Chicago never disappoints.
The Windy City is so named for a myriad of reasons – weather, politics, corruption, etc. But for the AVP, the unpredictable windiness typically means upsets, three-setters, and history-making. Oak Street Beach holds as the location of the youngest Winners (Sarah Hughes/Kelly Claes Cheng in 2017) and the oldest AVP Champion (John Hyden that same year). The 2022 Chicago Gold Series proved just as thrilling.
The weekend’s first match at 8:00 am on Friday morning was the longest third set in AVP history. Newly-formed team Sarah Pavan and Tina Graudina won 33-31 over Carly Kan and Kaitlyn Malaney. That thrilling match set the tone for the weekend, especially on the Women’s side. But we’ll get to them in a minute.
Underdogs ruled part of the Men’s side while the Crabb brothers (and their partners) ruled the rest. Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend shocked everyone on Friday by taking down ultra-steady Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner. They then had an epic three-setter against Taylors Crabb and Sander, losing 15-17 in the third. Heartbreaker. But that 5th-place finish is both Brewster and Friend’s best ever. Heck of a way to end their summer season.
The other Cinderella story came from #16-seeded Jake Dietrich and Hagen Smith. This duo emerged on the scene earlier in Hermosa, earning 5th place from two huge Stadium Court upsets. In Chicago, they did the opposite, losing their first and clawing through the Contender’s Bracket. Four wins against the 8, 9, 10, and 11 seeds landed them in the Semifinals. Their final surge almost landed them in the Top 6 for the Road to Phoenix. We’ll get into the Phoenix Championships later.
But now for the Crabbs. For the first time, Crabb/Bourne and Crabb/Sander were set to face each other in the Finals. And they did so without losing a match.
A Crabb Boil is always a good time, but the Finals raise the stakes even higher. Before Chicago, Taylor had the advantage 9-7 over Trevor. He and Sander were finding their stride, looking very confident and powerful together. But Trevor and Tri were coming off a big win in MBO. And don’t even get me started on their confidence level…
With a packed Stadium and steady rainfall, two of the best teams on Tour put everything they had into the match. Really recommend watching this one; I couldn’t even begin to do their arm swings and trash talk justice.
The Taylors started strong, keeping a lead until 17-15. It was then that Tri/Trevor surged back, going on a 6-1 run to win 21-18. In the second, both teams hit lights out, notching only 1 error per team and hitting over .550. Stats aside, Taylor and Taylor eeked that second set out 21-19, and gave us all what we wanted: overtime.
The third was a point-for-point spectacle. Everyone was ripping their serves, touching the sand before block jumps, and laying out for digs. Taylor and Taylor had the first match point up 14-13, and everyone thought this may be their time. But Tri and Trevor prevailed once again, earning 5 points to the Taylors’ 2. They took the Chicago Finals 18-16 with a Trevor Crabb stuff block.
The overall score between the brothers is now 9-8 in favor of Taylor. Still, Trevor has eliminated Taylor 6 times while Taylor has only eliminated Trevor 5 times. Plus – Trevor has 3 wins this year and 3 MBO titles, neither of which Taylor can claim. Will the scale soon tilt in Trevor’s direction? Or are the Taylors ready to start their reign of terror? We’ll find out in Phoenix, as both teams have solidified their spot.
Speaking of solidifying a spot – Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss must have taken the “Control Your Own Destiny” graphic to heart. Team TKN heard they needed to win Chicago to guarantee and spot in Phoenix. Then they went and did it (Taryn realized it mid-Winner’s interview; it was adorable).
But before we get there, we have to get into how Kloth/Nuss got to the Finals. They had one of the most epic runs to victory I’ve seen in a while. First – they took down Em Day and Savvy Simo in two, winning the second 28-26. Then they beat eventual finalists Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson handily, 21-18, 21-15.
Their Saturday match against Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil was one of my favorites of the year. Though they lost 19-21, 21-18, 18-20, Nuss notched 31 digs while Kloth had 3 terminal and 9 controlled block touches. ‘Twas an epic match that really should be revisited.
And while you’re at it, go ahead and watch Kloth/Nuss’s THREE MORE three-set matches on Sunday. Actually – all five Women’s matches went to three on Sunday. Everyone wanted that final summer season trophy.
Kloth/Nuss spent Saturday and Sunday on Stadium Court, which has strangely been a rarity this season. They stepped up big time, taking down Sarah Pavan/Tina Graudina 17-15 in the third, then Betsi Flint/Kelly Cheng 25-23 in the third (!!).
The TKN crowd wrapped around the stadium, echoing chants in their matching purple shirts. Chicago was basically a hometown crowd for the Louisianans, a fact that powered the LSU Tigers throughout the rainy day.
After winning two grueling Sunday morning matches, TKN was set to face Melissa and Brandie once again.
With only five practices before Chicago, the extra Contender’s Bracket matches actually made the Canadians better. Melissa and Brandie needed reps together, so their loss in the second round gave them exactly what they needed. By the time they reached the Finals, they were a different team than TKN had seen earlier in the tournament.
A note on Melissa and Brandie – they both represented Canada in the 2020 Olympics, but on different teams. Melissa and longtime AVP and FIVB partner Sarah Pavan had signed up for Chicago with different people, sending the rumor mill churning. Sarah entered with Latvia’s Tina Graudina and Melissa with Brandie. Everyone began asking – “Are they broken up?” “Is Melissa playing with Brandie on the FIVB now?”
Days before Chicago, we got the answer to one of those via Instagram. Yes – Sarah and Melissa are broken up. After five years, they decided to part ways. It’s an interesting time, as Olympic qualification is right around the corner. Volleyball Canada is a little up in the air with their top team separated. And with Melissa and Brandie’s Chicago partnership, things got even juicier. There has been no announcement of whether they are truly a new thing or not (Brandie’s current FIVB partner is Sophie Bukovec), but time will tell.
ANYWAY… back to the AVP.
Heading into the Finals, Melissa and Brandie were a different beast than they were on Friday. As two of the literal best players in the World (Melissa is a 2019 World Champion, and Brandie just won Silver at this year’s World Champs), they could have easily taken that Final.
But Kloth and Nuss didn’t care how good their opponents were. They played better. Nuss put up 25 digs, besting arguably the best defender in the world in MHP by 4 digs. Kloth hit .700, notching 15 kills and only 1 error.
Stats aside, I’d argue that the two matches before helped TKN become the first Women’s team in 2022 to win two events. In both of their first matches, Kloth/Nuss got way down. Obviously, they then rallied to win in three sets.
The same happened in the Finals. They were down 4-0 to start, which isn’t irredeemable, but it is scary against such formidable foes. Instead of looking stressed or nervous, the two reconnected and laughed between the 4th and 5th points. Their easy confidence laid the foundation to rally. They took that first set 21-18.
Kloth was also a beast in the third, playing a near-perfect set. She had 4 kills on 5 attempts with 0 errors and put up 3 stuff blocks. Clutch play by the blocker granted both the all-important win and a berth into Phoenix. Not a bad rainy Sunday in the Windy City.
I know everyone is curious about Phoenix, as am I. Details are still being sorted. With nothing to report, I suggest staying tuned to our newsletter and Instagram.