AVP Huntington Beach

New Partnerships Highlight Upset-filled Day One at AVP Huntington Beach

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Over and over, John Mayer would wonder: When are you going to pick up Spencer Sauter?

Ben Vaught would find some reason to demur, many of which were, to his credit, valid. He was building a team with Branden Clemens. They were having success. No real reason to switch.

But at the end of the 2018 season, it was time. Every partnership has an expiration date. Vaught and Clemens – for the betterment of both, it seems from the results of the weekend thus far – hit theirs.

When the search for a 2019 partner began, Vaught’s mind turned to the question Mayer asked every time he and Sauter trained together: “Are you guys playing together yet? Why do you guys keep dancing around? Just do it.”

They did. Now two tournaments in – a NORCECA in the Cayman Islands and two days into AVP Huntington Beach – Mayer appears as prescient as ever.

Vaught and Sauter made it through the qualifier without dropping a set, one of just two teams to do so. After losing their opening main draw match, to Eric Beranek and the now-healthy Curt Toppel, they recovered with a smooth 21-16, 21-14 win over Kyle Friend and Duncan Budinger, another new partnership making an impressive debut.

“We were just talking about practice, doing drills, and he said ‘I want to hit 100 line shots, I want to pass 100 balls, I want to jump float to the seam,’” Vaught said of his and Sauter’s initial conversations as partners. “And I said ‘Oh, that’s really cool, because I want to do that too.’ So everything I asked him, ‘What do you want to do with volleyball?’ And he said ‘I want to be the best volleyball player possible’ and I said ‘Ok, me too!’ And I said ‘I’m in if you’re in,’ and he said ‘I’ve been asking you to play for two years now!’”

The wait, for Mayer, for Sauter, for Vaught, is over. Now it’s onto Saturday, as it is for a number of new partnerships making their debuts in Huntington Beach. On the men’s side, Jeremy Casebeer and Chaim Schalk – congratulations, by the way, to Schalk, who is a new father! – went undefeated, sweeping Mike Brunsting and Ty Loomis and Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, earning a quarterfinal matchup with the relatively new team of Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

“It’s just been such a whirlwind right now with having a baby and everything is so new,” Schalk said. “Jeremy is playing awesome, and I was solid enough to keep us going. The thing about us, even if we’re off in some areas, we’re a good side out team. We’re in system a lot and just rips a couple serves, make a couple digs and you have a chance to win a game. It’s fun.”

Troy Field and Tim Bomgren got off to a predictably wildly athletic start, beating Sean Rosenthal and Ricardo Santos – another new team – in three to start the day before losing a fun match against Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena.

Still: Two Olympians beat in the first match? Not a bad debut, though one that could be rivaled by that of Maria Clara Salgado and Traci Callahan. Callahan spent the past few weeks in Brazil, training with Salgado, a 35-year-old veteran who has won with just about anybody she’s picked up. Callahan was no different, as the two marched through the qualifier with only a single set being closer than 21-15.

An early main draw win over Janelle Allen and Kerri Schuh set them up for a matinee with the fun, likely one-hit-wonder of a team in Kelly Claes and Brandi Wilkerson, and it was Callahan and Salgado who moved forward, winning 15-13 in the third.

They dropped the next, to Emily Day and Betsi Flint, and now they await the winners of a few matches to see who they play on Saturday mid-morning.

The podium may be reserved for the tried and true, the partnerships we know – the Dalcenas and A Teams, Ross-Hughes and Crabb-Bourne – but the fun of the first day of the first tournament of an untouched season is all of the shiny new partnerships, many of which discovered immediate success, even if it has been two years in the making.

“It’s really fun,” Vaught said. “When we first started, we were talking about what we wanted as a team. We both wanted to create an offense, and we’ve created a real partnership.”

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