AVP Next Gold Series a Tremendous Addition to The Beach Volleyball Schedule
All last week, people kept asking Katie Spieler: Why are you playing an AVP Next in Chicago, the weekend before AVP Hermosa Beach?
Her answer, every time: Why not?
Maybe those asking just didn’t know. Didn’t know that the winners would receive a payout equivalent to a ninth on the AVP Tour. Didn’t know that the winners would also receive a bid to the Manhattan Beach Open. Didn’t know that the competition is really not that far off from a major AVP anyway.
In the field in Chicago, on the women’s side, were Spieler and Delaney Knudsen, a new partnership seeded eighth in AVP Hermosa this week. Spieler’s made Sundays on the AVP before. Knudsen made main draws in Austin and Seattle, nearly knocking off eventual camps Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman in the first round. Molly Turner and Brittany Tiegs, fifth-place finishers in Seattle, were competing. Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn, finalists in Austin, were competing. Traci Callahan and Carly Wopat, a new and promising pair who are familiar with main draws, were competing.
“They’re pretty hard,” said Raffe Paulis, who played and won with Travis Mewhirter in Chicago. “We played nine matches and three or four of them were basically games to get in [in a normal AVP qualifier]. It’s basically like a qualifier tour that you don’t have to play the day before the main draw.”
That, more than anything, may be the best description of this new AVP Next Gold Series. Every major sport has some sort of developmental or feeder system set in place. The NBA has the G-League, formerly known as the D League, for its players who are talented but haven’t been signed by any of the NBA teams. Baseball has a multi-tiered minor league system. The PGA Tour has multiple feeder tours.
Many dubbed the NVL as the unofficial minor league system of beach volleyball while it was still in business as a professional tour. It was smaller scale, and when the AVP returned in 2012, most of the bigger talent remained exclusive to the AVP, keeping the lower tier and qualifier-level players on the NVL, where they could cut their teeth at the professional level, learn how to compete and travel, and make a little bit of money.
With the advent of the AVP Next Gold Series, which included six events, plus two U-26 events, a tour for the qualifier types is exactly what beach volleyball got: An unofficial minor league, developmental tour, where winners earn – they are not simply handed out – main draw wild cards into Manhattan Beach while making chunks of prize money along the way.
“I would compare the Gold Series Nexts to a competition level between the qualifier and the main draw,” Knudsen said. “It’s not quite as intense as a full AVP even though it’s double-elim and there’s good money in it.
“But it’s better than the qualifier because four out of five matches could have been rounds to get in. I can’t imagine a better tournament to prepare us for Hermosa this weekend.”
This year, stops have included Colorado, Dallas, Virginia Beach and Chicago, with upcoming tournaments in Florida and Seaside. If players like, say Logan Webber, play in all of them, including the eight major AVP tournaments, there’s 14 legitimate opportunities to compete at a main draw level and make main draw money.
Spieler’s simple summation is enough: Why wouldn’t you play?
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