It’s that time of summer, when the AVP Gold Series, Manhattan Beach Open looms.
Not only is it the beach volleyball Mecca, but the longest-running beach tournament on earth is also a reunion for players, fans, families, and the most coveted prize up for grabs – the winners seeing their names on plaques engraved forever on the Manhattan Beach Pier.
Another tradition for the “Wimbledon of beach volleyball” is that it’s a test for the best as the players hit the home stretch of the season with the best weather aligned with the perfect Pacific Ocean backdrop.
But as the sand shifts, so does the drama. Not every team that started the season in Huntington Beach is still together, either by heartbreaking injury or simply seeing greener grass on the other side of the fence.
You have the headliners. Olympians Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena are shooting for their third consecutive Manhattan Beach Open crown and two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and Alix Klineman are back to defend their title.
For Klineman, she will realize the dream of a lifetime when she sees her name on the pier in her hometown for a second time.
Chasing the frontrunners is another story.
The main challengers on the women’s side are Emily Day and Betsi Flint, who are coming off their victory in the Hermosa Beach Open. Jace Pardon and Karissa Cook, who won in Austin, are coming off a victory in the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, and even took a stab at snow volleyball in Argentina while they were in South America.
Now comes the tricky part with the dance full of switching partners.
Sara Hughes, whose partner Summer Ross has been put on hold by a back injury, will team with Brandie Wilkerson. It will be the third AVP event for Wilkerson, who has Olympic aspirations for Canada with Heather Bansley. It’s an intriguing international partnership since Hughes is one of the top defensive players in the world and Wilkerson was voted as the best blocker in the world for 2018.
Irene Pollock and Terese Cannon have gone their separate ways, and now it gets complicated. Pollock will team with veteran Kim DiCello, who has already played with two partners on the AVP Tour in 2019.
Cannon, a candidate for Rookie of the Year from USC, will team with UCLA alum Kelly Reeves. Cannon placed third in Austin with Pollock and Reeves will be joining in her fourth partner of the season.
A new partner is nothing original for Caitlin Ledoux, who has already played with two different partners, will switch to Maria Clara Salgado, the veteran from Brazil. Ledoux had five partners in 2018.
How unpredictable can Manhattan be? Hermosa saw three qualifier teams reach the final four, and now there is one wild card that can tear through the double-elimination bracket.
That’s Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, who have had an amazing six-week run across the world. The Canadian duo beat Ross and Klineman in the FIVB World Championships in Hamburg, Germany, then added gold medal finishes in Edmonton and Vienna.
On the men’s side, Dalhausser and Lucena will have plenty to contend with. After all, Ricardo is back! Brazilian legend Ricardo Santos (Olympic gold, silver, bronze), last seen injuring his calf muscle in Seattle, will rejoin Sean Rosenthal, who took third in Hermosa with David Lee.
AVP champs in 2019 will have something to say. Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger won in Hermosa, Jeremy Casebeer and Chaim Schalk won in Seattle, and Tim Bomgren and Troy Field are knocking on the door.
Ah, but there’s intrigue here as well. Reid Priddy and Theo Brunner, who have played 10 international tournaments together, returned from Austria and switched partners.
Brunner, blocker extraordinaire, will join 13-time AVP winner John Hyden. They’ve played in five AVP tournaments together and won in Hermosa in 2018 and reached the Manhattan semifinals three weeks later.
Priddy, who has a gold and bronze Olympic past with the U.S. National Team, will hook up with Trevor Crabb.
It’s a tough role for Crabb, whose partner Tri Bourne is out with a broken bone in his right hand suffered in Vienna after the pair defeated Germans Lars Fluggen and Nils Ehlers in the elimination match.
Get to the stadium, get to the outer courts (where we all know the knowledge is) and Manhattan will deliver. Again.
If you’re counting, it’s No. 63 for the men, No. 52 for the women. It’s one of the great inheritances generations celebrate.