Feels like both yesterday and an eternity ago that the 2023 AVP Season began. Thinking back on that first event in Miami, there is just so much that has happened between then and now.
Here are some of my personal highlights from the 2023 season:
- Finishing the Manhattan Beach Open in SoCal’s first “hurricane.” That day was picturesque, fit for the movies. One of the best moments happened exclusively for the in-stadium fans to see: one of the wires controlling the speaker system got soaked and fried, so the sound system went out. DJ Roueche’s music was on hold; Mark Schuermann had to entertain the fans by sheer vocal power alone. The players played one of the biggest matches in their career in silence. Sixty seconds before the Men’s Final Championship point, the sound returned. Mark was on the sand without his microphone but somehow got DJ Roueche’s attention and signaled for his microphone. Roueche threw the mic flawlessly, right into Mark’s waiting hand. In one motion, Mark grabbed the mic, swiped it through the air, put it to his mouth, and said, “We are On. Our. Feet. for Championship Point.” The crowd oohed and aahed the cinematic moment, then watched as Taylor Crabb finally got his name on the Pier, all to the tune of Hurricane Hilary’s steady patter. It was so brilliant and cheesy that I wouldn’t have scripted it, but it was perfect.
- Of course, MBO’s hurricane was not our first of the season. New Orleans 2023 was wild, with the Wilson ball taking flight amidst the torrential downpour that *seemingly* came out of nowhere. Like – we knew rain was coming, and we can handle that. But we were NOT prepared for gale-force winds and immediate flash flooding. All the athletes, fans, and staff sprinted into the tiki-style, wood-paneled beach bar and sheltered in place. When the rain abated, leaving destruction in its wake, I got a first-hand seat to the well-oiled, small but mighty machine that is the AVP operations team. They took their marching orders in stride, preparing the courts for play in record time. Athletes and officials agreed to continue playing matches, even though Saturday’s bracket took us well into the night. It was the longest day of my 2023 season, but it stands out as one of the most morale-boosting favorites.
- We had the best ball girl in the world in Hermosa Beach, a local high school baller named Ginevra. She was on top of her game as a ball girl, constantly aware and quick to the draw, and – best part – she had jokes. Puns on puns from Ginevra. She told her jokes to the production booth with zero fear, knowing she had us under her spell. She even voiced a few to the stands. My favorite? “What do you say when someone has a sick dig? That was ri-dig-ulous.
- The Men’s Final of Huntington Beach was spectacular. We had the tried and true top dogs in Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk against the new hot shots Andy Benesh and Miles Partain. Bourne and Schalk, two of the only current international players who’ve been to the Olympics, were fresh off a New Orleans victory and looking like one of the best teams in the world. But Miles and Andy were quickly becoming elite in their own right, with a quicker, sneakier style of play and just a tad more height. Tri and Chaim bested them earlier in the tournament, so the Finals was a grudge match. For over an hour, the three-setter had us all on one. It felt like more than just an AVP title. It felt like a declaration: Who is the top team in the USA. And Miles and Andy took the cake.
- That is until Chicago, when Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner ignored all the hubbub about the hot new thing and just crushed everyone in their wake to the final AVP Gold Series victory. Those two were on a mission, and they didn’t drop a single set on their way to the finish line. (I say all this knowing Taylor and Taylor got their name on the Pier, so they, too, would like to be considered the best.)
- The Women’s side was also neck-and-neck for top billing, with only two teams winning two tournaments this year (Hughes/Cheng and Kloth/Nuss). In almost every final, it was AVP victors vs. AVP victors, some of the top teams in the world. Our women look so good right now, boasting some of the highest-level volleyball worldwide. Watching their final pairings, witnessing greatness unfold before our eyes, was ridigulously fun.
- I have to go back to the MBO, because the steady downpour made for an unrivaled environment. And then add that Besti Flint, a mom who played in the MBO Finals every single year since she returned postpartum (that’s three in a row), finally had her moment. Her winner’s interview was a beautiful moment celebrating the accomplishments of her teammate Julia Scoles, coach April Ross, and the village of people supporting her, chiefly her daughter Cora and husband Chase. That moment was what it’s all about.
I have endless more memories, but we’re getting close to word count, so I’ll rapid-fire.
- The crazy-long rally in the Women’s Championship match in Chicago.
- The six-hour lightning delay in Atlanta that 100 fans waited through, then were rewarded with courtside spots on the sand and a personal meet and greet with the winners.
- Playing after the sun set on on of the most gorgeous Saturday evenings I’ve ever seen in Manhattan Beach.
- Megan J. Rice making the Hermosa Beach Final in her first-ever Main Draw that she happened upon by way of last-minute injury.
- John Hyden and Emily Stockman’s retirement moments; the love from the crowd and AVP Family feeling was real.
- Finishing the season at the best stop on Tour, Oak Street Beach.
It was a beautiful 40th Anniversary season. Stay tuned for more updates and info on what will surely be an unforgettable 41st year.