Kim Hildreth, Sarah Schermerhorn

Two Points Better: Kim Hildreth And Sarah Schermerhorn’s Rise From Qualifier to AVP Final

Kim Hildreth-Sarah Schermerhorn

Photo credit: Ed Chan/VolleyballMag.com

The entire off-season, all the reps, all the hours with a coach, all the training in the gym together, all of it catered to picking up just a point, two points, maybe three, if Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn were being especially greedy.

If 2018 had taught them nothing else, it was the value of a point or two. In Austin, it was two points, against Nicolette Martin and Sarah Day, that kept them out of main draw. In New York, it was those same two points, in the same third set, of the same round, that kept them out of main draw, allowing Sheila Shaw and Lara Dykstra to make it instead. Chicago? Same story: 13-15 to Annika Rowland and Teegan Van Gunst in the final round of the qualifier.

“We were so needing some validation with results,” Hildreth said. Then this year began with the season-opener in Huntington Beach and, oh God, it was happening again. A third-set loss to Marija Milosevic and Megan Rice.

“We just,” Hildreth said, “needed that break.”

Two weeks later, they found it. It wasn’t just a break. It wasn’t just the two points they needed in those third sets in qualifiers that had proven so fateful. What they found was not a small break but a momentous breakthrough. They found not just points in third sets, rather an entire third set they didn’t need to play. After staving off Florida State’s Payton Rund and Sarah Putt, 15-11, in the final round of the Austin qualifier, they upset third-seeded Brittany Howard and Kelly Reeves, sixth-seeded Kim DiCello and Katie Spieler, fellow qualifiers Meghan Mannari and Taylor Nyquist and, would you look at that, they made a Sunday, their first.

And they did it without going to a single third set in main draw.

“I don’t think that it was necessarily a firm goal but it was definitely there,” Hildreth said of making a Sunday this season. “It was something that we were thinking, especially this year in the field we saw, it was something we thought we were capable of for sure.

“Getting in and getting a win in the first round was everything, and also getting in and not having to play an April Ross in the first round helps. I don’t think it was something we necessarily thought ‘We’re going to make a final’ but it was not something we weren’t thinking either.”

The era where qualifier teams are walkovers, it appears, is over. Prior to Hildreth and Schermerhorn “upsetting” their way to the finals, they were preceded by Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon doing the same in Chicago, and Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes doing so on several occasions while they were still at USC. In Austin, another qualifier team, Mannari and Nyquist, upset their way to the quarterfinals, while another, Lauren Dickson and Katie Lindelow, stunned top-seeded Emily Day and Betsi Flint.

“The quality of the teams in the qualifier is legitimately the same as it is in the main draw,” Hildreth said. “Having those 16 team main draws is freaking tough. It’s special to make it out of a qualifier that’s for sure.”

Schermerhorn had never made an AVP final before. And while it had its obvious differences from, say, a Dig the Beach tournament in Florida, the pressure wasn’t all that more overwhelming from that of the final round of a qualifier. It’s why, on the Amazon Prime broadcast, when Camryn Irwin wondered whether it might be nerves that allowed Karissa Cook and Jace Pardon to jump out to a big lead and sustain it for two sets, Kevin Barnett demurred. Nerves, he said, hadn’t played a factor for Schermerhorn and Hildreth all weekend. Why would they now? Less than a week later, Schermerhorn agreed with that assessment.

“Having everybody reach out was fun and definitely exciting but I’m just the type of person that wants to have fun and stay grounded,” Schermerhorn said. “We’re going to have to play another qualifier here soon, so one performance isn’t going to set your career off necessarily.

“The nerves are so similar to that of a qualifier. It’s like: This is kind of your last chance. You’re playing a final. You win to stay in, you lose you’re out. I think it’s best for us that we’ve been through the qualifiers and that’s experience we can pull from. We haven’t been in an AVP semifinal but we’ve been through something similar.”

The tragically comedic part of it all: They’ll be back, playing on a Thursday qualifier again in New York, lest the AVP grants an unlikely main draw wild card to the two Floridians who crashed Austin. And that qualifier, with no FIVB conflict this time around, will only be more difficult.

So they’ll continue to search for the one point, two points, three points they spent the last six months working for.

“Hopefully,” Hildreth said, “we get into New York. Then we don’t have to play in those.”

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