AVP Chicago: Saying Goodbye, Breakup Drama, & Stacked Qualifiers

We’ve come to the final stop. It’s my favorite. It’s Chicago AVP. And it’s here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this off by explaining the gravity of this tournament.

AVP Chicago is 4-time Olympian and defending AVP Chicago Champ Jake Gibb’s final tournament. I can’t believe I just typed that. He’s won 34 AVP titles, played in about a million, and only one remains. Emotions are high for all of us, and I’m sure most so for Jake and partner Taylor Crabb. Will Jake go out on top, putting the bow on his storied career with a victory and an impressive three-peat AVP Chicago Championship?

Not if his longtime rivals and Olympic counterparts have anything to say about it. Phil Dalhausser is back after withdrawing from Atlanta and MBO due to a family matter. He and Nick Lucena are playing maybe the final tournament together of their lauded careers. Though they’ve retired from international play, there’s always a chance they’ll keep playing the AVP in the coming years. I hope so, because I’m not ready to say goodbye.

In the shadows of Midwestern skyscrapers over Oak Street Beach, we’ll all witness the final moments of an era. These three men have been at the forefront of American beach volleyball for two decades. We’re all just gonna have to take this weekend one match at a time, soaking in the final moments of our beach volleyball titans. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Okay, now for the rest of their competition and the ladies.

With only three tournaments this year, you’d have thought the athletes would lock down a partner and stick it out. They all took me for a loop, though (a Chicago Loop, if you will), breaking up and getting back together like an episode of Bachelor in Paradise. Chicago is no different; the Entry List shocked and delighted fans as they imagined how each new team would adjust and deliver in Chicago.

The Women’s side is completely upside down. Canadian Olympian Sarah Pavan is back on our beach and partnering up with good friend Emily Stockman. Her usual partner Melissa Humana-Paredes is still in Canada, so Sarah wisely snagged an excellent defender in Emily. They’re also buddies who shared the same coach for years, so they’re likely to play a similar system and have established communication. I expect their honeymoon phase to be idyllic for all of us (well, except for their opponents).

Kelley Larsen, Emily’s former partner for years, has returned after a knee injury. She picked up Zana Muno (whose usual partner, Crissy Jones, is out for Chicago). I like this duo – they’re both fast and dynamic on offense. Kelley has this angle hit from the left side that blows my mind every time she does it; it’s cut shot placement but with the force of a thousand hammers. And Zana’s layout, impossible-looking digs are going to provide them with ample defensive opportunities.

Molly Turner and Terese Cannon are back after a disappointing Manhattan Beach Open apart. Neither earned better than 13th place, but if they capitalize on that 3rd-place feeling from their last tournament together in Atlanta, then we’re in for a good time. I really love this team; they’re both so nice and fun in real life and fierce competitors on the court. Also, Molly is from Chicago, so you know she’s bringing that hometown energy to Oak Street Beach.

The Women’s Qualifier is stacked, once again. Kim Hildreth and Katie Hogan are the #1-seed, having been ousted by Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss officially assuming their rightful spot in the Main Draw. They, along with Sheila Shaw and Kenzie Ponnet, are playing in their first Quali of the year.  All four are Quali vets and are more than capable of retaking their Main Draw spot.

Maria Clara Salgado, who qualified with Lexy Denaburg in the first two 2021 events, is playing with Jess Gaffney. Lexy, a current UCLA Bruin, headed back to school, but Jess is a great replacement. The Quali also has MBO 3rd-place finishers Larissa and Lili, Geena Urango and Falyn Fanoimoana, and an array of other fantastic teams. It’ll be a bloodbath tomorrow on North Avenue Beach, just a stone’s throw from the Main Draw courts at Oak Street. I can’t wait.

Back to the breakup drama. The biggest shakeup on the Men’s side was Troy Field and Eric Beranek parting ways. These two spent their entire offseason training as a team; the two best friends seemingly did everything together. But their two disappointing finishes in Atlanta and Manhattan Beach wore down their once-promising partnership. They split, but both picked up excellent options.

Troy and Miles Evans paired up, and their practice footage on Instagram looks awesome. They’re pulling funky plays left and right, so much so that they posted polls on whether moves are legal or not (one was; one was definitely not). They’re keeping it weird.

Eric picked up Avery Drost, a seasoned blocker who has Championship Sunday experience. I haven’t seen them play yet, but both are never-give-up, nonstop athletes. I imagine they’ll have some fun defensive plays of their own. Avery brings veteran energy, which may just be exactly what Eric needs.

Praying now for those two teams to play each other. You heard it here, folks.

Other notable mentions are Piotr Marciniak and Chase Frishman. They’re the 2-seed in the Qualifier and have a lot of potential to make it. Mark Burik is out, and his former partner Cody Caldwell picked up a very dynamic blocker in Dave Palm. Indoor Olympian David Lee and Kyle Friend are making a run in Chicago, and they, too, have a lot of promise. Honestly – the Men’s Quali is wide open, too, packed with a bunch of crazy good teams. Perfect… just how I like it.

The Qualifier is off and running, with the first round of athletes fighting to get to Oak Street Beach. Check the results tonight and follow all the action of the second round tomorrow at avp.com/brackets.