The sunshine sport is missing the Sunshine State

AVP 2018-AVP beach volleyball-Travis Mewhirter

I can’t remember the day, exactly, but I can remember the week. It was the last in April. Ben Vaught, Joel Blocksom and I were training on court two in Huntington Beach. Court one was taken by, unusually, Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner, and Stafford Slick and Ty Loomis.

Last year, this wouldn’t have been unusual, because court one was Casey’s court, and if you took court one, you’d hear it from Casey. So nobody took court one. But he had moved to Thousand Oaks, which is a mighty hike from Huntington during the week, so to see Casey back on his home court, on a weekday morning in April, was, yes, unusual.

My mom was delighted. She was in town visiting, and Casey is her favorite player – she loves his dancing and the Mohawk. Casey signed her hat “Mr. Boom,” took a picture with her, and now he had a new favorite fan.

But Casey was, like the rest of the group, noticeably troubled. He hadn’t traveled from Thousand Oaks for a two-hour practice session.

He had come, like the others, to try and save the AVP’s season, meeting with Donald Sun in a closed-door meeting to discuss the turmoil around the AVP contracts. .

By any objective measure, last year, after what began amid heated discussions and a few boycotts, including Kerri Walsh-Jennings, the biggest name in beach volleyball, and could have potentially devolved into a pseudo-lockout should the top players have held out, was the finest under Donald Sun since he began rebuilding the Tour in 2012. Even the weather played nice.

Where New Orleans had been one massive deluge year after year, Austin, the first out of state stop, could not have been more cooperative.

Where San Francisco had been a maelstrom of wind and dust in 2016, it was stunning in 2017.

Even Seattle – Seattle! – didn’t feel the need to sprinkle on the AVP’s weekend at Sammamish.

There is little more that the AVP could have done to make last season any better than it was. Apparently they agree.

The schedule is the exact same.

When the AVP 2018 schedule was dropped, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. We live in a massive country filled with beautiful places, many of which are home to marvelous little beach volleyball niche communities — Milwaukee, Carolinas, Atlanta, Lincoln, Omaha.

Florida. 

I should have typed that in all caps but I’m not much of a yeller. That was my first reaction when I saw the schedule: Florida, for the third year in a row, whiffed on landing an AVP stop. I’m not going to pretend to know the massive number of moving pieces that are involved in organizing a tournament the scale of an AVP, and I know it’s far more complex than simply closing your eyes, spinning around, and throwing a tac on a map and saying ‘That’s where we’ll go!’

Donald Sun is a much savvier businessman than I — or you — will ever be, so he must have his reasons. But Florida — and I don’t have the numbers to back this up so I’m going off of simply geographical common sense — is likely the state with the second largest demographic for beach volleyball. Clearwater has hosted 19 tournaments, Fort Lauderdale 12, Fort Myers 10, Miami 8. I get why the AVP can’t do Fort Lauderdale, as its home to one of the most popular FIVB majors, but the others?

With the NVL gone — though rumors abound about a resurgent tour — it leaves a gaping hole for Florida-based tournaments. Florida, and particular the telegenic Port St. Lucie, was home to the NVL. Now there’s no more NVL, which leaves, it would seem, plenty of room for the AVP to move in.

Maybe Florida was discussed. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. Maybe the dates that certain sites could host an AVP didn’t coincide with the AVP’s contracts in its eight other stops. Maybe Sun discussed potential dates years down the road, perhaps setting up a little Florida swing akin to the Huntington-San Fran-Hermosa-Manhattan California stops. While disappointed, I can’t be angry yet, because I think anyone with any business sense understands that if the AVP is going to continue to grow, as everyone involved in the game wants it to, it must regain Florida as an annual stop, if not multiple of them.

AVP 2018: I’ll miss you, Huntington Beach

This one stings. Yes, Huntington Beach is technically on the AVP’s schedule, but it’s not an AVP tournament. It’s a four-star FIVB run by, or in conjunction with, the AVP, tantamount to Cincinnati 2016.

Technically, there are not eight AVP tournaments, but seven, since there will be a cap on American teams. In Cincinnati, eight American teams entered, three of which — Taylor and Trevor Crabb, Jeremy Casebeer and Derek Olson, Ian Satterfield and Raffe Paulis — were in the qualifier.

I don’t know what the cap will be for Huntington, but I can’t imagine it will be higher than eight. It’s great for our international guys, who will get to stay home for a four-star event, and it’s great for fans, who will get the world’s best players in their backyard.

But it kinda sucks for the mid- and lower-tier American players who have one less event to play.

AVP 2018: Building communities

It’s a little boring to have the same sites in consecutive years — and in some cases, much more than consecutive — but it’s also smart. The AVP can’t just pop in random states, say hey, and then up and leave and expect to build loyal fan bases in doing that.

It was a mystery to me — and Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena — why the AVP didn’t return to Austin after 2005, home to the aforementioned partnership’s first AVP victory. But after a phenomenal showing in Texas last year, Austin will have consecutive tournaments for the third time in AVP history.

Lake Sammamish, where I expect Billy Allen will be elected mayor any day now, has become a popular stop every year, and its now in its fourth straight season, each seemingly better than the last.

New York’s venue is a player favorite, both for its breathtaking views and for fans who pack the arena even on Friday mornings.

Chicago is the annual site of the AVP Championships for a reason.

Throughout its volatile history, the AVP’s multiple downfalls have been caused by, among many reasons, trying to go too big too fast — too many events with too much prize money — without the funds to do so. It seems Sun is building slowly, one city at a time, with incremental increases in prize money.

I just hope Florida’s next.

AVP 2018: Manhattan Beach vs. The FIVB

I asked Summer Ross last year what might happen if the Manhattan Beach Open should coincide with, say, an FIVB five-star. I expected it to be a no-brainer. Of course, she’d play Manhattan…right?

Not so. She didn’t even hesitate: She’d be playing in the five-star.

The question was harmless at the time, purely hypothetical. It’s not so now.

This year, Manhattan runs August 16-19. The FIVB World Championships, at a mystery destination, run August 14-19.

That sucks.

The biggest event of the AVP season will be dwarfed by the biggest event of the FIVB season. It’ll be interesting to see which tournament our top teams play. If this were an Olympic year, they’d be almost obligated to play on the World Tour, but this isn’t an Olympic year, and though the prize money and international points are worth far more than what Manhattan will offer, you cannot put a price on having your name on the pier.

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About the Author

Travis Mewhirter

Travis Mewhirter is the founder of PaperCourts.com. A graduate from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, Mewhirter’s work has been featured in the Washington Post, Yahoo! Sports, Northwest Florida Daily News, and the Orange County Register. He currently writes for VolleyballMag.com, DiG Magazine, and Diehards.com, among others.

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