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AVP Hermosa Beach preview

AVP Hermosa Beach Women’s Preview: The College Mafia Is Now In Full Force

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Like the men’s preview, I’m adding a fun new category for the women, though on the opposite side of the age spectrum. While the men’s field in Hermosa is decorated by legends of beach volleyball’s past — Return of the Jedi, I called them — the women’s is being filled up by the college ranks, whom I am affectionately dubbing the College Mafia, for both their sheer strength in numbers and in the sense that you just don’t want to mess with these girls.

Now, there are college girls prior to the Mafia section, yes — see No. 1, for example — but I did my best to separate the two. Enjoy. See y’all at the beach!

Favorites

Sara Hughes, Abril Bustamante

Definitely not the way you’d expect the defending Hermosa Beach champ to be entering the field, as Q1, despite having enough points to be seeded fifth in the main draw. An injury to Summer Ross required an eleventh-hour pickup, and Hughes turned to one of the best players in college volleyball, and another USC Trojan, in Abril Bustamante.

For those who haven’t yet heard of Bustamante, you will frequently over the next however many years she decides to play beach volleyball. Alongside Tina Graudina, who’s currently on an Olympic push representing Latvia, Bustamante was the Team of the Year in college volleyball, and though a lion’s share of the credit went to Graudina for that, Bustamante may have actually been the more dominant player. She comes packing a mean jump serve, physicality in transition you don’t see a ton of in college beach, and the wise words of Anna Collier, whose padawans have enjoyed success in abundance outside of Merle Norman Stadium.

Carly Wopat, Traci Callahan

The first major tournament of this team, which signed a three-year sponsorship deal, begins in Hermosa Beach. Their first one went well enough, at an AVP Next Gold Series in Chicago. They made the finals in a loaded field, losing to Katie Spieler and Delaney Knudsen, but the reps were invaluable to a new team, particularly for Callahan, who is making the transition to defense. There will still likely be some new partnership growing pains, and some new partnership honeymoon points, but hey, with three years to go, it’s small gains they’re looking for. A main draw would be a big step in the right direction.

Heather McGuire, Marija Milosevic

We haven’t seen McGuire since Austin, where she was straight into main draw with Kim Smith and took a 13th. She’s scooped up Serbian Marija Milosevic, who played the first three events with Megan Rice, qualifying in Huntington to begin the season. You never know how a new team will play together, especially since the two hadn’t practiced prior to this week, but on paper, everything seems to make sense. That, and both have played an exceptionally high level, with McGuire having made an AVP final, in 2014, and Milosevic having competed in FIVB majors.

What’s a Hermosa qualifier compared to that?

Bree Scarbrough, Jessica Stubinski

Stubinski has had quite the hiatus from professional volleyball since her last tournament, at AVP Chicago of 2016, where her and Sarah Day took ninth. There’s no doubting that she still has it, though, and now she has a partner in Bree Scarbrough who has made one main draw and shored up a spot for another in Manhattan next month. Stubinski is Scarbrough’s third partner in five events, but Stubinski, a former partner of Brooke Niles, is an excellent pickup for Hermosa.

Macy Jerger, Jess Gaffney

Apparently since splitting with Molly Turner, Gaffney has made an unofficial rule that she is only allowed to play with Florida State players. In her first tournament sans Turner, in Seattle, she scooped Payton Rund, who played her transfer season with the Seminoles. For Hermosa, she’s snagged Macy Jerger, also a Seminole with a 102-32 career record in Tallahassee.

Hermosa is a memorable spot for Gaffney. It was last year that she set the record, with fellow Cal Bear Iya Lindahl, as the lowest seed (Q84) to make a main draw. Being Q12 should be a cake walk compared to that (I’m kidding; there’s no such things as cake walks in qualifiers).

Megan Rice, Katie Hogan

In my not super informed opinion on the women’s side, Katie Hogan is in the tops of best players not to have qualified on the AVP Tour. With Milena Matic in p1440 Huntington Beach, she won, and with Dalida Vernier in NVL Long Beach in 2017, she made the finals out of the qualifier, beating a host of excellent teams and players to get there. She’s only tried twice to make an AVP main draw, and she hasn’t cracked it yet, but it’ll happen, especially since she’s scooped a great partner in Rice, one of the top players in Florida.

Rice made it through the Huntington qualifier with Milosevic, but hasn’t made another. I’d label them as favorites to get through this one.  

The College Mafia

Aurora Davis, Deahna Kraft

Aurora Davis is one of the most impressive people in beach volleyball right now. She just had her second child not too long ago, and already she’s back in qualifiers, making magic happen with that snappy wrist and chiselly swings. That, and I love her partner selection. Deahna Kraft, an All-American at Pepperdine as a court two blocker, is one of the most fun players to watch, with a whole lot of swagger and tons of athleticism. It’ll be a good pair, with Davis’ experience and Kraft’s youthful exuberance.

Iya Lindahl, Morgan Martin

For whatever reason, I love it when girls from different schools play together. Martin is one of the most experienced players at Hawai’i, oscillating this season between courts one and three before coach Jeff Hall found the right fit. Lindahl was excellent all season at Cal, and, like Gaffney, has fond memories in Hermosa, setting the record for lowest seed to qualify for a main draw. Martin has a similar build and style to Gaffney, she just plays for a different school is all. They’re seeded deep, at Q25, but that’s a nearly 60-seed improvement from a year ago for Lindahl.

Claire Coppola, Kristen Nuss

While it is fun to watch teams from different colleges pair together, it’s also fun to watch dominant teams enter the pro ranks. Coppola and Nuss have been one of the best college teams for the past few years, leading LSU to one record-breaking season after the next. They’ve already locked in a berth to Manhattan, winning a U-26 in Dallas, and they can make it two straight mains here in Hermosa. Individually, they’re both as good at their positions as anybody in the qualifier, and as a team, they have something nobody else does in years of chemistry and playing together.

Sammee Thomas, Danielle Barton-Drews

In Seattle, Molly Turner and Brittany Tiegs earned a career-high finish of fifth. And they almost didn’t make it past the first round of the qualifier. Thomas and Barton-Drews, who play for Stetson and Utah, respectively, beat them to the freeze in the qualifier, eventually losing 23-21, 20-22, 15-17. Any team that can push Turner and Tiegs like that is a good team, and one not to sleep on in the qualifier.

Savvy Simo, Haley Hallgren

Trojans and Bruins can be friends, after all. Simo and Hallgren saw plenty of each other this season. It seemed as if UCLA and USC were playing each other every week towards the end of the season, so even if Simo, a two-time National Champ at UCLA, and Hallgren, an athletic and physical court-three defender, haven’t played together, they probably know one another’s games as well as anyone. I would put Hallgren on my short list of most improved players throughout the 2019 beach season, and Simo as one of the most consistent, going 30-7 on courts three and four.

Gigi Hernandez, Carly Skjodt

Hernandez and Deahna Kraft were one of the streakier teams in college volleyball. They could beat excellent teams, like USC’s Terese Cannon and Sammy Slater, but also throw in a dud here and there. Their style of play – jumpy, athletic, always hustling – lends itself to volatile swings here and there, but the point is this: Hernandez is really good. She touches tons of balls on defense, and if she has her jump serve going, she’ll earn a ton of points.

I’ve never seen Skjodt play on the beach, but her track record as an outside at Michigan speaks for itself: Second-Team All-American, three-time Big 10 Conference Player of the Week, unanimous All-Big 10 First Team. At 6-foot-1, she’s tall, and as Michigan’s go-to hitter, I’d guess she’s physical, a perfect complement to Hernandez.

Amy Ozee, Heidi Dyer

This is going to be such a fun experiment of what happens when you get two entirely different styles of play and put them on the same court. Dyer was Pepperdine’s court one blocker with Brook Bauer this year, and together they just made volleyball look really, really easy. Everything was very smooth, stress-free, and efficient. Rare was the highlight play made, because rare was it needed.

Ozee, meanwhile, will run through a brick wall to save a ball, even if there’s little to no chance of it actually being saved. Hawai’i’s court one defender, Ozee is on my unofficial All-Hustle Team from 2018, and with Dyer, this should be a difficult team to beat, with Dyer’s steady fundamentals with Ozee’s almost puppy-like energy to just go get the ball all the time.

Katie Horton, Kate Privett

I watched this team absolutely run train at a tournament in San Antonio after AVP Austin. I left as impressed with Privett, a 5-foot-9 blazing fast and quick defender, as I have been with any player I had never seen play in a long time. She’s small, so she’s not the most physical, but she has every shot in the bag, and with Horton providing a big block and a heavy arm, it’s a perfectly complementary team. Neither have made an AVP yet, but I’d expect to see both of their names frequently in the future, particularly Privett, who at 18 is just beginning her career at Florida State.

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