Meet the Wild Cards

2019 Manhattan Beach Open: Meet The Men’s Wild Cards


Photo: Robert Beck

When the entry list for the Manhattan Beach Open was released earlier this week, I received a slew of texts or emails or messages on social media, all asking the same thing: What’s up with the wild cards?

The Manhattan Open is home to many things – tradition, nostalgia, legions of dedicated fans – one of them being, typically, eight wild cards into the 32-team main draw, the biggest of the AVP season. This year, the wild cards were doled out different than in the past. In the previous few seasons, the eight wild cards have been earned through regional AVP Next series: one wild card per the eight regions across the United States.

The results, in terms of player satisfaction, were mixed. On the one hand, players who typically might not get a shot to play in the main draw of the Manhattan Beach Open had the opportunity to do so. On the other hand …players who typically might not get a shot to play in the main draw of the Manhattan Beach Open had the opportunity to do so. The Southern California region, which is, objectively, the most difficult, grumbled quite a bit, though to be fair, Southern California beach volleyball players’ favorite past time is complaining, so nothing was too new there.

But the AVP mixed it up this season. Gone were the regional bids, and in was the AVP Next Gold Series, a fantastic addition to the AVP schedule. Many players have likened it to a qualifier tour, a sort of minor league system, where the winners of the Gold Series tournaments, which numbered eight in total across the country – six open, two U-26 – were given not only decent prize money, but a bid to the Manhattan Beach Open.

It turned the Gold Series into, essentially, really well-paid qualifiers. The result has been fantastic. Now, the Southern California players had no reason to grumble, for they could travel to any one tournament across the country and not have to play an entire series of them. It gave the teams who earned the wild cards via winning – Peter Connole-Steven Roschitz (Dallas), Christian Honer-Brian Miller (U-26 Huntington), Travis Mewhirter-Raffe Paulis (Chicago), Tyler Lesneski-Dave Palm (Pompano Beach), Angel Dache-Brian Tillman (Virginia Beach) – a great deal more respect, for the each of the Gold Series tournaments was far more stacked than a typical qualifier would be.

Now, you may have also noticed that there were less than eight teams mentioned, despite there being eight wild cards budgeted into the Manhattan Beach Open. The reasons for that are varying.

Some teams, take Adam Roberts and Andy Benesh, who won the Next in Colorado, were in main draw via points anyway, so the wild card was unneeded and therefore disappeared. Some teams who won a Next, take Billy Kolinske and Miles Evans, who won Seaside, didn’t actually take the bid. Evans is sticking with Ryan Doherty, with whom he made the finals in Hermosa Beach. Bids are only earned as a team, so Kolinske couldn’t sub, say, Eric Beranek, in for Evans to accept the Seaside wild card. And some individuals, like Roschitz, won multiple Nexts with different partners, but could only accept the bid with one. He chose Connole, with whom he won in Dallas, over Silila Tucker, with whom he won a U-26.

All that being said, here’s a look at who these wild card teams are:

Peter Connole, Steven Roschitz: Dallas Wild Card

What a year this has been for Connole. Prior to this season, he had won exactly two qualifier matches, over a 30-seed and a 44-seed. The furthest he had made it was the second round. After another second-round exit in Austin – where Roschitz, hilariously, sighed and said, “Well, win or lose, we booze,” – Connole doubled his qualifier wins in the next tournament.

In AVP New York, Connole and Roschitz upset Adam Roberts and Andy Benesh in the second round, stunned Maddison and Riley McKibbin, and beat Brad Connors and Kyle Radde to make it four qualifier wins in a single tournament and get Connole his first main draw.

They split for Hermosa, where Roschitz was able to cobble enough points together with Radde to be straight into main, but now they’re back again, directly into main draw after beating Lev Priima and Jake Landel in the finals of the Dallas AVP Next.

Christian Honer, Brian Miller: U-26 Huntington Beach Wild Card

At first blush, anyone earning a U-26 might elicit an eye roll and the thought that the field, because it was limited to U-26 only, wasn’t that stacked. That would be wrong. The field in Huntington was loaded with teams who have either made main draw or have been on the brink of it – Miles and Marcus Partain, Evan Cory and Jon Justice, Ben Vaught and Spencer Sauter, Dylan Maarek and Cole Fiers, Hagen Smith and Lucas Yoder, Kacey Losik and John Schwengel. Honer and Miller, a new partnership that is only getting better, earned every bit of this bid. They’re coming off an excellent Seaside, where they finished fifth but beat a host of good teams along the way, including Canadian No. 1 defender Grant O’Gorman, and had a swing for match against Miles Evans and Billy Kolinske in the quarterfinals.

Travis Mewhirter, Raffe Paulis: Chicago Wild Card

Well, Raffe and I have played in two qualifiers together – Austin of 2018, Chicago AVP Next 2019 – and have clubbed our way through both. It only took us four matches to make it through Austin, which seemed brutal at the time but in retrospect was quite easy, for we had to grind through nine in Chicago to win the bid. But we do have our second main draw together, and better yet, I get to be even weirder than normal by being a lefty on the left.

Tyler Lesneski, Dave Palm: Florida Wild Card

It was more of a waiting game to see when Dave Palm, one of the top players in Florida for the past several years, would make an AVP main draw. When he did, in Hermosa Beach with Dylan Maarek, he made his presence known, upsetting Chaim Schalk and Jeremy Casebeer, putting on a blocking display that showed just why he was named the NVL’s Most Valuable Player in 2015. Lesneski has been off the grid for a bit, not playing a professional event since 2017, and that was only one, at NVL Long Beach. In Pompano Beach, the two earned the bid in a fairly loaded field that also included Rafu Rodriguez and Piotr Marciniak.

Angel Dache, Brian Tillman: Virginia Beach Wild Card

If Virginia Beach was any indicator, Dache and Tillman are rooting hard for more 25 mile per hour winds in Manhattan Beach. Those were the conditions they played through, and won every match, in Virginia Beach, where they beat Chris Luers and Logan Webber in the finals. They haven’t played a professional event since AVP New York – they’re both East Coasters – but they’ll be traveling to Manhattan, auto main draw in hand.