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With the first stop of the AVP 2017 season in the books, we couldn’t be off to a hotter start. This past weekend’s Huntington Beach Open kicked off Thursday with the largest qualifier ever, which included 60 men’s teams and 51 women’s teams, all competing for four spots. Highlights included watching indoor Olympian Reid Priddy officially start his beach career; however, he failed to advance. The eight teams that fought hard and made it to Friday’s Main Draw were Allen/Hinga, Moreland/Schuh, Klineman/Pardon, Jameson/Jones, Ratledge/Zaun, Clemens/Vaught, Brunsting/Frishman and the McKibbin brothers.

The next day’s action drew record-breaking Friday crowds who gathered to cheer on the most accomplished AVP and Olympic stars. Top-ranked players, including April Ross, Phil Dalhausser, Jake Gibb, Casey Patterson and Xi Zhang, among others, battled to secure one of 12 spots per gender in the Elimination Rounds. The upset of the day was the loss of No. 2 ranked team Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner vs. No. 7 ranked Ryan Doherty and John Hyden. On the women’s side, Sheila Shaw and Brittany Tiegs were defeated by Manhattan Beach natives Jace Pardon and Alix Klineman, the latter of which recently made her transition from indoor volleyball to beach.

Saturday’s play attracted energetic crowds who braved less than ideal weather. From the early morning through the evening, festive spectators filled the stands in Stadium Court and amassed the outer courts with heckling, whistles and cowbells in support of their favorite teams and athletes. Neck-in-neck matches resulted with the majority going to three, hard-earned sets, with no margin for error, in order to secure one of four remaining spots in the semi-finals. It was a game of survival as two teams – two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and three-time Manhattan Beach Open champion Whitney Pavlik, along with Olympian Casey Patterson and two-time AVP champion Theo Brunner, found themselves in unfamiliar territory in the Contender’s Brackets, where they were forced to fight their way through three matches to secure their spots in the Semi-Finals.

No. 6 ranked team Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen swept their first match of the day in two sets against No. 2 ranked April Ross and Whitney Pavlik. Ross and Pavlik later locked their spot in the Semi-Finals after winning a tough match against No. 5 Kim DiCello and Emily Stockman in three sets. Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson who were defeated by Ryan Doherty and John Hyden successfully battled through three matches that set them up to face three-time Olympian Phil Dalhausser and Olympian Nick Lucena in the semis, and Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb against Ryan Doherty and John Hyden.

The Huntington Beach Open concluded four days of high-level, intense competition with the Semi-Finals and Finals on Sunday. Stakes were high as the remaining teams battled for the title and prize money in front a full stadium of enthusiastic fans. The day belonged to three-time Olympian Phil Dalhausser with seven-time AVP champion and Olympic partner Nick Lucena on the men’s side, and three-time AVP winner Emily Day and Manhattan Beach Open champion Brittany Hochevar on the women’s side. Spirited crowds danced, cheered, oohed, ahhed and did the wave in support of their favorite teams as each fought a hard-earned victory to the finish.

In their second meeting between the two teams this tournament, the men’s final featured the No. 3 seeded team of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena against No. 7 seeded team of beach volleyball veteran John Hyden and Ryan Doherty in two passionate, straight sets to seal their victory, 21-16, 21-17. Dalhausser and Lucena captured the competitive edge with strategic kills and their ability to find the uncovered open spaces to outsmart their competitors. This win makes it Dalhausser’s fifth conquest at the AVP Huntington Beach Open.

The Women’s Final featured No. 1 ranked team Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar against No. 6 ranked team Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen, where Flint and Larsen were unable to overtake their opponents in both sets, 21-13, 21-19. Though both teams put on an impressive performance, Flint and Larsen fell to Day and Hochevar who put on a solid performance and were able to dominate all of their matches over the last three days.

We can’t wait to see what incredible action the next tournament holds, as the athletes head to Texas for the AVP Austin Open on May 18th-21st.