AVP Hawai'i

AVP Hawai’i: All Stars Align in Hollywood-Scripted Qualifier


WAIKIKI — Standing under the shade of a palm tree just off Waikiki Beach, Sean Rosenthal racked his brain, trying to remember the last time he had been in an AVP qualifier.

“Ed [Ratledge] texted me and said it was in 2000,” he said, shrugging. Was that right? Almost 20 years since Rosenthal was in a qualifier?

When he was 20? Well before kids, marriage, Olympics?

Had it been that much time?

It had. And, throughout the day, the jokes were never-ending.

“Welcome back to the qualifier!”

“Fun playing on a Thursday?”

“Miss this, Rosie?”

He’d just smile and laugh and shrug with them. Volleyball is volleyball. And Sean Rosenthal is still really, really good at volleyball. Good enough to win both matches in Thursday’s qualifier with a guy, Brian Cook, who hadn’t played a competitive match in more than two years, who’s still recovering from a slew of surgeries but can still swing like the Brian Cook that earned him indoor contracts all over the world.

When taking inventory of the teams who made it through alongside Rosenthal and Cook, there’s a simple theme that emerges: The spots went to the teams who were either due or needed it most. John Hyden and Theo Brunner needed another main draw just so Brunner finally maxed out his number of AVP finishes and is out of qualifiers for a bit.

They made it through.

Fans – or at least the ones barking on social media – were incensed that Rosenthal, a guy who has played in 185 AVPs since 1997 and will go down as one of the all-time American greats, was in the qualifier in the first place for this event. Cook, meanwhile, has as much untapped upside and potential as any blocker in this country, and to see him make it through, to validate all that rehab these past two years, is one of the best feel-good stories of the season.

They made it through.

As the qualifier losses stacked up, John Schwengel had long been pondering what in the world he was doing in beach volleyball. Was it worth it? What was he doing wrong? Where were those results this process of working and working and working promised him? Same went for his partner, Steve Irvin, who hasn’t had a bad loss the entire season.

Finally, they made it through.

Let’s not forget the lefty, either. The smooth and precocious and humble as ever Miles Partain, who is coming off a fifth in Chicago and still had to pick up a new partner in Lev Priima.

To everyone’s delight – honestly, good luck finding a single person who can root against Miles Partain – they made it through.

The women’s side was no different. Emily Hartong and Geena Urango, a team with all the talent and chemistry in the world who had struggled early in the partnership, battled back from a 14-11 deficit in the third set to Madison Willis and McKenna Thibodeau to win, 16-14, and then go on to beat Katie Spieler and Delaney Knudsen. They needed a main draw.

They made it through.

The women’s fan favorite team, Zana Muno and Crissy Jones, those darlings from Hermosa, made it through, another testament that, yes, hard work will pay off, as it did for Carly Wopat and Traci Callahan, who switched positions and is still pushing through growing pains.

They both made it through.

Mackenzie Ponnet and Sheila Shaw, too, deserved this. They’ve now made six main draws this season but have only been automatically in twice. They did that thing they do where they dropped the first set again – something they did three times in Hermosa Beach qualifier before making the semifinals – before going on to win their next two.

They made it through.

It was a bit of a Hollywood scripted qualifier on Thursday in Oahu, though ask any of those teams and they’ll be happy to never be a part of a qualifier again.

Rosenthal, for one, wouldn’t mind taking another 19 years off of them.