AVP Chicago: Legends of Oak Street Beach

The Chicago AVP Championship was possibly my favorite event in my seven seasons with the AVP. After two years away, it felt good to be back on Oak Street Beach, playing under the Drake Hotel, Hancock Building, and Water Tower Place. It proved an idyllic location to bid farewell to the 2021 season – a short, sweet ride that did not disappoint. 

Chicago had moments of great joy and moving melancholy. Even with the goodbyes we said, the weekend was chock full of fun. So let’s start with some of that, albeit in a small dose, before we get to the deep and weepy stuff.

  • The record for Longest Set in Women’s AVP history was topped for the second weekend in a row, again by Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss. They previously played a 37-39 set against Sarah Sponcil and Kelley Claes in MBO 2021. This set against April Ross and Alix Klineman went 40-38, ending on a controversial setting call against Taryn/Kristen.
  • Humblebrag- Kevin Barnett informed me that Corinne Quiggle and I are the only team to have ever taken a set from the A-Team in Chicago back in 2018 (ok, not so humble). Since then, the A-Team has steamrolled the competition to THREE straight Chicago AVP Championships. I guess the only person who can stop the Gold Medalists is me. Time to get back in the gym… 
  • The partner shakeup between Troy Field and Eric Beranek proved better for both. Troy and new partner Miles Evans earned 9th place, and their final loss was in a phenomenal 3-set barnburner against Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb. Eric and partner Avery Drost also earned 9th, but they had a match point against Andy Benesh and Billy Allen. Andy and Billy (who I’m trying to dub ABBA) are Freeze kings, though. ABBA scored 3 reals in 5 serves to close out the match. 
  • Jeremy Casebeer and Tim Bomgren lived up to their potential this weekend, battling through the Contenders Bracket and getting their best finish of the year – 5th place. Their biggest win was against Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner. In this 2-set stunner, Casebeer nearly decapitated Chaim with a serve (warning: you will watch this video on loop for at least 5 minutes, so budget your time accordingly). Their losses were both to Partain and Lotman, who I’ll get to in a second. 
  • Random fun fact: Sarah Sponcil/Kelly Claes and Chaim Schalk/Theo Brunner finished the exact same in every 2021 event. 
    • 2nd in Atlanta 
    • 3rd in Manhattan Beach 
    • 7th in Chicago 
  • Terese Cannon and Molly Turner’s reunion was a successful one, setting them up for 5th place and a few impressive wins. Their only losses were to Taryn/Kristen (13-15 in the third) and Larissa/Lili. They also took down Sarah Pavan/Emily Stockman in an hour-long 3-setter. Lots of potential for these two. 
  • Paul Lotman and Miles Partain love Chicago. After earning a surprising 5th place in 2019, their 3rd-place finish this weekend is both of their best ever. Third place after having to qualify is extremely impressive (though making it to the Finals on the Women’s side seems to be commonplace in 2021). I’ll be featuring Paul and Miles in an upcoming article; just expect to hear the name Partain for years, maybe decades, to come. 

Maybe that wasn’t such a small dose, but every time I looked at my notes, there was another noteworthy mention. The names above are the ones that will carry the torch for our sport in the coming years. Now it’s time for the ones who came before, who’ve championed and bettered beach volleyball for a generation. 

Starting with the Ladies – I mentioned that this is April and Alix’s third-straight Chicago win. It’s also their third-straight tournament win, including the Olympics. These ladies haven’t dropped an AVP match since Waikiki 2019. They’re on fire and not apologizing for it, this time winning the Final against fellow superstar Larissa and her partner Lili in 2 sets, 21-16, 21-18. 

But the fact that Larissa and Lili were even in the Finals is wild. After qualifying on Thursday and losing their first game on Friday, Lili and Larissa battled through the Contenders Bracket all weekend and notched 10 matches over 4 days. They took down big names like Brandie Wilkerson/Sara Hughes (for the second weekend in a row) and Kelley Kolinske/Zana Muno. 

Lili took nearly every serve all weekend, taking 228 attempts and putting down 115 kills in the Main Draw. Though they lost in the Finals, the Brazilian wives and moms looked elated to be there – pumping the crowd up during the match, celebrating with the A-Team afterward, and generally thriving on a beach volleyball court. Can’t wait to see more of these ladies. 

We won’t be seeing two things again: Phil Dalhausser versus Jake Gibb, and Phil and Nick Lucena as a team. Phil announced that while they may be continuing in the AVP, they won’t be playing together. No love lost; they’re just moving into the next phase of their careers. And while we’ll get more of Phil, we’ll never see anything like him against Jake again. I’m honored to have witnessed the last one live.

Phil and Jake’s 114th and final matchup occurred late on Sunday evening. During their warmup, the players established a unique vibe upfront with a 3 v. 3 short-court game featuring all four players and their coaches playing together. Nick skyballed the first serve. DJ Roueche played Baby Shark after Phil stuff-blocked a ball. The guys were joking across the net and seemed genuinely honored to be sharing the court with each of the other three men. 

Jake got the final W of this decades-long rivalry, finishing in 2 sets, 21-17, 21-19. The last point was a collision-turned-hug between Jake and Nick. Though the level of play was as elevated as always, Chase Frishman put it perfectly in his Instagram post – it looked like neither team had the heart to put each other away. 

We then got Jake Gibb’s final match ever, a loss to his former partner Casey Patterson. Jake and Taylor’s hug after the match was epically long and heartfelt. Their love and gratitude were palpable – everyone from the stands to the DJ Booth was teary-eyed. Before the Men’s Final, Jake got one last intro from former Announcer and great friend Geeter and a beautiful tribute video from the AVP. So moved he could barely thank the crowd, we all got to applaud and watch as Jake stepped off the sand for the final time.