In case you missed it… New Orleans delivered.
Friday saw 16 of 24 matches go to three. Saturday boasted the most hilarious (and sexy) on-count crowd contest. And Sunday gifted some insane volleyball, including victories for two of the oldest, most-seasoned veterans on Tour. Let’s get into it.
As I said, Friday in NOLA should be renamed Barn-Burner Day; everywhere we turned, games were going to three sets. Both 16-seed vs. 1-seed matches went to 3. Everyone was in full form, and I think it’s because of the theory I had when the new schedule was released.
Having the Qualifier off-site a week or more before the tournament is a massive bonus for the Qualifier teams. They have time to rest and recover. Their mentality is more prepared, having time to brace themselves for the big-name teams they’ll have to face. They even have time to scout said teams, working with coaches or on their own to capitalize on potential weaknesses. It’s a game-changer for these up-and-comers trying to breach the Main Draw.
We saw the fruit of that reality all day on Friday. Qualifier teams were giving the higher seeds a run for their money. The Match of the Day (in my opinion) was a Court 1 thriller that attracted a 5-person deep crowd where the Qualifying underdogs came out on top.
Newly matched Emily Day & Hailey Harward took on Savvy Simo & Toni Rodriguez, who Qualified via the San Antonio Feeder event the week before NOLA. The point-for-point battle (21-19, 19-21, 15-11) was ridiculously fun.
The talent and athleticism were insane, and everyone had a palpable will to win. Emily Day is one of the winningest current AVP players; Hailey is a recent USC National Champion; Toni went to LSU and grew up close by in St. Amant Louisiana; Savvy is UCLA Bruin National Champion who notched 18 kills and 23 digs that match. Every point was well-earned; all the athletes were on fire. I highly recommend going to our YouTube page and rewatching.
Though Saturday had its fair share of fun volleyball, the moment I remember most was the crowd participant kissing contest. Under the lights in New Orleans, a town known for its raucous partying, we just had to make it a little PG-13 out there. Alas – a makeout contest.
Mark Schuermann brought four couples onto the court without having told them anything, then announced their task was to kiss and then be judged by the crowd.
It was awesome.
The first couple had been married for decades and set the tone with a long, sensual smooch. The following three couples continuously upped the ante, getting progressively more scandalous. The third couple pulled a very smooth move and garnered lots of crowd approval. But in the end, the first couple won. We all love a romantic kiss. Go check it out during this match on YouTube.
The other thing I remember from the weekend was the insane support of the Louisiana fans. They had five of their own playing in the Main Draw – LSU’s Taryn Kloth, Kristen Nuss, Toni Rodriguez, and Kahlee York, plus Evan Cory from nearby Metairie on the Men’s side.
Taryn & Kristen, Team TKN, have a lot of support in most places they go. But Coconut Beach in Kenner, LA, was something else. No matter their court, a beehive of people followed and cheered them on like crazy. In their late-night Friday match against Sarah Schermerhorn & Corinne Quiggle, TKN was down 8-13 in the second set after losing the third. The crowd willed them back into it, so much so that Kristen credited them with the win on her Instagram.
The crowd also followed Kahlee, Evan, and Toni. Unfortunately, Toni’s tournament ended in injury during a much-anticipated Stadium Court match against TKN. Hoping she’s back for Hermosa because she is one of the blockers to watch. Evan Cory had a phenomenal tournament to the tune of the hometown crowd. He had the highest hitting percentage of either gender, hitting a wild .592.
The crowd was desperately pulling for a repeat AVP title for the hometown TKN Team during the Women’s Final. Kelly Cheng & Betsi Flint had other plans, however, just absolutely dominating. They were dialed in, utterly unbothered by the crowd and hungry for their first AVP win as a team, and Kelly’s first since 2017.
Kelly and Betsi hit .650 as a team, an insane and pretty much unbeatable number. They held Nuss to only 6 digs and Taryn to only 1 block. But their undeterred competitive fire is really what won the match. TKN had the whole crowd on their side, but Betsi & Kelly thrived almost as much in the politely hostile environment. I’m sure NOLA was the first of many wins for Betsi & Kelly.
The Men’s Final was one of the most fun matches I’ve seen all year. Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander have found their rhythm and were oh so good together. But you can’t count out Phil Dalhausser, especially when he’s with fellow living legend Casey Patterson. I absolutely loved watching those two play together; Casey’s celebrations were hilarious. You could just see the joy of being behind Phil after spending decades playing on the other side of the net from him.
Every single athlete played lights out in that Final. If you have the time, please rewatch the whole thing. You can thank me later.
I’m gonna drop the stat sheet below because there are too many highlights to enumerate. Just peep those 12 blocks to know how fun this entire match was.
Phil and Casey’s win was record-breaking. Phil has now won with five different partners (Todd Rogers, Sean Rosenthal, Nick Lucena, and Andy Benesh, and Casey), while Casey has won with four (Jake Gibb, Chase Budinger, Ty Loomis, and Phil).
Though it sounds like they’re not playing Hermosa together (check the post-game interview), I imagine this isn’t the last time we’ll see Phil & Casey together. As two dads on opposite sides of the country with other jobs and decades of experience, they don’t have much time to practice. But they also don’t have much need for practice. Imagine being that good.