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2022 AVP Phoenix Championships Recap

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What a wild two days. We crowned familiar and brand new champs, bid farewell to a legend, and wrapped the summer season all under the lights and blessed air conditioning of the Footprint Center.

For the first time since 2009, the AVP came back to Phoenix. While the temperature outside hovered around triple digits, the AVP fans and athletes were nestled safely inside the vast Phoenix Suns arena. It was so flippin’ cool.

Sponsors lined the lobby, anchored by an enormous oval bar under cathedral-high ceilings. Giant screens sported the AVP athletes who’d earned their spot in Phoenix. From the moment you walked in, this event felt different. Greater.

And then the court itself was a spectacle. General Admission was a thing of beauty, with seats lined wall to wall with cheering fans from the first to last serve. Two end-line decks sported courtside boxes, often adorned with one or more AVP players joining to watch the action. The sideline Club AVP VIP area stayed packed all weekend.

Phoenix showed up. They were loud, engaged, and present. For 14 matches, thousands of fans watched 12 teams go for glory. The athletes brought everything they had. Which in itself isn’t unusual, but there were some critical differences.

Going into the Championships, I mentioned the shallow, manmade court being a key factor. Humble brag: I was right. Miles Partain did indeed do incredible things. Kristen Nuss definitely had more offensive tools than usual. And holy guacamole – Taylor Sander’s serve was next level.

At the beginning of their first match against Scoles/Urango, you could almost see the wheels turning in TKN’s heads. They were learning the court, figuring it and themselves out. At 11-13, they went on a 9-0 run to make it set point. From then out, Kloth and Nuss became unstoppable.

Next up, Cheng/Flint took on Muno/Pavan. There just wasn’t enough time for the newly created Muno/Pavan to get their bearings. Not to mention, Cheng/Flint performed in a league of their own in that match. So dialed in; so good.

Then the guys took over, and the two finalists bested their opponents relatively easily. We saw right away in the Lotman/Partain vs. Patterson/Benesh match how dominant Partain was going to be in Phoenix. His fake jump sets to Lotman were even sharper than we usually see. And Lotman – an indoor phenom who’s very comfortable playing in stadiums – delivered some of his best ball all year.

But Taylor Sander is the player who had the most significant transformation in that environment. Having just left indoor volleyball, he too is accustomed to big indoor stadiums and controlled elements. But the biggest difference was his serve. It was lethal, just an absolute bullet. Sander’s serve is perpetually challenging, but the shallow sand helped him really get on top of the ball. If he wasn’t notching an ace, he was putting his opponents out-of-system. The confidence and swagger Sander’s epic serve generated elevated both Taylors all-around game.

Saturday morning was full of upsets, and I’m not super surprised. All four top seeds were neck and neck. All but one had won a 2022 title. So the extra Friday night match of the lesser seeds ended up being a slight advantage. They learned how to win 42 points under the lights, in air conditioning, on shallow sand with no other outdoor elements. That’s monumental for people accustomed to wind, sun, heat, and natural beaches.

It’s not that the higher seeds totally crumbled. They just looked one step behind. So the Semis resulted in seeds 3 and 4 on both sides heading to the Finals.

But before that, we had to have a little more fun.

For the first time in a while, the athletes played out all the places. Typically, we just keep trucking to the finish. Once you’re unable to win, you’re done playing. But it would’ve been no fun to show up and lose one match. Plus – the Phoenix fans deserved more volley. So more volley they got.

The Women’s 5th Place Round between Pavan/Muno and Scoles/Urango was one of the best comebacks of the weekend. After losing the first, Muno/Pavan were down late in the second. But through a few blocks, fun dive plays, and ice water for blood – they came out on top and won in straight sets.

The Men’s 5th Place was a bundle of fun. Someone on the YouTube chat likened it to the Harlem Globetrotters, and I concur. They started us off with sky balls, and the rest of the match was just as fun. They were playing so well but doing silly stuff, too. We got a few Troy trademarked windmill hits. Casey Patterson brought back the dance moves in full force. Benesh and Budinger, the more serious of the foursome, were even getting in on it.

But once the three-set match was over, the vibe shifted to one of reverence and emotion. The fans learned, after probably suspecting, that the match they’d just witnessed was Casey Patterson’s farewell. We were all a little weepy as Casey, his wife Lexi, and their five children watched Casey’s friend and former announcer Chris “Geeter” McGee detail Casey’s career and introduce him one last time. Then fans were treated to a goodbye video featuring Casey himself and then a few minutes on the mic.

Though his emotion of retiring was apparent, his love and gratitude for his family was the real story, undeniably woven into every word. Casey got most emotional when talking about his wife’s support and labor over the years to make his professional volleyball dreams come true. It was wholesome, heartfelt, and the perfect way to send off everyone’s favorite player.

As much as I’d love to detail the 3rd place round between Sponcil/Cannon and Hughes/Kolinske and Schalk/Brunner vs. Bourne/Crabb, we gotta get to the Finals. Both those matches were high level, even without the huge stakes. Highly recommend a rewatch.

And then head over to the Finals because they were something.

As I said, once Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss found their footing in the very first set of the weekend – they were not to be caught. It looked impossible to score a point on them, and the stats prove it. Nuss had an astounding 17 digs in the 2-set match, while Kloth had 5 terminal and 2 controlled blocks. They held Cheng/Flint to just a .167 hitting percentage as a team, a rarity for those two veterans.

The 21-16, 21-17 victory was a proper bow on a rollercoaster season. After winning the first tournament, TKN lost a tough Final to Cheng/Flint in New Orleans. That loss seemed to take the wind out of their sails; losing in their home state that they’re so proud of stung. They had a string of disappointing 5th-place finishes before rallying back and winning the last two tournaments. Just when rumblings that the TKN hype was maybe a little too much, Kloth/Nuss squashed them. What a way to tie up just their second year on Tour.

Then it was time to tie up the end of the summer season, and we had four former/current indoor phenoms on our hands. Sander and Lotman are both indoor Olympians. Taylor Crabb earned Player of the Year as a severely undersized Outside Hitter. Miles Partain is currently the UCLA setter and won about every award possible in his most recent season. Not surprised that the indoor beach Finals were overrun with some of the best indoor talents we have.

The AVP Instagram posted a clip from this match highlighting the sounds, which felt apropos for what we all witnessed. These guys were absolutely destroying the ball. It looked painful to pass one of Sander’s serves or receive a Partain attack to the shoulder. All four guys were ripping away, so intent on earning the Championship moniker.

But in the end, that Final was all about Sander. Of course, Crabb provided Sander the leg up into the AVP he needed. But Sander absolutely delivered on that “favor” in Phoenix. He proved he deserves to be one of the best players on Tour. We’ve seen hints of that all year; the newly-formed team made a Final in just their second tournament. But now the Taylor win drought is officially over, and I bet Hurricane Taylor isn’t going anywhere.

Wow, that was cheesy. It’s the end of the summer season, though! I have to go out with a bang.

Just because we’re done playing volleyball for two and a half months doesn’t mean we’re going anywhere. Stay tuned for athlete stories, updates, and other goodies. And don’t forget to book your tickets and block off December 2-4. We’ll wrap 2022 with one final AVP Pro Series stop in Central Florida. Can’t wait to see all the Wannabes in Christmas costumes.

Category: Action, AVP News, Championship, Current Season, Events

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