Apparently, the hustle does not take time off for the holidays.
We had a couple of big shakeups on the Men’s side late in 2022, just as the Women’s side was settling into their new top partnerships. And we got to follow along with all the drama via Instagram. Specifically – Theo Brunner’s ever-entertaining page.
On December 21, Brunner posted a series of pictures on his Instagram story – a couple of Chaim Schalk and him, one of him alone, and then a broken heart emoji. Not hard to read into that. The next day, Tri Bourne and Schalk posted that they’re partnering up for the AVP and FIVB Tours.
While Brunner may have been heartbroken, he’s been in the game long enough to understand the drill. Most breakups aren’t personal; they’re business. Although Schalk and Brunner finished 4th at World Champs and entered most AVP tournaments as the 1 or 2 seed this year, they have not won as much as they wanted. They made four Finals in 2022 and only won one. They had a disappointing and early finish in Central Florida (though rumors were they had barely trained due to a persisting illness). The two are still tight and respect each other, but the partnership seemed to have timed out.
Bourne and Trevor Crabb may be a bit more surprising change, but in the end, Bourne’s departure also makes sense. Bourne/Crabb were the undisputed AVP Team of the Year, with three wins in 2022. But internationally, they didn’t do much. Their initial pairing in 2018, when Bourne returned to the beach after 18 months of battling an autoimmune disease, wasn’t necessarily meant to become a 5-season partnership and Olympic run. But their success and chemistry were undeniable.
Now, with the Paris 2024 Olympic Qualification period about to begin, the last-minute scramble to find your best fit is real. Bourne and Schalk have publicly agreed their new partner’s work ethic was one of the biggest draws. That may mean they didn’t see that work ethic in their former partners; I wonder if their words had anything to do with what followed.
The shunned partners, Brunner and Trevor Crabb, went to the drawing board quickly, both wanting to secure a new partner. I was inwardly hoping for a straight-up switcheroo, and three days after Christmas, we got it. Brunner again took to social media, posting a picture of Darth Vader and then a handshake emoji. Message received: Brunner is going to the dark side, a.k.a. he is pairing up with AVP bad boy Trevor Crabb. While Brunner and Crabb have always had contentious and hilarious banter via social media, they both affirm that they do actually like each other. We’ll see how that fire translates on the court; it could be exactly what they need, or it could be explosive in a not so great way. Either way, it’ll be fun for us fans.
I’ll get into these two new teams’ styles of play and potential soon. For now, I’m just dreaming of their first matchup when we’re going to get a lot of trash talk.
In case you missed it, Andy Benesh and Miles Partain are also a sure thing. The duo won their first international event in Dubai last fall. They look so solid together; their partnership has a ton of potential on our beach and abroad.
The Women were a little less dramatic with their partnership switches. Even the Cheng/Hughes revival was straightforward and without much fallout. It did set off a chain reaction of switch-ups, though, making me really excited for 2023.
Betsi Flint picked up AVP Atlanta Champ Julia Scoles. They earned a Silver Medal (losing to Cheng/Hughes in the Final) in their first FIVB event together late last year. Not a bad start for this brand-new team.
Hughes’ former partner Kelley Kolinske recently announced her partnership with Ft. Lauderdale AVP Champ Hailey Harward. It’s great to see two Rookies from last year (Scoles and Harward) partner with veterans (Flint and Kolinske) with points and potential. With these teams plus the existing powerhouses in Sponcil/Cannon and Kloth/Nuss, the USA Women are looking excellent. With this talent pool, I bet AVP 2023 will be another slew of varied winners. Not to mention all the teams that have yet to formally announce partnerships.
Stay tuned for more partner updates and partnership breakdowns. We’re squarely in marriage market season on the AVP Tour, so there may be more official announcements, surprising breakups, and (I hope) Instagram drama coming our way.