AVP Gold Series Atlanta Open Day 1: A Day of Upsets

It’s our first tournament back, and things are getting crazy. We had three monumental upsets today. Kids were besting their childhood idols and racking up extremely meaningful wins. 

First, the #16-seed David “aka DR aka Doc” Vander Meer and Michael “Big Mike” Groselle beat #1-seed Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. Phil and Nick have been playing since DR and Mike were 10 years old. They no doubt grew up watching them. And in Mike’s first-ever AVP Main Draw match, he blocked Nick for the win.

Usually, the first match out of the Qualifier is brutal. After three battles the day before, it’s hard to summon the energy needed to beat the top 4 seeds. But DR and Mike came out with nothing to lose. They won the first 21-19 by staying steady and playing solid defense. Fans thought they were done after losing big in the second (13-21), but they kept the score close in the third until they pulled away. Groselle fell to the sand in celebration after stuff blocking Lucena to win the match 15-11. He played a stellar defensive game with 5 terminal blocks and 1 controlled block while Vander Meer had 10 digs.

This is DR and Big Mike’s first tournament together. DR is no stranger to the AVP, having made the Main Draw for the first time in 2018 with Troy Field. His dad is also an AVP ref, so DR grew up around the game. DR is known for his luscious locks (which are truly stunning) and athleticism. At only 5’9″, it’s incredible how he can fly over the net. His partner Mike is a different story, playing in his first Main Draw after a few years of trying to qualify. I’m sure he was surprised by his first win, but their second was almost more surprising.

A few hours after beating Phil and Nick, DR and Mike won again on Stadium Court against Troy Feild and Eric Beranek. Both teams are young and a little unconventional. What they lack in pristine skill and experience they make up for in raw athleticism. Troy and Eric seemed like a more seasoned version of DR and Mike, but they couldn’t get the win. DR and Mike won in straight sets, sending them to the Winner’s Semi and a guaranteed 5th place. Congrats, guys.

The next two upsets came back-to-back on Stadium Court. Qualifiers Megan Kraft and Savvy Simo took down Tokyo Olympians Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes in three. Set during the heat of the day, the current Trojan Kraft and Bruin Simo looked solid against the alumni Trojan Claes and Bruin Sponcil. Both teams played well, notching similar stats. The youngsters just looked a little fresher and pulled ahead in the end to win 15-10.  

Kraft has made the Main Draw a few times before, having a breakout tournament in Hermosa 2019 with Delaynie Maple. Kraft is only 18, but she’s a National Champ with USC and has now taken down one of the best teams in the world. Simo is playing in her first Main Draw, but she’s made a name for herself as a spunky and solid defender in the beach volleyball world. 

Next up on the upset list was Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, who defeated #3-seed Brandie Wilkerson and Sarah Hughes, 21-19, 21-12. This undefeated duo from LSU looked so comfortable with each other and on Stadium Court. I mean, they should be. They were 36-0 at LSU this season. They’re the best team in NCAA beach volleyball, and they’re looking like one of the best teams on the AVP Tour as well. Expect great things from this team. They’re so fun to watch and consistently excellent. 

They also took down Molly Turner and Terese Cannon in a three-set barn burner late on Friday night. This was technically an upset, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised at any team Kloth/Nuss beat. If you haven’t seen this team in action, make sure to check them out. They have a bright future in the sport, and I bet they’ll be on our beach for years to come.

I have a theory about why these college girls are so good and so deliciously disruptive on Tour. Yes – they have excellent coaching every day. Their court vision and skill set are way beyond their years. Did you notice almost all of the NCAA players hand set? That’s because they took the time with a coach to get better at it. And they were allowed to fail. So often, in practice with pros, you’re not given the chance to try try try again. And naturally, the extra years of playing help, with most of these college players having started much younger than older pros on Tour. 

But I think college players’ greatest advantage over the rest of us is learning how to win. They have so many chances to compete when there is moderate but not all-encompassing pressure. Winning on Tour is the difference between contributing to your Roth IRA or not. Winning in college is still important as you contribute to the team, but the stakes are lower. 

These girls have ample chances to win and lose, giving them more poise on the court than us old folks over here. Nuss and Kloth were 36-0, but they had 36 matches during competition. That’s like 7 AVP tournaments if you win every single match. That’s a lot, and much more than most athletes.

These girls have ample chances to win and lose, giving them more poise on the court than we old folks over here. Nuss and Kloth were 36-0, but they had 36 matches during competition. That’s like 7 AVP tournaments if you win every single match. That’s a lot, and much more than most athletes. 

Because of this familiarity with competition, they seemed to be more comfortable when down a few points. Simo and Kraft were very composed in their third sets, even when they lost in the second round to Sarah Schermhorn and Megan Rice. And Nuss and Kloth looked like they expected to be in the driver’s seat the whole time, which they were. I never saw them get frazzled. 

It also seems that the teams who went to Tokyo are struggling a bit to get into it. Not sure if it’s the jetlag, heat, exhaustion, emotion, or the myriad other things it could be. They’re some of the best athletes on Tour, though, so I expect a total reboot tomorrow.

With one exception, because here’s the sad part of the article: we had two premature withdrawals today. Phil had a family emergency and is headed home. Allie Wheeler also suffered an injury and is out for the weekend. We wish them both the best and hope to see them back on our beach soon.