After months of tournament play and preparation, the AVP Pros touched down in the Windy City with polished skills, weathered calluses and garnered experiences. The events that unfolded in the proceeding days would bring new records and champions for nearly 47,000 fans to witness on Oak Street Beach.

Thursday morning brought with it wind, waves and hopes of taking home bragging rights for the final AVP tournament of the season. Dutifully, the Windy City lived up to its name with 20 mile-per-hour winds and waves that spilled onto the AVP courts. Ninety men’s teams and 52 women’s took to the sand this weekend knowing the stakes were higher with the Gold Series increase in both purse and points.

Coming off their second Manhattan Beach Open win to claim the “SoCal slam” (Huntington Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach), No. 1 women’s ranked Brittany Hochevar and Emily Day used that momentum to propel them into Saturday’s Elimination Rounds.

The No. 12 recent USC alums Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes began what would become a streak of surprises and upsets when they took on the strong No. 5 team of Kim DiCello and Emily Stockman—winning in three sets.

Meanwhile, coming out of Thursday’s Qualifier, the No. 22 team of Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough made a dent early in the Main Draw by taking down the experienced duo of both No. 11 Amanda Dowdy & Irene Pollock and No. 6 ranked Lane Carico & Alix Klineman.

All top eight ranked men’s teams made it through to Saturday’sElimination Rounds. Fan favorites and recent Manhattan Beach Open men’s winners, No. 1 ranked Phil Dalhausser and teammate Nick Lucena were warmly welcomed by the afternoon crowd and cheered on as they beat No. 16 Mark Burik and Adam Roberts to advance.

Saturday’s Elimination Rounds of the AVP Gold Series Championships attracted a sold-out crowd and the toughest beach volleyball competitors as they moved one step closer to the AVP Championship title. Injuries plagued athletes and upsets dominated both men’s and women’s competition, building anticipation for Chicagoans, ‘The Wannabees’ and entourages alike.

In front of a packed house, Midwest favorite and Notre Dame alumni No. 7 Ryan Doherty with partner John Hyden upset both the No. 2 pair of Trevor Crabb & Sean Rosenthal, and No. 3 Taylor Crabb & Jake Gibb. Earlier in the Crabb/Gibb match, a heated response by Doherty to a contested official call led to a yellow card. In the end, the duo successfully sent their higher ranked opponents down to the Contender’s Bracket.

No. 1 ranked Dalhausser/ Lucena took on the No. 8 team of Jeremy Casebeer and John Mayer. The animated and powerful skills executed by Casebeer/Mayer dominated the match, and handedly displaced the reigning Dalhausser/Lucena to the Contender’s Bracket after just two sets.

In the last match of the day, Casebeer/Mayer played against crowd favorites No. 4 Stafford Slick and partner Billy Allen. With cowbells cheering them into the evening, the Midwestern native Slick, who was coming off an oblique injury sustained earlier in the season, fought off a motivated Casebeer at the net. However, Casebeer/Mayer won the match to advance in a decisive two-set victory.

No. 1 women’s seeded Hochevar/Day set out to continue their season dominance on stadium court, but not without a good fight from the recent USC grads, No. 12 ranked team of Claes/Hughes. In the continuing theme of the day, the match pushed to three sets with both teams initially displaying a calm intensity, while later a visibly frustrated Hochevar paced the court with every point relegated to the other team. Ultimately, Hughes/Claes secured their win in the longest match of the day (almost doubling the time of a normal match at 1.5 hours): 21-17, 21-23, 18-16.

Then came Sunday. A day that simultaneously served as the final day of the AVP Gold Series Championships and a day that concluded the 2017 AVP season. Chicago’s famous Gold Coast became a venue of fans donning every shade of gold while sold-out crowds arrived hours early to watch the action-packed Quarterfinal, Semifinal and Final matches.

The Chicago storybook ending resulted in an intense day as Notre Dame alumni and former pro baseball pitcher Ryan “Avatar” Doherty and partner John “H-Bomb” Hyden, who became the oldest athlete to ever win an AVP title at 44-years-old, defeated the dominant duo of Phil “The Thin Beast” Dalhausser and Nick “The Quick” Lucena. On the women’s side, 21-year-old Kelly Claes and 22-year-old Sara Hughes became the youngest combined team to ever win an AVP title.

The men’s finals showcased the undefeated No. 7 Doherty/Hyden against No. 1 Dalhausser/Lucena to a packed stadium court. An equally skilled match-up, the momentum bounced back and forth in a game of tug-of-war at the net, with Dalhausser and Doherty battling at the net block for block. Ultimately, Doherty/Hyden clinched the win with two game-changing blocks by Doherty that sealed their victory with the typical serious and intense Hyden falling to his knees out of uncontrollable joy and raw emotion.

The women’s finals featured Ross/Sweat against the undefeated Claes/Hughes. Claes/Hughes in their perfectly choreographed plays made quick work of Sweat/Ross from the first set with superior communication, Hughes’ impressive coverage of the court and Claes’ dominating blocking skills at the net. The duo scooped up the win in the second set, making this their first finals career victory and becoming the youngest women’s team in AVP history to win a final.

As we bid adieu to what was conceivably the best AVP season on record, we already have our eyes fixed on the 2018 season—a season that will undoubtedly bring tougher competition, higher stakes, and elevated experiences across all beaches we touch. Thank you to everyone involved for making this season all it was and let our final days in Chicago be a humble reminder of all it can be. #AVPStrong.