From Tokyo to Atlanta: The First AVP 2021 Stop

Hate to see the Olympics go, but love to watch the AVP coming through. 

Because it’s finally here! Starting August 13, we get to watch the USA Olympians in real life. These people we’ve been following for months – from grainy YouTube coverage to the pristine HD of NBC – they’ll be flesh and bone playing beach volleyball on the AVP in just one week. We’re kicking it off in Atlanta, which fittingly was the first city to host beach volleyball in the Olympics of 1996

Credit: FIVB

If you’re a new beach volleyball fan – welcome. All that action you’ve been setting Siri reminders to not miss is coming to America. Three cities; three corners of the country. And even more athletes to fall in love with. 

The AVP Tour boasts fun storylines, interesting athletes, juicy drama, old rivalries, new partnerships, and the high-flying, hard-hitting gameplay we all grew accustomed to during the Games. I’m so excited I can barely type. So let’s get to it. First stop: Hotlanta. 

The city will be living up to its name. With temperatures reaching the low 90s during the day, it’s no wonder we’ve added night sessions. And I, for one, am stoked to watch volleyball under the lights. We’re playing at Atlantic Station Courts, a very fancy tennis complex that recently hosted the ATP’s Atlanta Open. The AVP is importing tons of sand (literally) onto tennis courts surrounded by comfy seats, real bathrooms, and stadium lights. Sounds blissful. 

Atlantic Station considers itself a neighborhood – a collection of shops, businesses, and events that unites the surrounding community. From pop-up coffee spots to family movie nights, the area surrounding the Atlantic Station Courts has a lot to offer. The AVP will be one of many things to check out that weekend; don’t miss your chance to experience it all. 

But obviously, the most important part is the volleyball. You’ll see from the Entry Lists that we have both predictable and unexpected partnerships. On the Men’s side:

Our Olympians – Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena and Jake Gibb/Taylor Crabb – sit atop the seeding. But you’ll remember, Taylor Crabb didn’t actually have the chance to compete in Tokyo due to a positive Covid test. Taylor Crabb will play in Atlanta with a clean bill of health. I bet he’s more motivated than ever to scoop some Ws. 

Chase Budinger/Casey Patterson have reunited after a season apart. They’ll try to recreate the same magic as their 2019 Hermosa AVP win. Chaim Schalk/Theo Brunner, who’ve been playing on the FIVB all year, are ready to solidify their partnership stateside. 

Tri Bourne has returned from Tokyo and reunited with his regularly scheduled partner Trevor Crabb. Tri and Trevor are the six-seed even though they won the most recent AVP in Long Beach. The points accrued during the Champions Cup Series do not count toward a team’s overall point total. The draw was too small due to Covid (only 18 teams per gender), so not all of the athletes had a chance to play. The points seen on the Entry List are an amalgam of the top 4 finishes of the last 6 tournaments played during the 2019 season. 

Other new teams: 

Tim Bomgren/Jeremy Casebeer – two athletes who’ve never played together but have played against each other 16 times over their careers. 

Troy Field/Eric Beranek – two best friends with promising futures. 

John Hyden/Bill Kolinske – at 48 years old, the most senior player in our sport is ready for more. 

Bill Allen/Andy Benesh – a veteran/rookie duo to watch out for. 

And a few reunited teams:

Ricardo “The Wall” Santos/Miles Evans – Ricardo has three Olympic Medals and is one of the best beach players ever. 

Ed Ratledge/Skylar del Sol – a Champions Cup reboot.

Piotr Marciniak/Rafu Rodriguez – the Floridian friends return after an injury-ridden Champions Cup showing, but their best season together was 2017. 

And that’s just the Main Draw, folks. There are countless men in the two-day Qualifier that will blow your mind. Familiar names like Avery Drost, Miles Partain, Kyle Friend, Paul Lotman, Jake Rosener, and Branden Clemmens. Plus all the new names that are hungry to make theirs known. 

Now, the Ladies

Atop the Women’s list is Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medalist April Ross, a USA National treasure and beach volleyball goddess. Fresh off her win in Tokyo, she’s pairing up with Kelley Kolinske. Wait. what? Alix Klineman is sitting Atlanta out. Kelley’s regular partner Emily Stockman will also be absent from Atlanta due to personal reasons. So naturally, April and Kelly decided to play together (April must’ve misplaced my number; it’s cool). 

Ironically, five years ago after April won the Bronze in Rio, she partnered in the subsequent AVP Chicago with a partner not her own named Kelly. That time, though, it was Kelly Reeves and they earned a 7th place finish. April’s beast enough to win with anyone (see three medals with three different partners), so it’ll be fun to see her behind Kelley Kolinske’s block. 

Below them are 4-time AVP winners Emily Day and Betsi Flint, who recently had a baby girl. Then we have our young Olympians Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes back in the States and hungry for their first (!!!) AVP victory. Their Olympic run ended in a frustrating way, so I’m sure these youngsters are ready for redemption. Next up is Canadian Olympian Brandie Wilkerson and her partner Sara Hughes. These two have done major damage on the AVP Tour. I’m looking forward to seeing their reunion. 

We have a host of new teams this year. Like:

Karissa Cook/Kelly Reeves – two players with very high volleyball IQ.

Molly Turner/Terese Cannon – you’ll recognize Terese as normally being with Reeves, but she’s picked up the fiery Molly to shake things up.

Sarah Schermerhorn/Megan Rice – two Floridians who’ve made it to the Finals before.

Kim Hildreth/Katie Hogan – two other Floridians who were the other half of the team above. Interesting little mixup here (I really hope they play each other. Please, volley gods).

Brooke Sweat/Delaney Knudsen Mewhirter – Brooke is back on the AVP and playing with a promising young woman.

And a few reunions/old favorites: 

Crissy Jones/Zana Muno – after playing apart in the Champions Cup Series, these two have been training hard and have sights set on greatness.

Kenize Ponnet/Sheila Shaw – a three-year-old team who’s seen much success in their tenure.

Corrine Quiggle/Allie Wheeler – after traveling the globe playing small international tourneys, these two are ready to rejoin the domestic fold. 

As always, the Ladies’ Qualifier is STACKED. New talent from NCAA beach and existing talent from the AVP pool will duke it out in a grueling 2-day Qualifier starting on August 11. Still harder, only four teams will emerge. Expect big things from everyone, but especially Falyn Fanoimoana, Geena Urango, Maria Clara Salgado, AVPNext Atlantic City winners Taryn Kloth/Kristen Nuss, the Van Gunst twins, UCLA stars Lexy Denaburg and Savvy Simo, and National Champ Lady of Troy Megan Kraft. 

For those unable to make it to Atlanta at any point from August 11-15, NBC’s new streaming service Peacock is where to watch all the post-Olympics beach volleyball magic. For $5 a month, you get AVP volleyball and Michael Scott back in your life. You’re welcome.