AVP Manhattan Beach Open

Manhattan Open Hosts Next Chapter of Friendly Rivalry Between Ross And Klineman, Humana-Paredes and Pavan


Photo: FIVB

Did you hear the chants? The ones raining down from the sold-out Manhattan Beach Open crowd? Stemming from the bleachers, the pier, the outer courts? All of those thousands of people yelling, in unison, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

That type of thing doesn’t happen. Not on the AVP. It’s America’s tour. International players, with few exceptions, play FIVB. Americans play AVP. That’s the way it goes. And that’s how it went, in particular, last year, when the USAV demanded a bizarre fee if the AVP allowed international players representing other countries to compete in its events.

Gone were some of the brightest talents on tour, talents that made each event objectively better: Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, Ricardo Santos, Brandie Wilkerson, Maria Clara Salgado.

Gone was the opportunity for an event like Sunday’s, where the two best teams in the world, April Ross and Alix Klineman and Pavan and Humana-Paredes, competed in the best event in the world, the Manhattan Beach Open.

Something happens when friendly rivals play on American soil. A touch of magic, an element of alchemy you simply cannot get otherwise. The men’s final, between Trevor Crabb and Reid Priddy and Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger, was scintillating. Replete with storylines: First win for Crabb and Priddy, rivals turned partners, the indoor Olympian adds the most coveted beach title to his resume.

And yet, fun as that match was, it was not what could be an Olympic gold medal match a little less than a year from now. No patriotism was invoked, for none was needed: It was America vs. America.

Not that there is any bad blood between America and Canada, or Ross and Klineman and Pavan and Humana-Paredes. It’s just a friendly rivalry between two of the best teams Earth has to offer. And when that patriotic element is thrown in, and fans can pick one team to root for because that’s the one representing the U.S., there is no vibe quite like it.

“I think it absolutely does,” Humana-Paredes answered when asked if Ross and Klineman bring out the best in them. “I think it makes us play the best volleyball we can play. They’re an amazing team, we battled them so many times this year, and every time it’s a constant grind. We know if we want to beat them, we have to play our A game. If we don’t, we know it’s going to be a challenge. It was so much fun out there.”

It was fun for everyone. It was, as Humana-Paredes mentioned, fun for the players, to play volleyball at that caliber, at that event. It was fun for the fans. It was fun for the viewers, who were able to witness the next chapter in what is becoming a hell of a book in this U.S.-Canada battle.

Manhattan’s finals marked the sixth time they’ve played each other this season. Four of those have gone to three sets. Four have been in finals.

The first came in Huntington Beach, decided 17-15 in Ross and Klineman’s favor in the third set. Two weeks later they met in the finals in Itapema, Brazil. Another three-setter in Ross and Klineman’s favor. Two months later came World Champs. Hamburg, Germany. That one wouldn’t go to three, though it did finish 23-21, 23-21.

Doesn’t get much closer than that.

That’s about how much space there is between the two teams. Just two points. The same amount Manhattan would be decided by, 16-14 in the third set by the Canadians. They were, per usul, gracious as can be in their victory. Grateful beyond measure for the event, for the fans, for Ross and Klineman being the magnificent team they are.

“Melissa and I grew up watching the AVP on TV and seeing the best players in the world compete here,” Pavan said. “To be able to win this and become immortalized on that pier, this is our home now, and to be able to do this, I’m speechless.”

They’ll finally get a break, Humana-Paredes and Pavan. A few weeks of rest before it’s off to Rome for the World Tour Finals. Ross and Klineman will be seeded first. Pavan and Humana-Paredes second.

And the show goes on.