Manhattan Beach Open: Main Draw

At first glance, the qualifying brackets for the AVP Manhattan Beach Open might look like madness, with a hundred-and-plenty names scattered through them, playing on courts that take a bit of a hike to find.

There’s a method to it, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, a lot of it happened last fall when no one but the AVP staff was paying attention.

Certainly not the names, of course, of the challengers who dream of that chance to take on Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena or April Ross and Alix Klineman at some point.

The players themselves determine where they’ll fit in the brackets, based on their results from the AVP Tour, the AVP Next or AVP America. The AVP tentacles reach far and wide from around the country.

For instance, this weekend there are five wild-card entries for the men’s main draw based on their work from California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and Virginia. On the women’s side, three teams qualified through the process in Colorado, Virginia and Texas.

Who gets the headache of placing all of these teams? That falls to Jeff Conover, AVP senior director of sport and competition, and Marty Suan, director of sport and competition.

Oh, and the bit about what might appear to be headache-inducing? Not to worry. Speaking to both staff members, one begins to realize how it all falls into place. 

“We plan for the maximum caps of every event and for the big beach events when we let in eight (qualifiers), we cap it at 128 players and that’s for player welfare, so we don’t exceed four matches per team,” Conover said. “It’s all a points-based system, there’s no subjectivity in anything we do.

“We send out all the teams that have registered for the event and we say, OK, please verify your points so we get everything perfectly correct and then plug them into the program and there’s no discrepancy after that point.”

Yet since this is beach volleyball, there are contingencies. For instance, if Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan played full time on the tour, they’d undoubtedly be seeded higher than No. 14, as they were in Huntington Beach. The Canadian duo even won the FIVB World Championship in July, but in Manhattan Beach that gets them a lot of attention but only a No. 11 seed (the highest they could have been ranked in this tournament was No. 9).

In fact, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross were ranked No. 7 in the world, but when Ross injured her back, Hughes chased down Abril Bustamante to be her partner, but that put her in the qualifiers for Hermosa Beach three weeks ago.

“A couple of years ago in Chicago, Summer and Lane (Carico) were in a similar situation where overseas they lost on a country quota or qualifier, asked to come back, and we have a provision in our handbook where we can accept late registrations,” Conover said. “That being said, we had already sent out the main draw so we had nowhere to put them except in the qualifier. At that point, it’s a better solution than bumping a team out, which wouldn’t be fair.”

As for the logistics, how do you plow through a field of 128 qualifiers on a Thursday? It depends on where the tournament is played, first of all. The long stretches of beach in Manhattan or Hermosa are one thing, but locations like Austin, Texas or New York City take some creativity. Still, even Manhattan has its limitations.

“That 128-team cap is also based on the amount of courts we can build. We generally need about one court for every 10 teams,” Suan said. “To be honest, we can only go to Seventh Street so we could just fit 24 courts in, so that means we have 120 matches per gender.

“We don’t like to do more than 10, 11 matches per court per day because the fatigue it places on the athletes, our staff, and officials. In previous years like in Austin, we went deep into the night, which is not good for our team.”

In Austin, the AVP has to farm out qualifying sites to other locations than the tournament venue. That’s not only set-up time with regulation AVP-branded nets, referee stands, and sand that meets the standards. Then, they have to get referees and tournament directors to the sites.

But that’s what the fall is for.

“We start to think about this stuff in September or October the year before,” Suan said. “It’s not an easy operation, hopefully we can keep expanding capacity, but also keep player welfare in the forefront of our minds.”

The qualifiers will be decided Thursday, and on Friday, the main draw of 32 teams of men and women get underway to determine the champion of the most prestigious tournament, known as the Wimbledon of beach volleyball.

The stage is set. Now it’s up to the players to write the history.

See the full main draw bracket here.