AVP Atlanta Qualifier Recap & Main Draw Preview

Nine deserving teams joined the first Main Draw of 2021 (check @avpbeach to see who) after a grueling hot hot hot two-day Qualifier. Why nine, you ask?

April Ross and Kelley Kolinske sadly had to drop out of AVP Atlanta. Kelly is nursing a knee injury that she believed would hold for the weekend. Today, she learned from her doctor that she should not play to prevent further damage.

Their (and all of our) loss is another team’s gain. In their absence, all of the current Main Draw teams move up one seed, and five teams made it out of the Qualifier. Four teams won their Game to get in, but we needed another team to round out the 16-team Main Draw. The tournament directors collaborated and decided to do a Lucky Loser random draw. The names of the two highest-seeded teams who lost in The Game to Get In were placed in a hat.

Number 2-seeded Brazilian veteran Maria Clara Salgado and UCLA standout Lexy Denaburg were the lucky ladies whose names emerged. Twins Annika Rowland and Teegan Van Gunst, who lost to LSU studs Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, were the other potential team as the 5-seed, but they lost the 50/50 draw and are turning their sights to Manhattan Beach.

Another team turning to MBO are Tokyo Gold Medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman. Alix posted that she planned before the Olympics to take this week off to decompress between the Games and the AVP season. She’s looking forward to reuniting with her partner and trying to win her second coveted Manhattan Beach Open Championships.

But that’s next week! It’s been almost two years since our last traveling AVP stop. It feels like Christmas Eve.

Starting tomorrow morning at 9 am, beach volleyball fans can once again enjoy nonstop AVP action with a full 16-team per gender roster. We have some oldies but goodies, numerous new teams, and a few reunited fan favorites. There are plenty of young rookies coming for the veterans’ spot in the Main Draw, including Katie Dickens and Jen Keddy. This is Jen’s first Qualifier EVER, and she won the Game to Get In 27-25 in the second set.

My new team matchup to watch on the Women’s side is one that I begged the Volley gods for. Kim Hildreth/Katie Hogan will take on dual former partners Sarah Schermerhorn/Megan Rice in the first round. Both teams are AVP Finalists, but twist! They’re Finalists with their now opponents. Kim and Sarah earned 2nd place in Austin 2019, while Katie and Megan did the same in Hermosa two months later. My absolute favorite is when former partners play each other. They know all of each other’s secrets! The ins and outs of their game, what makes them tick. It’s the best and always dramatic. 

Two new teams to watch on the Men’s side also play each other in the first round. Tim Bomgren/Jeremy Casebeer will take on Billy Allen/Andy Benesh. Expect a lot of insanely athletic plays from both sides of the court. Jeremy Casebeer is one of the most dynamic blockers and easily Top 3 servers on the AVP. When he’s firing on all cylinders, he puts on a clinic at the service line. Tim Bomgren, a former blocker, will have an easy time playing defense behind Casebeer. Andy Benesh is one of the promising young talents on the Men’s side. At 6’9” and with top-notch eye sequencing, he’s able to block an impressive amount of attacks. And with the steady veteran energy of Billy Allen, this duo is sure to wow.

In addition to the newbies, our old faves are returning in full form. Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb are reunited after a traumatic Olympic experience, as are Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb. Emily Day and Betsi Flint return after Betsi took some time off to have her daughter. And the youngest Olympic team in US history – Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes – are looking for their first-ever AVP victory as a team. That would surely put the cherry on top of an incredible 2021 for Team Slaes.

After more than 22 months since the last full-blown AVP (Waikiki Open in September 2019; does anyone remember what happened?), I’m most excited to see how the athletes are doing. Many diligently utilized this time to improve their game, going out early to work on serves or cut shots before practice. They had ample time on their hands, and volleyball moved to the forefront for many. Expect to be surprised. We’re likely to see totally different players because many have become different people in the last two years – mentally, physically, emotionally, volleybally…

It was nearly impossible to put in so much work when it seemed like the thing being trained for was so far in the distance. It was more convenient to sleep in than to schedule practice, easier to watch the next episode rather than jump on the bike. I’m grateful to the athletes that persevered, who dug in and pushed themselves every day to become better. Our Tour exists because of their dedication and love for the game. I hope they all feel rewarded by the chance to compete once again.

This is straight-up emotional people. We’re back in action – the full AVP revived once again, 64 hungry athletes who’ve been grinding for this moment. I can’t wait to see smiling faces in the stands, to hear your cheers IRL! It all starts tomorrow at 9 am. If you can’t make it, tune in on Peacock Premium for only $5 a month to see every point of Stadium Court. Old faithfuls Dain Blanton, Camryn Irwin, Kevin Barnett, Kevin Wong, and Chris Marlowe will be calling the matches and offering colorful analysis. 

It’s here. We’re back. Yay! See you on the sand.