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The fifth stop of the 2017 AVP Tour brought beach volleyball action to The Golden City. The San Francisco Open welcomed bluebird skies and perfect weather conditions against the backdrop of the iconic Bay Area Bridge. Friday crowds gathered to support their favorite AVP and Olympic stars in the Main Draw matches with cheers of approval that could be heard across the venue. Top-ranked teams included Seattle Open champions Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, and the debut of new partners Lane Carico and Stanford alumni favorite Alix Klineman, who fought to secure one of 12 coveted spots in Saturday’s Elimination Rounds.

On the women’s side, Alix Klineman and former fellow Mira Costa High School teammate Lane Carico looked in tandem from the moment they stepped on the court Friday morning. Carico’s coverage of the court and Klineman’s powerful blocks repeatedly frustrated their first opponent No. 12 Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough, ultimately sending them to the Contender’s bracket in three tough sets. Later in the afternoon, Klineman and Carico went on to defeat No. 4 ranked team of Angela Bensend and Geena Urango in two sets.

The largest crowd of Friday morning gathered around the outer court match with No. 7 seed and newly formed partnership of four-time Olympians Ricardo Santos and Reid Priddy, who were upset in their first match against No. 10 seeded Jeff Samuels and Derek Olson, sending the Olympic powerhouse team to the Contender’s bracket. Samuels and Olson read their opponents every move, looking more solid and executing smarter plays as the match went on. However, later in the afternoon, Santos and Priddy successfully beat Raffe Paulis and Spencer Sauter, as a defeat would have meant elimination. The Olympic duo prevailed to secure their spot in Saturday’s competition.

In Friday’s last rowdy match of the day, Avery Drost and Chase Frishman lost to Eric Zaun and Ed Ratledge, who reunited after going their separate ways for the Seattle Open after a successful partnership at the Gold Series NYC Open last month.

Saturday’s play was greeted by another ideal sunny morning in the Fog City. In the late morning, challenging wind conditions picked up proving why these athletes are the best in their sport. High levels of athleticism was required to withstand the conditions, battling through the wind and doing whatever it took to keep the ball in bounds while outsmarting their opponent.

Enthusiastic and dedicated fans filled Stadium Court and the outer courts with heckling, cheering and cowbells throughout the day, in support of their favorite teams who entertained in dramatic fashion- long rallies, battles at the net and contentious disagreements over officials’ calls. The high level of beach volleyball was evident by the majority of matches consistently going to either three sets or resulting in at least one set going into overtime. With stakes high, multiple teams were emotionally charged in frustration as they inched their way closer to the title and the prize money.

On the women’s side, the No. 5 Klineman and Carico battled again against the weekend’s top ranked team of Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen on Stadium Court in the Quarterfinal. Standing tall at 6’5, Klineman’s continued blocks rivaled Larsen’s 6’2 stature. In the second set, the frozen score change rule on match point allowed Carico and Klineman to make a comeback and tie the set at 21-21. Flint was unable to penetrate through Klineman’s big blocks and the duo was sent to the Contender’s bracket after losing to Klineman and Carico in three sets. However, Flint and Larsen then went on to beat Caitlin Ledoux and Heather McGuire later in the day to secure a spot in the Semi-Final round as well.

Saturday morning, No. 3 ranked team of Jennifer Fopma and Kelly Reeves upset No. 2 ranked Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar, who were then eliminated by No. 4 Angela Bensend and Geena Urango in a highly contested match that went to three sets.

Santos and Priddy met brothers Brian and Tim Bomgren Saturday afternoon, claiming their victory in two sets. The union of Priddy and Santos was a crowd pleaser with their perfectly choreographed placement and well-rounded skills from beach and indoor that complemented one another’s abilities- specifically Priddy for his huge kills and ability to hustle while covering the court and Santos’ famous impenetrable blocks. In their second match of the day, they clinched the win over Mark Burik and Marty Lorenz. Then, in their final match of the day, Santos and Priddy again took a commanding lead against the favored No. 2 ranked team of John Mayer and Jeremy Casebeer in two sets.

2017 Seattle Open champions and top seeded men’s team Stafford Slick and Billy Allen advanced to the Semi-Finals after defeating Ty Loomis and Maddison McKibbin Saturday afternoon. However, McKibbin and Loomis weren’t done for the day, defeating Avery Drost and Chase Frishman in the last match of the day in three tight sets.

Saturday’s AVP fans were also treated to a demo from the 2016 USA Paralympic gold medalists Katie Holloway and Bethany Zummo, who invited fans to join in for games of Sitting Volleyball. Among the pro athletes who joined were were Stafford Slick and Billy Allen, along with coach Andrew Fuller.

The San Francisco Open concluded multiple days of intense and dramatic competition on Sunday. With overflowing stands, the energetic fans brought chanting, heckling, and standing ovations to every match, but the day belonged to new men’s champions and underdog team of Loomis and first-time title-holder Maddison McKibbin, and top-ranked women’s team of Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen.

Flint and Larsen defeated No. 3 Fopma and Reeves in one Semi-Final in three sets. No. 5 ranked Klineman and Carico won seven straight sets leading into Sunday’s Semi-Finals to face No. 4 ranked team of Angela Bensend and Geena Urango. In Klineman’s first Semi-Final and best finish of the season to date, Carico, a veteran on the sand, was quick, nimble and flexible to make adjustments in order to cover the court, playing a key role to outsmart their opponents in two sets. Like mentioned before, this was the first tournament together for Klineman and Carico, improving upon Klineman’s best seventh place finish from the 2017 Huntington Beach Open. Carico’s only tournament win was in 2016 at the Seattle Open.

In the Women’s Final, it was a rematch between Klineman and Carico & Flint and Larsen. However, Flint and Larsen returned with a vengeance in order to rewrite their prior result. Tough serves, quick digs and monstrous, strategically placed kills ultimately sealed their domination over Klineman and Carico in two swift sets, 21-13 & 21-8.

In the Men’s Semi-Finals and Final, the power and energy of the crowd was electric in Stadium Court. The men’s teams interacted with the crowd, pumping up fans who ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ throughout the matches. It was a game of power and finesse for the first men Semi-Final between volleyball legends and fan favorites of No. 7 Santos and Priddy vs. Slick and Allen. Priddy earned crowd approval as he dove and flew across the court, while the 6’7” Santos and 6’8” Slick went giant vs. giant at the net, jousting for every point. Priddy and Santos who lost their very first match in Friday’s Main Draw fought to stay alive through the Contender’s bracket. In the third and final set, Priddy and Santos were up 14-11, freezing the score for match point, but were unable to hold off a Slick and Allen come back. Slick even faced a medical timeout due to a muscle strain in his side, but partner Allen suggest to split block and ultimately pushed the team to victory and sending them to the finals.

In the Men’s Final, Slick and Allen re-matched with Loomis and Maddison McKibbin, who they defeated earlier in the tournament. Though they went point-for-point through two sets, and with Allen impressively executing kill after kill, Loomis and McKibbin were able to capitalize on Slick’s injury to secure the win. It was the third consecutive final for Slick and Allen since the Gold Series NYC Open this past June, a first for McKibbin (whose best ever finish was 5th at the Austin Open this past May), and a first victory for Loomis since 2009. An overjoyed Loomis and McKibbin rolled in the sand in pure jubilation, celebrating their win with the fans.

The next stop on the AVP Tour is the Hermosa Beach Open taking place July 20-23, which marks the return to Hermosa Beach for the first time since 2007. See you there!