Meet the wild cards

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


Photo: Kohjiro Kinno

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 – Zana Muno-Crissy Jones (Colorado), Katie Hogan-Megan Rice (Virginia Beach), Claire Coppola-Kristen Nuss (U-26 Dallas) – 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 Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn, who won in Dallas, were in main draw via points anyway, so the wild card was unneeded and therefore disappeared. Some teams who won a Next, take Mackenzie Ponnet and Chelsea Ross, who won the U-26 in Huntington Beach, are playing with different partners and won’t actually take the bid. Ponnet is sticking with Sheila Shaw, with whom she made the semifinal in Hermosa Beach. Bids are only earned as a team, so Ross couldn’t sub, say, Jess Gaffney, in for Ponnet to accept the Huntington wild card. And some, like Katie Spieler and Delaney Knudsen, who won in both Chicago and Seaside, didn’t need either, so the bids were also unneeded.

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

Bree Scarbrough, Katie Hogan: Virginia Beach Wild Card

Gosh is beach volleyball so weird. Katie Hogan just played in the finals of Hermosa Beach from the qualifier, and now she’s playing with someone new! That’s how undesirable it is to play in qualifiers, a rite of passage both Scarbrough and Hogan know quite well. A year after making every main draw with Aurora Davis, Scarbrough has only made one this season, in Austin. It’s not a slight on her game so much as it is evidence of how much deeper the women’s game has gotten. Hogan had only played in one other AVP this season — Seattle — prior to making the Hermosa finals, and she didn’t make it out. Now, with a well-earned win in Virginia Beach, there is no need to bludgeon through another gnarly qualifier.

Zana Muno, Crissy Jones: Colorado Wild Card

Muno and Jones had the most unfortunate start to their professional careers that nobody really knew about. They had bought flights to both Austin and New York… and didn’t get into either qualifier, which were capped by points. Instead of flying to New York, then, they took off to Denver, where they won their first tournament of the year as a team, earning an automatic berth to Manhattan. That’s where they thought they’d get their opportunity to make a breakthrough, but that came sooner than expected, in Hermosa Beach, where they made the semifinals as the 47th seed in the qualifier. It’ll be fun to see what they can do with four less matches, and another few weeks of training.

Claire Coppola, Kristen Nuss: U-26 Dallas Wild Card

One of the best pairs in college beach volleyball for the past three years is taking to the professional circuit. In the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Coppola and Nuss, LSU’s court one pair, won 64 matches and lost only 12. They’ve been named the CCSA Pair of the Year two years in a row, and led LSU to a semifinal appearance in the NCAA Championships this past spring. Manhattan will mark their second main draw together, their first coming a year ago in Hermosa Beach, where they were the recipient of a wild card as well.