Trevor Crabb was, to be honest, bored.
Bored of everybody being so nice. Bored of the amicable handshakes and hugs and good games. Bored of the good lucks and I hope you wins. Bored of players watching one another’s kids and having one another’s backs.
What happened to the AVP Tour?
What happened to the jawing, the shoving, going at each other’s throats? What happened to the South Bay vs. the North Bay? What happened to that 1996 Olympic quarterfinal, the one between Kiraly and Smith, the one that you couldn’t miss not so much because of the volleyball but because of the heated rivalry that came with it?
When did all that disappear, leaving in its wake arguably the most amicable association of professional athletes in the world?
Even golf – golf, for heaven’s sake – has a little fire.
Trevor Crabb took the kerosene this sport needed, brought it to the beach and lit that thing up.
It began on Instagram, the elder Crabb calling out a certain goggle-wearing fool and a voluble defender with a penchant for throwing sand.
The boredom stopped there.
Suddenly, Instagram became host to the AVP’s first civil war in, God, how long had it been? When was the last time there was a healthy dose of bad blood between players? When was the last time somebody had ripped down a net, got in someone’s face? When was the last time players had to be separated, when the fans, having chosen allegiances, would get nose to nose?
“Maybe just the personalities of the guys on Tour are a little more quiet and sheltered,” Trevor Crabb said. “You had some of those crazy guys back in the day for sure.”
Crabb changed that. He fired some shots on Instagram, stirring the pot for an event that was already sure to be most attractive event of the season not named Manhattan. The response was better than he hoped for, particularly when he and Sean Rosenthal got the match they most wanted, a third-round clash with Ty Loomis and Maddison McKibbin, those sand-throwing fools Crabb so wanted to silence.
Loomis and McKibbin won San Francisco, and it marked Loomis’s first win since 2009 and Maddison’s first ever. They celebrated accordingly, and many of those celebrations inevitably wound up on social media.
“That was a team I especially wanted to beat, especially after they won San Fran,” Trevor Crabb said. “Ty was just going over the top on winning it. Me and Rosie were both pretty excited to play them and beat them down. We were talking the whole week, making fun of Loomis.”
And then they beat Loomis and McKibbin, 21-16, 21-13. A match with those scores doesn’t sound altogether intriguing, and yet that’s exactly what it was. Because there was Trevor Crabb, tomahawk-blocking McKibbin, giving a double-Mutombo finger wag. There was McKibbin, blasting past Crabb’s block, loudly wondering where he was at. There was Loomis after the match, eschewing a hand-shake, instead tossing a handful of sand at Crabb.
Ah, yes. Trevor, the AVP’s newest, gleeful villain, has his own hashtag, spawned by Loomis, the sand-throwing fool.
That was just the prelude, the opening act.
We have all wanted what came next, Crabb vs. Crabb. A matchup of ex-partners or a matchup of siblings is always intriguing. A matchup of sibling ex-partners who might be the two most promising 20-something-year-old prospects in America whose relationship is notoriously rocky in the quarterfinals, after exchanging blows on social media, was ineluctable.
That’s why fans were being turned away at their quarterfinal matchup, and I think that sentence is worth repeating: Beach volleyball fans were being turned away at a quarterfinal matchup on a Saturday afternoon, because the stadium was too full.
“It was pretty unreal, it was like a final almost,” said Trevor, who has now made six finals in the last two years. “I was for sure really excited to finally play them, the first time all year.”
It was, by Trevor’s own admission, a sloppy match. Lots of errors, weird mistakes. It didn’t matter. The fans came to watch the volleyball, yes, but this was Taylor vs. Trevor, the “hungover fool” vs. the sober brother devoid of victory.
They wanted what came between points, the smack talk, Taylor extending his hand, only to be ignored, so he just high-fived himself.
It was wonderful theater.
And somehow lost amid all that was perhaps the second-greatest blocker in United States history vs. his ex-partner and maybe the most athletic human alive, the one with the nickname “Superman.”
This was the best quarterfinal the AVP could have asked for.
“It was fun,” Gibb said. “It was fun to be a part of. I could feel my partner’s energy coming into it, just heightened, and I could feel Trevor’s energy right off the back, trying to talk trash to me. He was giving me the ‘I want this!’ across the net and it was cool, it was like ‘This is what I play for.’ You got four guys that want it, doing everything they can, it was cool.”
And then it happened again, in the finals, with significantly higher stakes and appropriately accompanying trash talk.
Volleyball-wise, the match was twice that of the quarterfinal, going to three sets, Rosenthal making plays only Rosenthal, no matter what his age may be, can make, Gibb extending that mighty roof, Taylor bouncing, Trevor keeping the fire stoked and alive.
“It’s always tough to say it’s one of the best matches when you lose a match but I’ve been to six finals and it was probably the best final atmosphere, volleyball-wise, that I was a part of, and I lost all those other finals obviously, but this one was the best,” Trevor said. “Both teams played really well so just for volleyball and TV this was the best one.”
Trevor was speaking to the final, but he could have just as well have been speaking about the event as a whole.
Taylor and Gibb won, yes, but the sport of beach volleyball was the victor in the South Bay. It was a tournament that featured more than 150 teams between the two qualifiers, a main draw that included a pair of brothers, Marcus and Miles Partain, who are 17 and 15 years of age, respectively. It was a tournament where a blocker, Tim Bomgren, led the Tour in digs, and a new partnership, Chase Frishman and Avery Drost, logged their best finishes ever.
It was a tournament made for television, with mobs of crowds surrounding not just stadium court, but every single outlier as well. It was a tournament with new faces, desperately-needed new matchups, with a jump-bumping, chest-digging team – Rafu Rodriguez-Bertran and Piotr Marciniak – in one semifinal, and Captain America, Drost, in the other.
It was a tournament with the best possible final, and the best possible crowd, and the best possible Cinderellas, in the best possible setting, the aptly-named Hermosa Beach.
“That’s the heartland of beach volleyball,” Gibb said of Hermosa. “People love this sport, they live and breathe it. There was energy there that I haven’t seen in a lot of years. Even Manhattan Beach – Manhattan Beach has it’s own unique energy.
“But Hermosa has – I think there’s this sort of down to Earth, real volleyball fans. It’s cool. I had almost forgotten how good it was.”
I hope the AVP doesn’t forget. I hope it comes back, and comes back again, and again. No more seven-year droughts. Not after this weekend, not after it delivered everything a beach volleyball fan could have asked for and then some.
Not only did we have the return of the tradition-rich setting, we witnessed the emergence of a much-needed heel, a rebel with a cause, a personality that meshes perfectly with his own adopted fan-bases, Rosie’s Raiders.
“Someone’s gotta do it, otherwise it’s kinda boring,” Trevor said. “Other sports, you hear it all the time, it’s just part of the game. I don’t mind it at all and I know everyone enjoys it in some kind of way.”