Our eighth and final open tournament of the 2018 AVP season returned to the Windy City! The #AVPGoldSeries Championships took place at Oak Street Beach with the gorgeous Chicago skyline as the awe-inspiring backdrop for this tournament. The Windy City has a rich history with the AVP, hosting events every year since the AVP began playing in 1984 through 2009 with the exception of 2001. This tournament is tied for the most prize money for a 2018 event ($250,000 along with Manhattan Beach). The Main Draw consisted of a 24-team double elimination format with a total of 80 men’s team and 52 women’s competing for the prize. The Qualifiers kicked off on Thursday, August 30th at two locations, Oak Street Beach and North Avenue, and the remaining eight Main Draw spots were up for grabs through the Qualifiers.
Friday’s Main Draw event opened with upsets from the men’s Qualifiers with No. 17 Araiza / Lee taking the spot from No. 1 Paulis / Samuels and No. 13 Drake / Ruzick toppling over No. 4 Sauter / Vander Meer. However, the upsets didn’t stop there. Manhattan Beach Open winner and No. 1 seed Phil Dalhausser & Nick Lucena faced off against No. 9 ranked Tim Bomgren and Chaim Schalk towards the end of the day on a packed Stadium Court. Dalhausser / Lucena instantly started off to a fast pace, but Bomgren / Schalk displayed great effort and forced a third set to the delight of the crowd. Bomgren’s forceful blocks and a well-timed rally by Chaim lead to their stunning victory in the third to send the veterans into the Contender’s bracket (16-21, 22-20, 15-11). On the women’s side, Manhattan Beach Open finalists and No. 2 seed Brittany Hochevar and Kelly Claes saw their defeat against No. 10 Brittany Howard and Kelly Reeves in straight sets to move onto Saturday’s Winner’s bracket (21-17, 21-17).
Day two of the Championships started off with a brief lightning delay that built the anticipation of undeterred fans even further. Once the clouds were cleared and the tournament was a go, Saturday unfolded to be yet another monumental day for beach volleyball. The biggest crowd of the day gathered to watch the popular No. 2 team and Manhattan Beach Open finalists Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb take on No. 3 team Jeremy Casebeer and Reid Priddy. With an even pairing of skills and determination, both teams were drenched in sweat, highly vocal and not giving an inch. Crabb / Gibb had their eyes on the win, but a rally in the second set by Casebeer / Priddy propelled the match to a destined third set. Near the end of the third set, a controversial call of no joust reversed a key point for Casebeer / Priddy. After much contention from both teams and chants of “do it again” from the crowd, the dust settled and in the end, Casebeer / Priddy won the match to an explosion of cheers (22-20, 19-21, 18-16). No. 1 ranked Sara Hughes and Summer Ross found themselves against the No. 5 pair Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman. In a tight match of two sets, Hughes and Ross took charge on Stadium court and ended Larsen and Stockman’s run in straight sets (21-18, 21-18). Hughes / Ross advance to Championship Sunday to play fresh college standouts and newly-paired team, No. 18 Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil.
The Gold Series Championships cumulated 53,000 in attendance during Labor Day Weekend as friends, fans, and family all poured early in the morning for Championship Sunday. An overflow, standing-room-only venue on Oak Street Beach was full of jubilant fans who braved the heat, anxious for all of the action on Stadium Court. Against the classic, picturesque Chicago skyline, teams laid it all out on the line for the third and final Gold Series of the 2018 season battling for more money, more points and a chance to qualify for the new AVP Hawai’i Invitational, presented by the Hawaiian Tourism Authority. The women’s semifinals started with a direct rematch of the Manhattan Beach Open finals — No. 2 Hochevar / Claes vs. No. 3 team Alix Klineman & April Ross. Starting swiftly, Klineman / A. Ross didn’t allow Hochevar / Claes gain too big of a lead at any point and was on them point-for-point, winning the first set. The crowd was gunning for a third set and although Hochevar / Claes did their best to force a third, April closed it out in two with a final ace to secure their spot in the finals against Hughes / S. Ross (21-19, 22-20). Meanwhile for the men, Casebeer / Priddy played against the No. 9 duo of Tim Bomgren and Chaim Schalk. Known for his striking, large serve Casebeer consistently approached the sand with crowd chants of “ace, ace.” Bomgren / Schalk took the first set after some contention with Schalk and the head referee over two no touch calls, but Casebeer / Priddy used the crowd’s support to their advantage and forced a third set. After another touch call on Casebeer on match point, Bomgren / Schalk took the hard-fought win in three, meeting Crabb / Gibb in the finals (21-17, 19-21, 15-12).
By the time finals rolled around the corner, the stands glittered with fans in gold attire under bright and warm skies. The two women’s teams with the most winning momentum faced off for The Championship title in a rematch of the Hermosa Beach Open. No. 1 ranked Hughes / S. Ross entered the final match with a perfect 14-0 record for the AVP tour, while the No. 3 Klineman / A. Ross entered the match having won 10 straight. Last year’s Chicago champion, Hughes, was decisive with her digs, but with the best serve in the AVP and arguably in the world, A. Ross took to Stadium Court ready to stake her claim. Klineman / A. Ross solidified set one and a long rally kicked off set two. In the end, Klineman / A. Ross got on a run that Hughes / S. Ross could not overcome, and with a perfectly timed “Monster Block” by Klineman, they sealed their second consecutive tournament and third season win with a score of 25-23, 21-16. For the men, No. 2 Crabb / Gibb battled against No. 9 ranked Bomgren / Schalk for the Championship trophy. This was the first men’s finals appearance ever for the new team of Bomgren / Schalk. No strangers to high stakes, Crabb / Gibb played with an intense focus to take the first set. To their credit, Bomgren / Schalk were not phased by their opponents and Bomgren showcased a few explosive blocks in a second set rally. Ultimately, experience won out and with a decisive kill by Crabb, Crabb / Gibb sealed their victory (21-14, 21-17).
After the celebratory champagne rained down onto the courts and the sand settled, everyone from the fans to athletes to staff couldn’t help but to leave Oak Street Beach with an energetic buzz that will surely carry over until the 2019 season. Our Open tournaments have hosted some of the toughest competition and matches we’ve seen to date and we can’t wait to see what the next year has in store. However, the fun doesn’t end here. We still have the King of the Court Crown Series and the AVP Hawai’i Invitational, Presented by the Hawaii Tourism Authority coming up on September 14th-16th. Catch us there as we wrap up summer in tropical fashion at this invite-only event!