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2019 Manhattan Beach Open Preview: Old Rivals Turned Partners

2019 AVP_AVPSeattle Friday_Cr. Mpu Dinani-199

Photo: Mpu Dinani

Let’s rewind a few years.

Sunday, August 20, 2017. Manhattan Beach Open semifinals.

Trevor Crabb and Sean Rosenthal are playing against Reid Priddy and Ricardo Santos. With the first set in hand, Crabb and Rosenthal are up one, 21-20, at the freeze. Crabb blocks Priddy for the match, though what comes next is what will send the beach volleyball gossip wheel whirling for weeks.

“Go back to indoor,” Crabb, never one to miss a plum opportunity for trash talk, told Priddy. Priddy chatted back. Born, suddenly, was a funny rivalry between Crabb and Priddy, though it was one that resided mostly off the court — primarily social media and places like the Net Live — than on. They only played against one another three more times after that (Priddy won two). Most of the fireworks went off that day in Manhattan Beach.

Now that you’re all caught up. Let’s fast forward to today, where Crabb, in light of Tri Bourne breaking his hand, is partnered with Priddy, who recently split with Theo Brunner, for this year’s Manhattan Beach Open.

Many are surprised, if not amused, by the move, though it makes sense on so many levels, the first being that the hatchet has long since been buried. There isn’t any bad blood between the two. They’re competitors, and Crabb didn’t reserve his trash talk exclusively for Priddy, anyway. Everyone Crabb has played against has received an earful. Priddy was simply no exception.

Now they’re on the same side of the net, in a Manhattan Beach Open that is replete with some intriguing new partnerships and potential matchups.

Brunner has returned to John Hyden, Sara Hughes has pulled in Canadian dynamo Brandie Wilkerson, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes are straight into main draw, Caitlin Ledoux is back with Maria Clara Salgado, Brittany Howard and Molly Turner are testing a new partnership, Brittany Tiegs has teamed up with Hermosa finalist Megan Rice, Irene Pollock and Kim DiCello are running back the team that played their second tournament in Chetumal, Mexico this past October.

Big draws are the best.

And, per usual, present the wildest qualifiers.

Men’s qualifier preview

Note: Just a reminder that I try not to write about the same teams multiple times, so you think teams are good that aren’t written in, chances are it’s because I’ve written about them before.

Andrew Dentler, Myles Muagututia

This is the first big tournament Myles and I haven’t played together since p1440 San Jose, so this is really weird to write about my partner (he’s still my partner, Dentler, don’t you go getting any ideas) with another dude. However, I must admit that I do love this team. Dentler’s a fantastic blocker, and anybody who plays with Muagututia has an automatic 10-point percentage jump in their sideout because he’s such a good setter, so offense won’t be much of an issue. Whatever chemistry issues there may be from a new team will be atoned for with Dentler’s big, fundamental block for Muagututia to play behind, and he comes packing one of the sharpest jump serves in the qualifier, too.

DR Vander Meer, Kyle Radde

Radde will make the fifth partner this season for Vander Meer, who is coming off a main draw in Hermosa Beach, his first of the season, with Logan Webber. Radde, too, is on the heels of his first main draw, where he was automatically into Hermosa with Steve Roschitz. There is no reason why this wouldn’t be a good team: Both are physical, Radde serves well, Vander Meer digs as many balls as half the qualifier combined, both set well enough. It won’t be easy to put a ball down on them.

Kacey Losik, Spencer Sauter

This might be my favorite new team in the qualifier. If you read my post-Huntington qualifier piece, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Losik’s game. Much of the attention of our youth players goes to, understandably, guys like the Partain brothers, John Schwengel, Tim Brewster and the like, and Losik somehow always seems to fly under the radar despite making four main draws already, and he’s only a teenager. Sauter is a great choice for Losik. He’s a big block, sets extremely well for his size, and has this wicked float serve that defies physics a bit. Love this team.

Bill Kolinske, Eric Beranek

Here’s a warm welcome back to the AVP for Bill Kolinske, who hasn’t played in an AVP since Chicago of 2016 with Avery Drost. Now he’s back, and he’s coming off a win at the Seaside Open with Miles Evans. He’s picked up a partner with similar energy in Beranek, who is a digging machine with enough potential that any event could be an enormous breakthrough. I’m firmly knocking on wood here, but I’d be genuinely surprised if this team even dropped a set.

Marty Lorenz, Travis Schoonover

Welcome back from pseudo-retirement, Schoonover. Hermosa Beach was his first event of the season, where he and Rob McLean lost in the third round to the Partain brothers in a tight three-setter. For Manhattan, he’s reunited with Lorenz, with whom he played in the 2013 season, qualifying in Manhattan Beach. It’s a throwback team, and any team with the sheer volume of reps that Schoonover and Lorenz have had over the course of their careers is going to be just fine, regardless of how much practice time they’ve had.

Garrett Wessberg, Garrett Roberts

One of the most fun things to watch is the last round of the qualifiers, because you get to see teams accomplish something they’ve been working towards for years. The reactions are always priceless. When I bumped into Roberts after he and Wessberg qualified in Hermosa, he seemed to be almost in a daze, as if he couldn’t believe that he was telling me that he was actually in the main draw the next day. It’s so fun to see that happen. And now he and Wessberg have the opportunity to do so again this week in Manhattan, looking to make it two straight.

Steve Irvin, Cody Caldwell

Double-block! Love it when two big, physical blockers team up. Irvin spent the first half of the year with Hagen Smith, losing close ones to excellent teams in every qualifier. The two have gone different directions, with Irvin turning to fellow blocker Cody Caldwell, who has also been close but hasn’t quite broken through just yet. This isn’t just two goons teaming up for the heck of it. These are two good volleyball players, with skud missiles of serves, and Irvin is actually a good defender, despite never really playing back there much.  

JM Plummer, Drew Punjabi

Another knock on wood here, but I think this is the tournament for Plummer – for transparency’s sake, I must let you know that he’s my roommate, and therefore I’m rooting for him; just being honest about my biases — to make his first AVP main draw. He and Punjabi came so close in Hermosa, upsetting Lev Priima and Jake Landel in the third round before falling to The Funniest Team on Tour in Chris Vaughan and Jake Rosener. But Punjabi also was hardly able to lift his shoulder for the week leading up to the tournament, which isn’t the case for this one. And, on top of that, Plummer is getting more and more used to the deep sand out here as opposed to the trampoline sand in Florida, from where he moved this summer.

Ty Tramblie, Matt Hilling

A guy who won an AVP only a few years ago and is still in excellent physical condition is playing with a guy who is good enough to win the Manhattan Six-Man – and they’re coming in as the 106 seed.

So I’m just going to leave it at that, and say: Whatever top seed gets these guys first round, I’m genuinely sorry that the Volley Gods have smited you so.  

Women’s qualifier preview

Aurora Davis, Toni Rodriguez

Much of the attention at LSU went, justifiably, to the court one pair of Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss, who are as good as everyone says. But Rodrigez was phenomenal in her lone season on the sand at LSU, finishing 21-14 with Ashlyn Rasinck-Pope. She’s still a bit indoor-minded, but she nearly made it into Hermosa Beach, falling in the final round to Nicole and Audrey Nourse. With Aurora Davis, she’ll have an experienced veteran as a partner, someone who can steady out some of the natural rawness that comes from indoor.   

Tani Stephens, Payton Rund

Stephens has been slowly moving on up in her first season traveling a fair amount on the beach. One of the top players in the p1440 Developmental Program, she recently claimed a fifth at the Seaside Open with Victoria Dennis. She’s played with Rund, a blocker for Florida State, before, in San Francisco of 2018, and they nearly upset fourth-seeded Delaney Knudsen and Jessica Sykora, losing in three. They won’t be such underdogs this year, especially with the season Rund put together at Florida State and with Stephens’ improvement since San Francisco of a year ago.  

Heather McGuire, Branagan Fuller

The beach volleyball world is just better when Branagan Fuller is in it. For one, she’s the only person I’ve met who can really put Trevor Crabb in his place when it comes to trash talk. And two, she’s also just really good, both as a person and volleyball player. She doesn’t play a whole lot anymore. Something about law school keeping her busy. But she’s still played long enough where it won’t matter too much, and McGuire is still the same McGuire who took a pair of fifths in 2017.

College Mafia Section

Carly Kan, Julia Scoles

These two walked into Seaside and took that tournament by storm. Their only loss came in the finals, to Delaney Knudsen and Katie Spieler. In the process, they beat Nicolette Martin and Kerri Schuh twice, and upset Molly Turner and Brittany Tiegs as well. Those are three bona fide main draw wins, for a team that hasn’t yet made a main draw. Heck, Kan hasn’t even tried to make a main draw yet, and she’s still beating teams of that caliber.

Abby Van Winkle, Lindsey Sparks

If Todd Rogers coined the “death by 1,000 cuts” in a beach volleyball sense, then Sparks may just do the same with “death by 1,000 pokes.” Watching her at the Pac-12 Championships was kind of hilarious, as she took this quick set out of the middle from Izzy Carey and just poked it this way and that. It has to be maddening as a defender to try and stop it, especially when Sparks’ court vision is just that good. Another plus is that she gets to play behind the 6-foot-2 block of fellow Bruin Abby Van Winkle, who experienced her first main draw action in Seattle.

Deahna Kraft, Brook Bauer

Of the players returning for the 2020 college beach volleyball season, I’m pegging Brook Bauer as one of the best, if not the best, players in the country. She’s as smooth as they come, both in playing style and emotion. Her and Kraft are likely to play together on court one next year at Pepperdine – they did a few times throughout the season this year – so it makes sense for them to play at the highest level available now.

Katie Horton, Brooke Niles

We’re keeping Niles in the College Mafia section because she’s one of the top college coaches in the country, leading Florida State to yet another NCAA Tournament appearance. She hasn’t played in a professional event since 2015, when she was running the NVL with Kaya Marciniak, but she’s around so much volleyball, all the time, that it would be hard to believe that the touch has simply disappeared. Horton has had her fair share of close calls this season, being knocked out in four qualifiers by teams that have made at least a quarterfinal of a main draw this season. It’s about time for a breakthrough.

Charlie Ekstrom, Sunny Villapando

Ekstrom will be a sophomore this season at Stanford, but do not think that youth will hinder her ability to compete at this level. She, alongside Scoles, has one of the best arms in college volleyball, and certainly in this qualifier. Her name was the first that Stanford coach Andrew Fuller mentioned when asked, at the beginning of last year, for who to keep an eye on that season. He proved as prescient as ever. Villapando, a Mira Costa grad and Stanford junior, has been rock solid as a Cardinal, going 12-4 on court two with Morgan Hentz.

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