On the seventh stop of the 2019 AVP Tour, the Gold Series Chicago was a reminder of what was evident from the outset of the season.
The teams that won were dominant when they needed to be, they hoisted a championship trophy for the third time this year, and they displayed a fire that has eluded them at times since their victories in the first tournament in Huntington Beach.
Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb bounced back in style from a previous day’s defeat to Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in commanding fashion in the championship match.
April Ross and Alix Klineman quietly seethed for two weeks after their loss to Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in the Manhattan Beach Open final.
When they met for the sixth time in 2019 in the third round in Chicago, it was no contest for Ross and Klineman. In fact, the whole tournament for the duo was no contest after running the table without dropping a set.
How dominant were they? The world’s top-ranked team gave up an average of only 14 points per set. Only one opponent, Sara Hughes and Brandie Wilkerson, managed to break 30 total points for a match.
Their controlled fury might have been expected. Going into Manhattan, Ross and Klineman had just put in weeks of effort on the FIVB World Tour as they chase their Olympic dreams, but after an earlier-than-expected loss in the Vienna Major, the two could have gone on to chase qualifying points in Moscow. Instead, they opted to defend their title in Manhattan.
When they left heartbroken, they hunkered down and responded.
It might also reflect the difference in the two tours. On the AVP, coaches can sit in the players’ area during the match and offer tips throughout the match. Internationally, contact between players and coaches is strictly forbidden during matches.
And even with two Olympic medals already, Ross knows that the extra set of eyes Jen Kessy provides can make a difference.
“We feel like coming home to play AVP allows us to prepare to come out here and play the best in the world, as well,” Ross said. “It’s nice to have Jen actually be able to coach us through those matches and we learn a lot doing that.”
“She can be like ‘I know it might feel like this way to you guys out there, but here’s what’s actually happening.’ To have that outside perspective right there with us helps us learn and grow.”
After winning for the second consecutive year in Chicago – it was Ross’ 39th career AVP win and the team’s seventh in 11 tournaments – Ross admitted there was a little extra fire in Chicago.
“We went home after losing the Manhattan Beach finals super hungry and we worked really hard,” Ross said. “I feel like we got in our rhythm here. We love the way we play volleyball here and we love playing in Chicago.”
The numbers: Ross-Klineman took a 5-4 all-time lead over Canadians Pavan-Humana-Paredes. Ross and Klineman hold a 4-2 edge in 2019.
For Gibb and Crabb, their third victory of the season came after falling short in New York and Seattle. They chose to play in Moscow over Manhattan and took a ninth-place finish.
They had a coach step in with a few words of advice, too. Rich Lambourne had chastised the duo for slow starts, and even now and then, the 43-year-old Gibb, a three-time Olympian, needs a little pep talk.
“I’ve got to give it up to my coach and partner,” Gibb said. “The tournament is such a grind so this makes it worth it.”
The numbers: Gibb-Crabb vs. Dalhausser-Lucena is now tied, 7-7, in a rivalry that began in 2017. Neither team has won more than two in a row in the series.
Bearded brother breakthrough
In 24 previous AVP tournaments, Maddison McKibbin and Riley McKibbin had never finished higher than ninth, a plateau they had hit eight times.
Suddenly, after knocking off eighth-seeded Stafford Slick and Billy Allen, the McKibbins found themselves with a chance to move up a notch.
They did it by defeating John Hyden and Theo Brunner in a three-set thriller to put them into play on Sunday for the first time. Their run ended with a loss to Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb.
The next step is to better than fifth-place finish in their home state of Hawaii later this month.
Quote of the week
After defeating Gibb and Crabb in a 58-minute match on Saturday afternoon, Lucena was congratulated for the effort.
“Thanks,” he said. “But I’m still depressed. Florida State lost.”