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AVP Austin Preview: A Mixed Field Where Anything Can Happen

AVP Austin

The running joke for AVP San Francisco for the past few years was that it was, in reality, CBVA San Francisco. So many teams were gone that the winners were regularly first-timers — Maddison McKibbin in 2017, Ed Ratledge and Rafu Rodriguez in 2018. Ty Loomis hadn’t won an AVP since 2009, in Coney Island with Casey Patterson, so eight years off made the re-entrance into the winner’s circle a sweet one indeed.

Now, AVP Austin, on the men’s side, is not quite as diluted. The top two teams in the country — Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb — stayed home, while six other highly-ranked American teams are off to Itapema, Brazil, for a four-star FIVB. It would be a bit of a shock if one or both of Dalhausser-Lucena and Crabb-Gibb are not in the finals.

But the women’s side? This could be a year in which a qualifier team wins and nobody could feign that much surprise. There’s just one team in the main draw — Emily Day and Betsi Flint — in which both players have won an AVP tournament. Some might argue that it’ll be watered down, the quality of play won’t be quite as high, but I’d argue the contrary. We’ll see matches and matchups we’ve yet to see. We’ll see teams in new positions. And I’m willing to make a bet that there’s a qualifier team at least in the quarterfinals again, wrecking the main draw bracket.

But before we get to all of that, we have, of course, our qualifier preview. As always, I don’t write about teams I’ve written about before, so some of the carry-overs from a year ago aren’t here, even if they are talented and promising.

Cole Fiers, John Schwengel

You know the relationship Tony Stark has with Spiderman? How there’s no family relation there, but it’s sort of an unofficial nephew-uncle type deal and they’re oddly close and a little competitive at the same time? That’s kind of how I feel about John Schwengel, who continues to improve and improve and improve and grind and grind and grind. I just root for the kid, because he puts in the work, and it’s going to pay off, and pay off soon, I’d expect. He had to sub in Cole Fiers as an injury fill-in for Aidan Brown, but Cole had an excellent year last season, any anyway, Schwengel has been competing with Timmy Brewster, a lefty like Fiers, for so long it’ll be like going home.

Andrew Dentler, Raffe Paulis

These two are like the Ross and Rachel of the beach volleyball world (if you haven’t seen the show, and you don’t get the joke, then we probably aren’t, ahem, Friends). On again, off again. Kinda happy with other partners. Usually successful when together. I always like this team, personally. Two of the calmest on-court personalities, with excellent ball control, steady offense, and a defense that will consistently make plays, not to mention Dentler’s ability to paint lines with his serve.

Good to see Ross and Rachel not on a break anymore.

Christian Honer, Logan Webber

Honer has been playing beach volleyball with the enthusiasm and zest of the most respectable volleyball nerds for years now, and it took until Chicago of last season to make his first main draw.

How was Huntington Beach for an encore?

In what I’d argue was the toughest draw of the qualifier, Honer and Webber won three matches to make main draw, and then pulled off what I’d say was the upset of the tournament, not only in seed differential (Q15 beating an 11) but in lopsidedness when they thumped Chase Frishman and Piotr Marciniak, 21-19, 21-11.

It took three sets from the McKibbins, on fresh legs having not played in Thursday’s qualifier, to knock them out.

This team is a stock to buy for sure.

David Lee, Silila Tucker

The qualifier at Huntington was the first I’d seen Tucker play. I’d heard his name plenty, after he and Steven Roschitz crashed the Chicago qualifier, making main draw as the 19 seed. A scrappy defender with snappy shots and excellent ball control, he’s a perfect fit for Lee, whose block somehow only seems to be getting bigger and bigger, and whose window is expanding at the same rate as his skill set continues to translate onto the beach.

Dylan Maarek, Jeff Samuels

It is an absolute bummer that Maarek’s partner for Huntington Beach, Branden Clemens, with whom he was playing phenomenal ball, is now likely out for the season after getting knee surgery. It sucks, nothing more to it. Clemens was playing great, Maarek was playing great, and then life happens.

So Maarek is returning to Samuels, with whom he made Chicago in 2016. Two experienced players, who have played together before, is typically a successful combination.

Eric Beranek, Marty Lorenz

Beranek is on my short list for Rookie of the Year candidates. If you didn’t catch him play in Huntington, then, well, no worries, really. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so. With Lorenz, Beranek is playing behind one of the more fundamentally sound undersized blockers, who sets great, passes extremely well, and sides out consistently. Lorenz has made a Sunday before. My bet – maybe not here, but at some point this season – is that we’ll see Beranek on a Sunday here soon.

Jon Ferrari, Brian Miller

If you’ve been paying close enough attention, most of you will have at least heard Brian Miller’s name before. A Seattle guy, he made a few main draws with Brett Ryan in 2017 but struck out in the few he played in 2018. Since his move to San Diego, he’s picked up Jon Ferrari, whom I met for the first time at an AVP Next this winter. They won the AVP Next series to earn the wild card into Huntington Beach, and, despite their finish not showing it, played phenomenal volleyball. They took Sean Rosenthal and Ricardo to 21-19, and pushed Avery Drost and Eric Zaun to 16-14 in the third.

Kyle Friend, Duncan Budinger

Friend may have made one of the smoothest transitions from blocker to defender of any recent qualifier player attempting to do so. He and Budinger made it through their first qualifier together, winning on what should have been a SportsCenter Top10 play, before mopping up Paulis and Lorenz in the first round of main draw and pushing Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb to three.

Friend is only going to get more comfortable in defense, and Budinger, having recently moved to the West Coast, is only going to get more reps on the sand.

Spencer Sauter, Ben Vaught

If I had to pick one team to make it through every qualifier they play this season, it’s this one. Vaught was the first friend I made when I moved to California three and a half years ago. I’ve seen his game progress every step of the way to the point that it is now, and the jump he made this off-season is a big one. Sauter, too, coming off a shoulder surgery, is playing as good as I’ve seen him. The two run a fast, mixed offense, and both have vastly improved ball control thanks to the reps of rookie coach Jordan Cheng, who’s also in the box with Reid Priddy and Theo Brunner.

Yamil Yanes, Alex Diaz

It’s honestly not that often that I’ve never heard of either player on a team that qualifies. I pride myself on being one of the most dedicated acolytes of BVBinfo.com, but Yanes and Diaz pulled it off. In talking with friends in Florida, these guys are always competitive, making the later rounds in the Dig The Beach tournaments. They beat three solid teams in the qualifier in JM Plummer and Gabe Ospina, DR Vander Meer and Bobby Jacobs, and Earl Schultz and Jake Urrutia. They had a brutal draw once in main, getting Sean Rosenthal and Ricardo Santos after dropping to Eric Zaun and Avery Drost.

They’re no surprise team anymore. They’re just legit.

WOMEN

Emily Hartong, Alexa Strange

If you were wondering the secret behind the success of the women’s snow volleyball team, which has made the finals in every event its played, I’ll let you in on it: Pass the ball, set Emily Hartong. Dig the ball, set Emily Hartong.

If you haven’t seen Hartong play yet, you should. She’s one of the more physical presences on tour, and she’s still getting the sand legs back after an excellent indoor career as an outside hitter at the University of Hawaii and a few professional seasons overseas. Strange, a lefty, is a perfect complement, with a little more beachiness and excellent ball control behind Hartong’s athletic block.

Annika Rowland, Teegan Van Gunst

Twins are taking over the world. There’s the Witt twins, the McNamara twins, the precocious Nourse twins. Now we’ve got these Georgia twins named Annika and Teegan who went two-for-two last year in attempts to make main draws – they made Manhattan and Chicago – and are playing in their second this year.

They had the surprisingly brutal draw of 16-year-olds Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft in Huntington, losing in the first round. But that loss, in retrospect, isn’t a bad loss at all. The teenagers are just really dang good.

So are these twins, the next in a growing list of sibling, and twin, partnerships.

Brittany Tiegs, Jessica Sykora

You never really want to see a 6-foot-4 blocker in the qualifier, and you never really want to see a player who competed for Florida State and Hawai’i with seven years of main draw experience defending behind her, but that’s what teams are going to get when they match up with Sykora and Tiegs.

In their first tournament together, in Huntington Beach, Sykora matched her career-high of ninth, and it matched Tiegs’ best finish of 2018. A good start to a new team that could very well be in the wonderful honeymoon stage of a partnership.  

Crissy Jones, Zana Muno

I don’t care about the cap – somebody find a way to get this team in the daggum qualifier. If you don’t follow the college game, then you won’t know Jones or Muno all that well, if at all. Jones was an excellent court one blocker for Todd Rogers at Cal Poly this season, and Muno sealed the NCAA Championship-clinching dual point for UCLA against USC on court three with Abby Van Winkle. I watched a lot of college beach volleyball this season, and Muno has one of the highest upsides of any athlete I saw. If she weren’t on the best team in the country, she’d have been in competition to play on court one most anywhere else. Jones, meanwhile, is a big block and a magnificent transition setter.

Jess Gaffney, Molly Turner

This is team grind right here. If you follow Gaffney and Turner on Instagram, you’ll have seen their absurdly early A.M. workouts followed by practices followed by workouts followed by work followed by a bit of sleep with a lot of coffee in between all of that. And then they do it again.

It’s working. Turner wrote on the grind earlier for p1440, and with a ninth place in Huntington Beach, the results are beginning to take care of themselves. I could see both of these players getting scooped at some point this season or, if they stick together, they could absolutely become a main draw mainstay on their own. 

Kim Hildreth, Sarah Schermerhorn

This Florida-based team is much better than the one that has lost in the past two qualifiers, I can assure you that. Qualifiers just suck sometimes (I can assure you of that, as well). They nearly made Austin a year ago, losing a tight one to Nicolette Martin and Sarah Day, 30-28, 17-21, 13-15, who went onto finish fifth in main draw. But then they made it through San Francisco and Manhattan Beach and, in p1440 San Jose, pushed the top team in the world, Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado, to three sets, losing 12-15 in the third. They’ve proven they can hang with the best on the planet. They can certainly do so with the best in a qualifier.

Kristen Petrasic, Heather Friesen

Kobe Bryant once described his rapid ascent as a basketball player as a math problem. If I work out six days a week, and you do five, I’ll get better. It’s just a matter of time. Such a theory can be applied to this team, which is winning the math equation, putting in an entire season together in 2018 and the whole off-season in the p1440 developmental program.

On paper, this doesn’t look like a bad draw, since both are seeking their first main draws, but it’s not an easy one by any means. They’re both talented players with the work ethic to maximize their potential as athletes. Main draw will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

Lara Dykstra, Cassie House

The international all-star team returns! What a start to the year these ladies have had, with a pair of gold medals and a fifth in a trio of FIVB one-stars, all coming out of the qualifier. Their play in AVP Huntington was much better than the results show, due to the weirdness of a 24-team draw that doesn’t really reward a team for winning its first round match, as they did.

Both of these players are on the upswing of their careers, as House hasn’t even been living in California for a year, and Dykstra is in her third season traveling to all of the stops after competing for Pepperdine.

Maria Clara Salgado, Traci Callahan

And the biggest land mine of the year thus far goes to: Maria Clara Salgado and Traci Callahan. It’s not all that often you see a player with more than half a million in prize money, the AVP Rookie of the Year award and a pair of FIVB Best Server Awards relegated not just to the qualifier, but to the 18 seed in said qualifier.

Such was the path of Salgado, who trained in Brazil with Callahan for a few weeks before crashing the qualifier and winning three main draw matches, including one over the fun, dual-blocking duo of Kelly Claes and Brandie Wilkerson. They’ve moved up in seeding, thank goodness, but still: As the six seed in the qualifier, they retain land mine status.

Megan Rice, Marija Milosevic

This team may have had the most difficult route in the Huntington qualifier, needing all nine sets in three total matches to make it out, against three quality teams. But they made it. And when your road is that difficult, and you still prevail, it leaves you with a sense of confidence and accomplishment you might not have had with an easier path. They’ll be the 13 seed in the qualifier, so their road won’t be getting any easier from here. But still: They’ve proven they can navigate a tough road before. They can do it again.  

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