2021 AVP Gold Series MBO: Qualifier Recap & Main Draw Preview

Qualifier Phase 1 ✅

Pier Ceremony ✅

Qualifier Phase 2 ✅

And now we’re ready to rock and roll. 

We have our Friday first-round matchups after the eight Quali teams were seeded into the Main Draw (see who qualified here and brackets here).

Note: Kelley Kolinske, after a week of hoping to be healed for MBO, officially dropped from the tournament. We wish her well with her injury and look forward to seeing Geena Urango and Falyn Fanoimoana together once again. Crissy Jones also dropped due to an injury; partner Zana Muno picked up Game-To-Get-In loser, and fellow Bruin, Savvy Simo. They’re both classic defenders, so expect a lot of digs from team UCLA. 

Lexy Denaburg and Maria Clara Salgado qualified for the second time in a row against one of Lexy’s best friends and teammates at UCLA, Savvy Simo, and her partner Abby Van Winkle. They technically were the Lucky Losers in Atlanta, but they won their first Main Draw match against Kelly Reeves and Karissa Cook, proving they belong in the Main Draw. 

I spoke with Maria and Lexy after they qualified–they both very sweetly credited the win to the other person. Maria calls Lexy a “stud” and says she’s “super proud of her, and I know we can do great things together.” 

Lexy says, “The best thing about our partnership is we’re super straightforward with what we want. We’ve established that’s the quickest way to get better. We haven’t practiced that long, but that’s why we’ve progressed a lot faster.”

“Even though I’m 18 years older than her,” Maria says, “I don’t feel that old. And she’s mature for her age, so we meet in between.” Maria is 38 and Lexy, 20. Maria’s age doesn’t matter. After trailing most of the first set, she turned up at 19-19 to score two reals and then dominated the second set. They qualified with a 21-19. 21-17 win over Savvy and Abby. 

After securing 5th place in Atlanta, David Vander Meer and Mike Groselle lost in the Game-To-Get-In to Andrew Dentler and Jon Ferrari. David and Mike won the first and looked good to win the second. That is until Andrew and Jon went on a late run to wrap the second 21-17, and then carried that momentum into the third. Jon was on fire, digging everything like it was a cooperative drill. He qualified for only his third AVP with a 15-7 victory and is no doubt on Cloud 9. 

One of the most star-studded Games to Get In wasn’t because of the players, but the coaches. Legends Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos were coaching Hagen Smith and partner Robbie Page in the final round of the Quali. On the other side, longtime rival and Olympic Silver Medalist Mike Dodd coached their opponents, Sean Cook and David Lee. Hagen and Robbie won in the end, nabbing a two-set victory 21-19, 21-17. Robbie, who used to be a staple on the AVP, hasn’t played since 2016. Hagen, with humongous shoes to fill, has a solid coaching staff in his box this weekend. Can’t wait to see what those two do. 

In a 24-team Draw, as MBO 2021 is, the top eight teams get a bye in the first round. Seeds 9 through 24 play each other (9 v. 24; 10 v. 23; etc.). The top 8 seeds will then play the winner of those matches. The losers go to the Contenders Bracket and sit the second round out. The winners of the second round move on through the Winners Bracket (of course). The losers play the losers of the first round. Winners move on; losers go home. 

Twenty-four team draws are great for the top 8 seeds. They’re a little more challenging for the lower seeds. But it’s all a part of paying your dues. Gotta beat the big dogs if you wanna move up the ladder. 

Lucky for them, and for all of us, the weather this weekend is set to be absolutely perfect. It’s normal for Manhattan Beach temperatures to hit the mid-80s in August, and the sand can be wickedly hot. This weekend, however, won’t get above 71, with clear skies and plenty of sunshine. Prepare for a gorgeous weekend—weather, scenery, people, and plays. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m stoked for Ricardo and John Hyden. Two of the oldest players in the game with so much left to give. They’re both so comfortable with volleyball and the big stage; I think they’ll go far. They’re up first on Stadium Court, so get there early to stake out your spot. 

Another team to watch out for is Nick Lucena and TJ DeFalco. Phil is home with family for personal reasons, so Nick picked up the young indoor Olympian to make a run at the 2021 MBO. TJ grew up playing beach, but he’s been dedicated to indoor for the last decade-plus. His arm swing is crazy fast; I watched him demolish some hits in practice on Thursday. His hand sets are clean and plenty high for Nick. And he’s a volleyball talent for the age. But indoor and beach are very different; TJ will need to make smart pulls, run up to the net to block, and adjust his offense. The beach court is 8×8 meters instead of the 9×9 meters used indoors. That’s a big difference when you’re accustomed to going for the lines. 

We’re likely to see more up-and-comers do well on the Women’s side. Of course, Kloth and Nuss were the talk of Atlanta. Will they be able to put up a similar showing in Manhattan? Wild Cards Megan Kraft and Tina Graudina also have a lot of hype to their names. The USC Trojans and National Champions were the Pac-12 ‘Pair of the Year.’ Tina recently earned 5th place for Latvia in the Olympics. This will be her first AVP, but her 18-year-old partner Megan has become an AVP regular of late. The sky is the limit for these youngsters. 

But let’s not forget our Olympians or defending MBO Champs. Canadians and Women’s Reigning Champs cannot play this year, which makes Tokyo Gold Medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman the most recent winners (and runners-up). Alix, who grew up just a few blocks from Stadium Court, is fresh and ready to reclaim her name on the Pier. And of course, April is April. She’s always poised to win. 

Jake Gibb is looking to secure his name on the Pier with partner Taylor Crabb. Taylor would be Jake’s fourth partner he’d win an MBO with—an impressive feat and a great way to end his career. These guys want it bad—and when they want something, we’ve seen them do epic things. 

Taylor’s brother Trevor is the current reigning champ, however, and he’s ready for a repeat. His 2019 partner Reid Priddy is out for the season, so Trevor alone will go for back-to-back plaques. This time, it’ll be with his buddy and regular partner, Tri Bourne. Trevor and Tri were loads of fun in Atlanta—I’m lowkey hoping for a #CrabbBoil in the Finals. 

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