AVP New York City Women's Preview

AVP New York City Women’s Preview: New Partnerships Abound in Stacked Field

Aerial view of Statue of Liberty at dusk with Manhattan in distance.

At this time a year ago, Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan were ranked the No. 1 team in the world. They had played in four FIVBs, finished top 10 in all four, took silver in one and made the semifinals in another. So when I saw their name on the entry list, and they were relegated to the qualifier, I wrote in that year’s preview that it might actually be better if the AVP just took 13 automatic main draw teams and only had three teams come out of the qualifier. That way, an entire quadrant of the bracket wouldn’t be screwed out of a potential spot because, you know, what qualifier team was going to beat Pavan and Humana-Paredes?

And then Delaney Knudsen and Jessica Sykora did just that, proving that there are no sure things in sports, and I’m not very smart.

This year’s qualifier does not feature one of the top teams in the world, but it is quite possibly the deepest qualifier since Donald Sun took over the AVP. What makes this year’s qualifier especially interesting is that the women’s side has blown up and gone north and south and sideways and upside down. A few partnership changes from mid- and lower-tier main draw teams have produced a cascading domino effect, impacting dozens of teams in the qualifier and producing no small amount of intrigue in how these new teams will fare.

Lara Dykstra, Kim Smith

Dykstra had been partnered with Cassie House, and the two came home with a pair of FIVB gold medals prior to the AVP season. But a 17th in Huntington, followed by a two-and-barbeque finish in the Austin qualifier – they lost to a darn good team in Payton Rund and Sara Putt; more on them later – has caused a split. Dykstra is now with Smith, who is playing her third tournament with as many partners this season. Both have a wealth of main draw experience, and Dykstra is as under-rated as they come on the women’s side, while Smith’s fifth-place finish in Manhattan Beach wasn’t all that long ago.  

Cassie House, Pri Lima

While Dykstra has turned to Smith, House went to Pri Lima, who has had a better year than the results show. She didn’t make it out of Huntington, losing in the third round to Sasha Karelov and Lauren Deturk in three, and they wound up making it in. But she was automatic into Austin with Bree Scarbrough, and while they finished ninth, they had an epic battle with Terese Cannon and Irene Pollock (do yourself a favor and find that match on the Amazon Prime replay), beat Sheila Shaw and Mackenzie Ponnet, and then lost a narrow one to eventual semifinalists Nicolette Martin and Falyn Fanoimoana.

As results go, it’s been a slow start for both, but it just takes one good tournament for a new team to find that honeymoon phase.

Bree Scarbrough, Alexa Strange

As Lima went with House, Scarbrough then turned to lefty Alexa Strange, who had been playing with Emily Hartong. I’m not entirely sure what the impetus for the breakup was between Scarbrough and Lima, but in Strange, Scarbrough has found another excellent partner. 2018 was Strange’s first full-time year on the AVP, and she qualified in four tournaments with a career-high finish of 13th. She’s one-for-two this year, making it through Huntington before bowing out in a chaotic qualifier in Austin.

Delaney Knudsen, Emily Hartong

BIAS ALERT: This is my favorite team. Delaney is my favorite person on the planet, and Hartong, a snow volley teammate and wonderful travel companion on a 12-hour flight home from Italy, is one of the best all-around people I’ve met.

As for volleyball, this team seems to be just about as perfect of a fit as you could get. Hartong has a nasty jump serve and brings a physicality that most teams in the women’s qualifier – or main draw – just don’t have, along with a big, athletic block teams don’t see much. Knudsen can dig a ball behind any block, and doing so behind Hartong’s shouldn’t be much of an issue. This is as traditional a beach volleyball team as you’ll find: big and a small, physical and ball control, jump serve and gnarly float.

Or maybe I’m just biased.  

Taylor Nyquist, Tory Paranagua

Such a wonderful feeling, to go from AVP semifinals on a Sunday one week, then back into the qualifier the next. Such is the route of Nyquist, who crashed Austin with Meghan Mannari, upsetting second-seeded Geena Urango and Caitlin Ledoux and Fanoimoana and Martin before losing a pair of close matches to fellow qualifiers Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn and eventual champs Karissa Cook and Jace Pardon.

Nyquist has picked up Paranagua, a fellow Texan who trained all off-season in Brazil, competing on its local tour. She made a pair of main draws to close out the 2018 season and, after skipping Austin, is looking to make her first of 2019 in New York.

Carolyn Meister, Katie Lindelow

After going 0-7 a year ago in AVP qualifiers, Lindelow came out quite hot this year, upsetting Emily Day and Betsi Flint in the first round of main draw in Austin which was, incredibly, the first main draw match of her career. She’s picked up Meister for New York, who made it through Chicago to finish the 2018 season and is looking for her first main draw of 2019.

Lauren DeTurk, Sasha Karelov

Karelov made her first career main draw in Huntington Beach, beating an excellent team in Pri Lima and Bree Scarbrough to make it in. It may have seemed a surprise to some, considering she had never done it, but it shouldn’t have been to any who have seen the work she’s put in over the off-season.

The ACC Defensive Player of the Year at Duke in 2016, Karelov is a digging machine, especially behind DeTurk’s block. Together, they’ve put in a full off-season with the p1440 Developmental Program, reps that are beginning to pay off and could very well do so again in New York City.

Audrey Nourse, Nicole Nourse

These two are the walking definitions of precocious. Just high schoolers – they’re committed to USC; the Anna Collier Machine rolls on – they qualified in Huntington and went on to win their first main draw match, over Allie Wheeler and Kim Smith.

Beyond that, though, they’ve already shown interest, and enjoyed success, at the international level. This year, they’ve qualified in all four tournaments they entered, in France, India, Cambodia, and Malaysia, beating Corinne Quiggle and Cassie House in India to make main draw.  

Similar to the Partains: Don’t let the age of these two fool you. They are as legitimate as they come.

Payton Rund, Sara Putt

Rund and Putt, a pair out of Florida State, quietly put together one of the most impressive tournaments in AVP Austin, though few likely realized it, seeing as they didn’t actually get out of the qualifier. In the qualifier, they beat Lara Dykstra and Cassie House in the second round in straight sets, then McKenna Thibodeau and Madison Willis in three, before narrowly missing against eventual finalists Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn, losing 11-15 in the third.

If they can hang with AVP finalists after three matches, in Austin heat, with no points to their names, they can hang with anyone.

Morgan Martin, Julia Scoles

Sneaky college teams with hardly any points are sneaky. I love this team, fresh out of the University of Hawai’i, though they never actually played on the same court this season. Martin played on a variety of courts – beginning on one with Amy Ozee – with a variety of partners, while Scoles, a transfer from North Carolina, played the majority of the year on court two with Ari Homayun.

Scoles, who brings a bomb of a jump serve and a big swing offensively, finished the year 29-6, while Martin, who brings a wealth of beach experience, went 30-9. This is the land mine of the qualifier for sure.