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Beach Bytes: Partnership moves

Beach Bytes: Schalk-Budinger, Patterson-Field Partner up For 2020 And Beyond

Chase

Summer of 2024 is a long way away. There will be hundreds of tournaments until then. The landscape of beach volleyball will hardly resemble anything it does at this current moment.

And yet, Chaim Schalk wondered on Wednesday evening, “Why not start now?”

Why not start building a partnership that will build to the summer of 2024, when Paris holds the Olympic Games?

It’s a mindset he shared with Chase Budinger. It’s that mindset that will serve as the glue to the newest and biggest partnership move of this off-season.

Schalk confirmed on Wednesday that he and Budinger will be partners for this upcoming season, with designs on sticking together through 2024. The first tournament they play will be — barring any changes — the Iran three-star, which has been moved to early March of 2020.

“I’m excited to partner with him,” said Schalk, who played all of last year with Jeremy Casebeer, with a win in AVP Seattle as well as a gold in a NORCECA. “He’s a guy who’s on the way up and he’s someone I really wanted to play with.”

Everything about the move makes sense for both. Budinger is a left-side blocker, Schalk a right-side defender. Both have an offensive skill-set that have forced teams to serve whomever it was they were playing with throughout their careers. Both will be at a peak age, in beach volleyball terms, when Paris rolls around. Both know what it takes to play at the highest level of sport.

Schalk has already been to an Olympics, in Rio of 2016, though he competed for Canada. With his two-year transfer period to the United States now up, he is eligible to compete as an American, and he and Budinger are willing to skip AVPs to build points, ideally by the end of the year at the threshold of making four- and even five-stars.

“We’re going for it,” Schalk said.

Which means that other teams must be going other directions as well. The split between Schalk and Casebeer and Budinger and Casey Patterson will produce a trickle-down effect that is already impacting the rest of the American men’s hierarchy.

Patterson has already turned to Troy Field, in what will surely be a sponsor’s dream team, with two of the most likable and sizable personalities and games in beach volleyball. Patterson and Budinger had an excellent year by any measure in 2019, winning AVP Hermosa Beach, making at least the semifinals in every AVP save for New York.

Field, meanwhile, enjoyed a breakout year with Tim Bomgren, making three straight Sundays to begin the season, including the finals of New York.

“I’m so stoked,” Field said. “It’s surreal. Going to be partners with someone you watched. I watched Casey play in Huntington, and the first time he bounced a ball I thought he was a God. Everybody wants that partnership where you can be with somebody who has played the highest level tournaments, who also won last year. It’s crazy.”

The next major partnership moves, then, will be where Bomgren, Casebeer, and Theo Brunner turn. That will produce the next trickle, and then the next. Not many will last until 2024, but for Schalk and Budinger: “Why wait?”

Chaim Schalk will play with Chase Budinger/Mark Rigney photography

USC, Hawai’i thankful Hawai’i trip — While nearly every college beach program is entering another off-season, with the 20-hour fall practice weeks coming to an end and finals coming up, USC is closing its fall with a trip to Hawai’i for the final fall exhibition of the year.

Little can be gleaned from fall tournaments, though they are especially valuable for USC this season, which underwent the first coaching change in program history. Anna Collier, architect of the dynasty that has been USC for the previous eight years, retired, and the Trojans hired former assistant coach and 2000 gold medalist Dain Blanton.

Though Blanton has coached before, he has never served as the head of the program. And with the Trojans losing talents on court one (Tina Graudina, Abril Bustamante), court two (Terese Cannon, and court three (Alex Poletto) the exhibitions in the fall, against an NCAA contender in Hawai’i, are good opportunities to toy with lineups.

Dain Blanton, right, coaching Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes while all three were at USC in 2017/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Witts calling it quits — for now — For almost as long as they can remember, volleyball — and particularly beach volleyball — has been at the core of Madison and McKenna Witt’s lives. They played in high school, in college, helping to launch the University of Arizona program. They played a graduate year at Cal Baptist and then professionally on the FIVB, AVP and p1440.

And now, after both marrying — their last names have changed to McKenna Thibodeau and Madison Willis — and beginning to change the directions of their lives, they’re moving on from volleyball for now.

“Madison and I are hanging up our suits for a while,” Thibodeau wrote on Instagram. “It’s taken me some time to be able to say this sentence out loud without my eyes leaking. But I am overwhelmed with joy thinking about the memories and relationships that I get to carry for the rest of my life  … I have decided to take the plunge and apply for PT school next year and put my degrees to work in some way.”

AVP Huntington 2019 Thursday
The Witt twins enjoy a light moment/Ed Chan

Mewhirter, Knudsen engaged (Travis didn’t know we were including this) — Travis Mewhirter, the pro beach player who writes for VolleyballMag.com and p1440 and authored the book about the history of beach volleyball, We Were Kings, finally found a long-time partner. This past weekend at Yosemite Park, Mewhirter proposed to former Pepperdine beach national champion and AVCA All-American Delaney Knudsen.

And she said yes.

The two found their way to Yosemite Point where Knudsen thought Mewhirter may have suffered a knee injury, however in his recovery a circular object smaller than a volleyball made of a precious metal found its way to Knudsen’s finger.

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