With a slew of new partnerships in 2022, the AVP Tour will look a lot different. I am soooooo ready for it.
One of the most exciting new duos is the highest-ranked USA team – Kelly (Claes) Cheng and Betsi Flint. Kelly is fresh off a Tokyo 2020 appearance and her marriage to coach Jordan Cheng. Betsi recently left her assistant coach role at LMU to focus full-time on volleyball and motherhood. All these life-changing events motivate Kelly and Betsi more than ever to continue dominating.
With Betsi’s consistently excellent passing, Kelly’s signature on-two offense will likely be back with a vengeance. It’ll be interesting to see if the team utilizes that strategy, similar to that of Silver medalists Mariafe and Taliqua of Australia. Kelly is so good with the small pokes, placing the ball just out of reach. She can also power up to get a massive option hit. Will she and Betsi continue in this vein or revert to a more common three-touch offense, i.e., Gold Medalists April/Alix and most other teams? Will Kelly’s increased volleyball IQ and experience bring us even better option offense or more refined traditional play?
Either way, it’ll be tough for opponents to decide who to serve. Go for Betsi, and you get either an option from Kelly or a saucy set that leads to Betsi’s offense. Betsi has a vast toolbox. Her cut shot is so tight to the net defenders can basically only get it if they preemptively read it and get a jump on her. Betsi can also hammer the ball, and she seems to always find the lines. Her court vision improves every year, especially after her tenure coaching at the collegiate level. Wherever her opponents are not, that’s where Betsi puts the ball.
But go for Kelly, and you are serving one of the highest performing offensive players on the AVP. Last season, Kelly was fifth in hitting percentage with the second-most attempts (.502 on 510 attempts). Those numbers mean teams primarily served Kelly, but teams were also mostly losing to her. So… is it better to serve Betsi or Kelly? We’ll just have to see what their opponents decide because neither is a good option.
Speaking of serving – Betsi’s serve is killer. It’s a jump float bullet right to the end line. The ball often drops in the middle of her opponents, a narrow zone sometimes referred to as the Panic Channel. Kelly can both jump float and topspin serve. She likes to change it up, especially in the wind. With these three varying serves, opponents have to remain on their toes and ready for anything. It’s hard to find a rhythm that way. Exactly what Betsi and Kelly want.
Though Kelly is the Olympian with two FIVB wins, Betsi has more years as a pro and more AVP Championships under her belt. The varying levels of experience these two women bring to the table will complement each other beautifully. Betsi was a part of the best mid-game adjustment team on the AVP with Emily Day and John Mayer. Kelly was a part of the youngest Olympic team ever and maintains some of the best promise in the game. Kelly and Betsi are winners, two athletes who have always played on either side of the net now partnering up for AVP and Olympic glory.
After writing this piece, I went to 16th Street and watched this newly-minted team play at a small but talent-packed practice tournament. They were every bit as good as I imagined. Betsi is reading everything. She’s back to peak physical performance, and now she has the added vision she acquired while coaching and while conserving energy as she returned to the beach. Her defense is deadly. Kelly looks every bit the veteran. She’s playing with a confidence fit for an Olympian. She was making great decisions, dishy sets, and had a handful of bullet aces in the Panic Channel. It was fun to watch them, and almost as fun to have most of my predictions confirmed.
Stay tuned over the next few months for more team updates and conjecture from yours truly.