Many thanks to everyone who approached me and said that they either enjoyed, or got a good laugh out of, or were entertained by my AVP Huntington Beach qualifier bracketology on Wednesday. It was sort of a litmus test to see if people would be interested in that sort of thing, and by the several thousand clicks it received, I’d say it went well. So for the AVP events I attend this year, and let’s be honest, probably for the ones I don’t, too, I’ll provide a couple pieces of writing.
Just trying to give the people what they want, and, in all transparency, build up a readership and momentum when my book on beach volleyball is eventually finished (ideally by the end of the 2017 season).
The Award for Winner of Thursday’s qualifier goes to…
Listen. I don’t care who wins AVP Huntington Beach on Sunday. It doesn’t matter. Because Ben Vaught just won.
I don’t care if they wake up on Friday and lose 21-0, 21-0 twice in a row (they won’t). Him and his big blocker, Branden Clemens, just beat two Olympians, Chaim Schalk and Reid Priddy, two of the objectively measured best volleyball players on the planet, in the final round to qualify. In the most difficult bracket, by far. In the third set.
And they’re a combined 42 years old. Ben can’t even celebrate with a beer. He’s 20. And he just qualified through the toughest bracket in any qualifier I’ve seen. Nobody – nobody – deserves this more than Ben. He was on the beach, every day, in November, and December, and January, and February, and March. And by the time everybody else started coming out from a long off-season’s nap, Ben had climbed up a good four notches. Him and Clemens won basically every AVP Next. The ones they didn’t win it took a main draw team to knock them out.
They did it by out-repping everyone. Everyone. Nobody passed and set and hit more balls than Ben.
Nobody deserved main draw more than Ben.
The difference between good volleyball, and main draw volleyball
I played with my good buddy from Michigan, DR Vandermeer. We played some of the best ball we’ve ever played as individuals, and certainly as a team (it was literally the first tournament we’ve ever played, after an hour and a half of practice on Wednesday, so not too shabby). We won our first match, 21-11, 21-14, and our second, 21-15, 21-18, against a pretty solid team in Mike Boag and Eric Beranek.
We were playing good volleyball.
We were not playing main draw volleyball.
And there is a really, really big difference. I just wish it didn’t take a 21-13, 21-14 bludgeoning straight to my face, courtesy of SoCal’s finest, Chase Frishman and Mike Brunsting, to realize that.
I mean, granted, I said the day before that we should have lost to Chase and Mike, because they’re gnarly volleyball players and have an awesome entourage that is this generation’s iteration of Rosie’s Raiders – can we think of a better name for you guys? – but 21-13, 21-14?
Shots and swings that would go down against other teams don’t go down against teams like Chase and Mike, or the McKibbins, or Ed Ratledge and Eric Zaun – the latter two both made it in with little to no stress. Every time they touch the ball, the ball is improved in some way or other.
Chase and Mike qualified in straight sets.
The McKibbins qualified in straight sets (Note: Hawaii, good at volleyball).
Ed and Zaun won their final match, against Dan Buehring and Matt McCarthy, 21-13, 21-16.
The only qualifying team to have a wild road was Ben and Clemens, and did you see their bracket? Half the matches in that monster were a main draw match! Which brings me to my next point…
Match of the Day goes to…McColloch/Rafu vs. Priddy/Schalk
I’m not good at math, or counting, or anything with numbers – it’s why I write. But if I had to venture a guess, I’d say there were somewhere between 750-1,000 people watching this match. The best part? It was the second round…of a qualifier. That’s awesome.
And so, so, so awful if you’re Kevin McColloch and Roberto Rodriguez-Bertran. I still can’t get over that draw. No. 1 seed in a 60-team qualifier and you get two Olympians, one of whom is perhaps the most respected American male volleyball player alive?
But for everyone else, it was great. It was a three-set thriller. I don’t really know if anybody was rooting for one team or another. Everybody applauded after every point, because every point was main draw quality volleyball, though it’s sort of comical, and a testament to the brutal rite of passage that these pre-main draw tournaments are, to note that neither team made main draw.
Qualifiers: Aren’t they fun?
Reid Priddy: Beach player
I played against Reid a few months ago, in the semifinals of an AVP Next. And he was pretty darn good. But there were things – hand setting, passing windy float serves, poking – that he didn’t really do at a super high level just yet, because he was still so instinctively indoor. I mean, it makes sense, he only went to, oh, four Olympics and won a medal of every color.
What a mediocre career.
But that was a few months ago, and Reid is about 90 percent of the way there in terms of transitioning from indoor to becoming a bona fide monster on the beach. Here’s the moment I knew: At a critical juncture in the Match of the Day, the guy hit a jumbo that fooled Rafu, one of the better defenders in the country (anyone who is top-25 or so I consider one of the best in the country; that’s my standard).
An indoor player hitting a jumbo is like Shaq all of a sudden pulling up from three and cashing it on a regular basis. Doesn’t happen. But he had a number of ridiculous gator digs, his hand sets were golden biscuits for his Canadian Olympian to put away, and his passing was almost – almost – as good as anybody who has had a beach career. I don’t think he’ll have an issue making main draws this year. This qualifier was a beast. He had to play the No. 1 seed, then Paul Araiza, a veteran, and Matt Motter, an exceptionally athletic blocker, and then my boys Ben Vaught and Branden Clemens. He’ll be just fine.
Side note: How hilarious would it be to see a four-time Olympian win AVP Rookie of the Year?
Freeze scoring should not be a thing
I can make this claim without bias; none of my three matches on Thursday were impacted in the least by this rule. The new AVP rules, which revert the scoring system to “old school,” or side out scoring, when at match point, are pretty ridiculous.
I should have counted the number of fans who wondered why no points were being scored at the end of a match. Why did it keep going…and going…and going, with the same score being called? I’d have made an attempt to explain it, but they’re just so plain…inexplicable… that I couldn’t. Why play a match one way for an hour and then change the rules for no apparent reason?
What’s the point?
To make it more exciting? Nope. It’s only more confusing, and for the most part, it only prolongs matches and in many cases delays the inevitable.
I don’t see the point. Nobody sees the point.
Nobody understands the point.
There is no point.
The next wave of the AVP is here
Not a single player in his 30s qualified yesterday. Seven of eight players are in their low to mid-20s, and then there’s Ed Ratledge, who recently hit the big four-oh.
If you wanted to see what the future of beach volleyball looks like, you could have watched any one of the McKibbins’ annihilations of whomever they played – nobody scored more than 18, which only happened once – or Chase and Mike, who won every match in straight sets, or Eric Zaun, who qualified for his first AVP main draw with Ratledge, with the smoothest play-in match he could have asked for (21-13, 21-16).
Vaught and Clemens might not be as sure of a thing to make every main draw as, say, the McKibbins or Chase and Mike, but they’re 20 and 22.
I’ve told Vaught all winter long that 2024, the (hopefully) Los Angeles Olympic Games, are his for the taking.
Hey, it’s not a bad start.