Muller and Cinja Tillman, the No. 8 team in the world, the aforementioned Czechs, who won a gold medal as recently as October in a Challenge in Dubai, Germans Julia Sude and Isabel Schneider, who also won gold in Dubai the weekend before to the Czechs, and Zana Muno and, oh, the greatest to ever play the game, Kerri Walsh Jennings, among others.

“We’re just having such a good time,” Humana-Paredes said after winning three straight rounds in the semifinals. “We didn’t even know what the score was, we just kept going until they told us to stop.”

And so, well, they didn’t, proving to be unstoppable throughout the weekend in Miami, where they will be staying for this upcoming weekend’s AVP.

“We’ll take a day off, practice, and we’ll be ready the next weekend,” Wilkerson said. “It’s right here in Miami Beach.”

Mart Tiisaar-Kusti Nolvak-King of the Court
Mart Tiisaar and Kusti Nolvak celebrate their victory/King of the Court photo

The men’s winners, Kusti Nolvak and Mart Tiisaar of Estonia, will, like many teams, instead be boarding flights for La Paz, Mexico, for the first Challenge event of 2023. Unlike their female counterparts on the podium, there is nothing new about this Estonian team. They’ve been together for as long as they’ve been playing on the World Tour, beginning in 2016, when they didn’t make it out of a single qualifier in four times trying. Now? They’re kings of the court, ranked No. 19 in the world and seeded second in the main draw for the La Paz Challenge.

“We’re super, super happy about it,” said Tiisaar, who is coming off of hip surgery and looked no worse for the wear. “This time in the finals, throughout the whole three rounds, we didn’t have to be shaky. We had our points, there was no doubt we’d come out in any round. It just felt great.”

Both finals were all-international affairs, lest you count the Maestrinis, who live in Florida and are regulars on the AVP, as de facto Americans. The highest-finishing American men were two new teams in Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, and Hagen Smith and Bill Kolinske, who emerged from the qualifier and made it to the semifinals. Smith and Kolinske were eliminated in the second of three rounds in the semifinals. Phil Dalhausser and Troy Field, and qualifiers Caleb Kwekel and Dylan Zacca, were both knocked out in the quarterfinals, while Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander were eliminated in just two total rounds.

Chaim Schalk-Tri Bourne-Caleb Kwekel-King of the Court
Chaim Schalk hits a shot against Caleb Kwekel while Tri Bourne covers and Phil Dalhausser waits his turn to get back on the court/King of the Court photo

On the women’s side, both Katie Horton and Brook Bauer, and Jessica Gaffney and Kelly Reeves, made the semifinals. Muno and Walsh Jennings bowed out in the quarterfinals. It was the first time Walsh Jennings has played an event since the Ostrava four-star of 2021, which marked the final qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“It’s crazy because I felt so composed but my touches were rushed in the rally and I felt like that was the difference in a couple points,” Walsh Jennings said. “It was just excitement. This place is great. So fun.”

King of the Court will next stop in Hamburg, Germany, on May 25-28, before the Volleyball World Elite 16 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Full results for the King of the Court Miami


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