Central Florida Open: A Storybook Ending


We finished the year with a script-worthy ending. And not just one. There were numerous cinematic moments before we even got to the weekend’s end.

Two kids out of Florida named Caleb Kwekel and Dylan Zacca began the weekend by upsetting the #1 seed. Crowd-favorite Santa’s Helpers Logan Webber and Seain Cook ended with their best finish after a slew of fun victories. Almost-dad Travis Mewhirter and hometown hero JM Plummer did the same, making it to Sunday and putting up a remarkable fight against two Olympians. Kyle Friend and Tim Brewster wrapped a bow on their admirable season with a Semifinal appearance, likely solidifying themselves into the Main Draw for next year.

On the Women’s side, we saw Carly Skjodt emerge as a force to be reckoned with alongside her formidable partner Katie Dickens. Carly Wopat made a splash after a brief AVP Main Draw hiatus, playing phenomenally in front of her partner Megan Rice. Rice is so sneaky good; she flies under the radar but is a consistent Main Draw player with multiple Championship Sundays to her name. And, of course, don’t forget our Cinderella story winners.

Carly Kan and Jenn Keddy had never played before last Thursday. Keddy’s longtime partner, Dickens, qualified for the Central Florida Open through the Virginia Beach Qualifier with Skjodt, so Keddy didn’t even know if she’d play. That is until she got a direct message on Instagram with a proposition from Kan. “I just DMed her,” Kan says. “I didn’t even have her number.”

The two had played against each other before but only had one practice together. With Kan in Honolulu and Dicken in Austin, TX, the two were seven time zones and thousands of miles apart. Their first practice was in Tavares before the event. Keddy’s big takeaway from that brief meet-cute was Kan’s athleticism. “I realized how high she can jump!” Keddy says. “I didn’t realize when I was blocking her, but when I was setting her, I was like, ‘Wow! She can really get up there!'”

Kan’s vertical makes her absolutely lethal on offense. She led the tournament in hitting percentage, with an impressive .546. Keddy was only two spots behind her, hitting .515. Their offense and scrappy defense powered them through the tournament with ease, taking down teams in straight sets, often with wiggle room. They only dropped one set (to Skjodt/Dickens) until the finals against Emily (Day) Capers/Geena Urango.

Speaking of – they had an impressive run as well. As the most veteran team on the women’s side and the #1 seed, there was a lot of pressure for them to win. Though it was their first event together, as well, they rose to the occasion, moving through the Winner’s Bracket with impressive numbers and palpable confidence. In the Finals, most people assumed the AVP Champs would take the cake. Most people didn’t know Kan and Keddy, though.

The Final match for the women was a grind from start to finish. Every ball was run down, challenged, or touched. Everyone was out for that cherry on top of the season. Winning the year’s last tournament is sweeter than the rest; you carry the sweetness of that victory for months before the next event.

All four athletes wanted that feeling. Their Finals stats (above) are gorgeous, just crazy high numbers in almost every category. Check out Kan’s .800 hitting percentage. Prior to the Finals, she was hitting just below .500; the momentousness of the Finals powered her onto another level. Same with Keddy, who earned 4 of her 8 blocks in this match alone. Capers and Urango played well in that Final, too, committing only two hitting errors that weren’t blocks and hitting .500 as a team. In the end, the marginally different numbers explain the finale. Kan/Keddy won in three sets, just beating their opponent 15-11.

The Keddy/Kan win is a storybook ending for many reasons, but one of the most significant is what Keddy went through. She’s a recent cancer survivor who has only been healthy enough to play volleyball for the last two seasons. She qualified the first time she played an AVP just last year in Atlanta. Jenn Keddy is the definition of a warrior, and seeing her win the final tournament of 2022 was emotional for all of us.

Speaking of emotional – did we just watch John Hyden’s last tournament? If so, he went out with a bang in one of his best showings in years. Partnering with his old buddy Tri Bourne brought Hyden back to the Finals in a big way. They only lost to Phil Dalhausser and Taylor Crabb the whole tournament. Their Saturday loss meant they had to play two grueling matches on Sunday before the Final. Not easy for anyone, especially a 50-year-old.

All four Men’s Finalists were studs throughout the weekend. Even in December, when many people are training less and maybe a little rusty, these guys were firing on all cylinders. Dalhausser led the men in hitting percentage with .581, followed closely by Tri Bourne with .574. Crabb had 6.6 digs per set; while Hyden had 4.6, he had less opportunity to touch a ball behind Bourne’s block. Bourne had 28 blocks (28!) and 2.2 per set; Dalhausser had 11 total and 1.1 per set.

The Men’s Final stats (above) tell the story well. Though the entire match was basically a clinic in siding out, there were a few extra pushes from Dalhausser/Crabb that their opponents didn’t match. As Hyden said in his impromptu post-match interview, “Sometimes you play Phil.”

The Men’s Final was special. As the 22nd time Hyden and Dalhausser faced each other to win a title, each point felt like history being made. Crabb won his 50th AVP at the same time that Hyden became the only 50-year-old to play an AVP, let alone make the Finals. With Dalhausser’s win, he joins just three other players who’ve won AVP Titles with three different partners in one season. Kent Steffes did it in 1998 with Jose Loiola, Mike Whitmarsh, and Emmanuel. April Ross did so in 2015 with Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Jen Fopma, and Lauren Fendrick.

But Dalhausser did it this year with three people he’d never played with before. Not sure if that was the case with Steffes, but I know it wasn’t for Ross. Dalhausser won with another blocker in Benesh, a defender he’d faced across the net for decades in Casey Patterson, and finally with the guy we all want to resurrect Phil from international retirement to make one last Olympic run in Taylor Crabb.

And if you watch the end of the Men’s Final and get all the way to Dalhausser’s best friend Nick Lucena’s pointed question during their Winner’s interview, we may just see another storybook ending in 2024. Stay tuned.

Category: Current Season, Events, Pro

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