AVP Pro Series Austin Recap: True to the Motto, We Kept it Weird


After a few days to mentally sort through all the moments of the weekend and return to a normal internal body temperature… let’s talk Austin.

It was hot, humid, and sticky, as is Texas in summer. Fans came and stayed all day, most of them huddling under the shady trees on the south side of the courts. But no one cares about the temperature. We care about the athletes who brought the heat all day long.

For complete results, check the scores and brackets, and catch up on all the matches you missed on YouTube. Once you’re caught up, proceed for notable stats and my color commentary on this weekend’s goings-on.

Friday was the first day in recent history where we had absolutely zero upsets. Every match ended with the better seed on top, setting up the Winner’s Bracket with seeds 1-4.

The best Stadium Court match had to be Phil Dalhuasser & Andy Benesh vs. Taylor Crabb & Taylor Sander. In one of the only matches on Stadium Court to go three sets, the point-for-point battle showed all four players at their best.

It was the first time fans were able to see Sander in action. He delivered with ground-rumbling attacks and blocks to rival the best on Tour. It was also the first time we got to see the last-second and unlikely pairing of Phil and Andy.

A little background on that situation: Nick Lucena and Andy were initially signed up together. The Saturday before Austin, Nick pulled out due to injury. He then put Andy and Nick’s former long-time partner and pal Phil Dalhausser in a group text so Andy wouldn’t be left high and dry without a partner. Phil had previously signed up with another player, and they barely missed the Main Draw. Phil was one of the only top players who wasn’t already signed up to play with someone.

The two blockers decided to give it a go, making what is likely the tallest team in history. Two 6’9″ career blockers finally had a chance to try their hand in the backcourt. Turns out: they’re both crazy good at defense.

But what can Phil Dalhausser not do? His stats this weekend rivaled those of the best defenders on Tour. Phil had 45 digs while playing defense only half the time. To be fair, Andy had 41, which is also astounding. That’s 86 combined digs in 12 sets (7.2 digs per set), a comparable stat to everyone else and highly respectable for two blockers.

Though their long limbs afforded a few impossible (for other people) ups, most of their digs were well-positioned, midline digs. This, of course, points back to the blocking proficiency of both. But it also shows they’ve been listening when their partners are getting defensive coaching. Not to mention – when one of them gets a dig, they’re likely to convert it to a real point 95% of the time (research amnesty).

Austin proved Phil can be one of the most effective defenders on Tour. We already know he’s the best blocker and arguably the best offensive player, too. We have to all be of one mind now: best player in the history of the sport. Prove me wrong.

There will be more on Phil in a future article. Let’s check in with the ladies.

All my dreams came true when I saw Kelly (Claes) Cheng and Sarah Sponcil were set to face off in the year’s first tournament. Their breakup was one of the more resounding on Tour; their initial faceoff was sure to impress. Of course, it went to three sets.

Sponcil and Terese Cannon fell flat in the first set, allowing Cheng and Betsi Flint take advantage of their lull. Cheng had 3 aces and hit .600, while Betsi had 7 digs and an ace. The second game was all Sponcil and Terese, however, with some trademark flying squirrel digs from Sponcil and big blocks from Terese. In the end, Cheng and Betsi earned the W, finishing the impressive 15-12 third set with 8 kills, 6 digs, 2 blocks, and an ace as a team.

Before I get into the Finalists, a couple of honorable mentions:

Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez played extraordinarily well, taking a 7th in their first AVP together. Both burgeoning talents fresh out of college, Savvy and Toni are set to make some waves on Tour this year. Toni hit .500 on the weekend while also putting up 19 blocks and 18 digs in her 11 sets.

Logan Webber and John Hyden took 5th, and they have more to give. Logan was third overall in both hitting percentage (.515) and blocking (16 in 10 sets played). Once they lock in their chemistry, I see them making a lot of Semis and Finals.

Ok, back to the Finalists.

Chase Budinger and Troy Field were on fire; they didn’t drop a set until the Finals. Troy was unstoppable in their match against Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb with 5 aces, 10 digs, and a .625 hitting percentage. The blocker turned defender seemed to find his footing in Austin, a city he’s historically performed well in.

Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes were unwavering on the path to the Finals, looking every bit the #1 seed they were. They also didn’t lose a set until Sunday morning against Emily Day and Emily Stockman, another last-second pairing who linked up after April Ross withdrew from injury.

That match was ridiculously fun. Temperatures were mild as it was the day’s first match, a blessing for all of us. Em’s Entourage was rocking and rolling, but Canada had a solid group of supporters rallying behind them.

At the end of a back-and-forth match, Pavan and Melissa had the third set match point 14-9. With no Freeze, that deficit is almost impossible to overcome. Em&Em never gave up and clawed their way back with stuff blocks, digs, and aces to tie it 14-14. As thrilling as the comeback was, Canada finally closed it out 17-15. They turned their sights to the Finals and prepared for the young guns from LSU that everyone was talking about.

Meanwhile, those young guns were groveling through the Contender’s Bracket. On Friday, Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss lost to Sponcil/Terese 21-19, 21-17 in the second round. They then took down big names like Lili & Larissa and Sarah Hughes & Kelley Kolinske to advance to the Semifinals. Once there, they took care of the previously unbeaten Cheng/Betsi 21-19, 21-13. Taryn had 4 terminal blocks, 3 controlled blocks, and hit .529 in their Semifinal win. Their serving and defense also held Cheng and Betsi to a .152 hitting percentage

When the defending World Champs faced the hot, young things in the Austin Final, it was their first-ever matchup. First of many, I’m hoping. Interestingly, both Finalist teams were pre-existing returning teams, two of so few this year.

From the opening serve, Taryn and Kristen were in control. They got out to a 6-1 lead, stunning Pavan and Melissa with their tough serves and crazy good vision. The Canadians adjusted, however, and came back to only lose 18-21. Going into the second set, I was confident we were going three.

Taryn and Kristen had other plans. They refused to let the gravity of the moment or their opponents’ talent, prowess, and experience intimidate them. Though Melissa had more digs than Kristen (16 vs. 15), nearly all of Kristen’s digs were converted to real points. She hit .545 for the match, a ridiculously high number for a 5’6″ defender playing against a 6’5″ blocker who some consider the best in the world. Taryn had 4 terminal blocks, 3 controlled blocks, and 4 aces on her way to the shocking 21-18, 21-13 Championship win.

The Men’s Final assured a first-time winner in either Troy Field or Andy Benesh. Unlike the women – both teams were new, and neither team lost a match on their way to the Finals. It really felt like either team could take the cake.

The difference-maker in that last match was the errors. Chase and Troy had 12 hitting errors and 5 service errors between them. Phil and Andy only made 4 cumulative hitting and 3 service errors.

Another difference-maker: Phil. He notched 16 kills, 4 digs, 4 terminal blocks, and 2 controlled blocks in their 21-19, 21-18 win.

The lack of expectation must have alleviated some pressure. Two blockers partnering up at the last minute, even if one is the best in the world and the other is on his way to top ranking, will get you decent odds (if we were betting here…).

Chase and Troy, on the other hand, are considered one of the top teams on the AVP. They’re hungry for a tournament win to instill confidence and propel their partnership forward. Phil and Andy were just having fun in a one-off tournament before they linked up with their “real” partners.

Phil said in an Instagram post that this was the most fun he’s had playing volleyball in a long time, that the energy he felt made him feel 22 again. *pause to wipe happy tears* I love that so much. He deserves that.

As I said, I’ll get more into all things Phil in an upcoming article. Soon after, I’ll be sliding into your inboxes right before NOLA with matchups, details, and Phil and Andy’s new partners.

In the meantime, I’m going to marry Mark Schuermann real fast.

Category: AVP News, Events, Pro

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