Best Offensive Player is a harder award to grant than Top Blockers. Blocks can be boiled down to stats with some occasional nuance like space-taking and the way a good block forces errors or improves a defender’s game. Offensive prowess and presence are supported by stats, but there are multiple other factors that contribute to great offensive performances.
Take Phil for instance – he’s probably the best offensive player in the game. But teams play keep-away from him, always trying to shovel the ball to his partner, Nick. Nick has more than 12 attempts per set, which is among the highest of all AVP Men. That’s because he gets nearly every serve and free ball (and is a stellar defender so he has ample chances to attempt a kill in transition).
So – as you can see – there’s a lot that goes into crowning the “best.” I’ll have to put my analyst hat on here and float some names that (IMO) transcend their stats. Those athletes that show up and you know they’re not getting served, truly dominant offensive presences on Tour.
For the women, the first thought that came to my head is Kelly Claes. Though she isn’t the most precise (at .450 hitting percentage, she’s 5th on the list and .126 behind April), Kelly has so many weapons. When she’s on, she can slam the ball down the middle or place a perfect high line. Her small pokes over the net on 2 are lethal, these tiny movements that barely clear the net and frustrate the crap out of the defense. Those precise placements keep the defense guessing – they always have to be ready for a short ball, long ball, or for Kelly to set Sarah for a classic attack. It’s really confusing and hard to adjust. Ergo – great offensive performance.
But not the best.
Taryn Kloth, one of the two Rookie of Year shoe-ins, could also be considered the best. In her 40 sets this season (read: a lot more than everyone else), she hit .528. More than half the time Taryn took a swing this season, she earned a point. That consistency for such a green player is innnnnsane. The only player who did better than her is April Ross (and only by .04). And April played in just half the number of sets that Taryn did. To maintain that percentage through 40 sets, two of which were the longest sets in Women’s history, is next-level offensive prowess.
Is it the best? Maybe.
But we can’t count out Queen April. She had the best hitting percentage of the year at .532. This is an impressive number in general, but when you consider she stayed in the Winners Bracket the entire tournament, it’s even more so. April only played against the best of the best this year. Everyone comes out strong against them, hoping to dethrone the Gold Medalists. Teams really bring it against the A-Team because there’s nothing to lose.
No matter how well other teams play, April is April. She can completely turn a game around with her mind. There’s a switch (is she a robot?) that she flips, just a mode that can only be described as “beast.” When she wants to, April can score a point on anyone. She has every tool in the box – hard angle, high line, sharp cutty, poke over the block. Her vision is unrivaled; just watch her eyes after she passes – scanning the court and mapping out her attack placement. It’s a work of art. That’s why, even with the youngsters on her tail, April Ross is my pick for Best Offensive Player of 2021.
The Men’s pick evades me.
Theo Brunner, my hands-down Best Blocker of 2021, has the best hitting percentage of the year at .535. That’s awesome. But his presence isn’t as domineering or menacing, and in my mind, the fear of an opponents’ offense is just as important as the offense itself. Theo’s not dropping bombs. He’s wisely cutting up the defender and placing the ball on the sand, but he’s not scaring anyone. At least I don’t think so.
Troy Field is 2nd on the hitting percentage list at .512. He’s definitely dropping bombs, hitting balls with incredible force and trajectory. Troy is an undersized blocker at 6’4”, but his roughly 40-inch vertical gives him more height than many other players that have 2-3 inches on him. He also cleaned up his offense from years past. When Troy was new to the beach, he would receive all the serves because he was bound to accumulate a few errors. This year was different, as his overall percentage indicates. Kills were high; errors were low.
I have to mention John Hyden, too, because he really impressed me this year. John is 48; he has more than a decade on most of his opponents. He also gets served nearly every single ball because opponents try to tire him out. It doesn’t really work though, because John is a side-out machine. In his hour-and-37-minute-long match, he had 69 attempts and 41 kills. And in all that swinging, he still hit .493. By the way – 69 attempts equal 24% of John’s total attempts on the season. In that one match. How did his arm not fall off? Let alone notch 41 kills. Bananas.
So while Hyden may have earned my favorite offensive performance of the season, I’m struggling to dub an official best Offensive Player as a whole. Normally it’s easily Phil for the reasons I mentioned up top. This season, Phil only played one full tournament, 12 sets total. That’s not enough to take the crown.
So who gets it? Theo for the best? Troy for the flare? John Hyden for the consistency? Phil because he’s Phil? Or a dark horse – maybe a Taylor Crabb because of his whippy arm swing or Casey for his sheer number of attempts (559, almost 100 more than 2nd place)?
That’s it – I’m taking Hyden. Because whether or not he’s statistically the best, he’s the most impressive. If any of these guys are still putting up numbers like his when they’re 48, then I’ll give them an award, too. My awards are like the points in “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” anyway. They’re made up and don’t matter, but they’re still fun.
Did I miss someone? Who do you think was the best of the year? Let’s talk about it on the @avpbeach Instagram.