2020 has been a whirlwind. Every time we adjust to a new norm, another hurdle is thrown in. Among other areas of our world, sports have been completely upended – first suspended indefinitely, and now slowly creeping back in various degrees of “business as usual.” The AVP (thankfully!) is among those that have braved the unknown and maintained a 2020 season. If you haven’t seen the video announcement on social media, go check it below. And even if you have, I’d watch it again. It gives me goosebumps every time.
But I’m sure you have some questions. What’s the tournament format? How am I, as a fan, going to enjoy the AVP this year? How did we get here? And how do the athletes feel about this alteration?
First – a general overview of the format. The 2020 AVP Champions Cup will be a three-event series over consecutive weekends. The top 18 teams per gender, decided by their AVP point total, will be eligible to compete. Once those 18 teams are set for the first tournament, they will be locked in for the rest of the AVP Champions Cup Series. The top 6 teams will be Auto-Main Draw; the remaining 2 spots will be fought for in a 12-team, single-elimination bloodbath of a Qualifier to be held on the Friday before each event. The 8-team Main Draw will be AVP’s standard double-elimination format over two days.
Got all that? Okay – so how do we enjoy it? The tournaments are smaller due to COVID limitations, so the AVP pros will only play on two courts. Every Main Draw match will be streamed live on Amazon Prime Video, while NBC and NBCSN will be playing select matches every weekend. Stadium Court will still be bumping with DJ Roueche’s beats, Mark’s announcing, and the Amazon Prime Video team calling the matches. The Qualifier, which will be a grueling battle of a few athletes playing in their first Quali in years, will be covered via AVP’s social channels with live scoring available at AVP.com. The specifics are still a work in progress, so stay tuned for more details.
That’s a phrase we’ve been getting used to – “stay tuned for more details.” This COVID world is unpredictable in every avenue of life, including sports. I can personally attest that our creative and logistic teams have been imagining and reimagining how to save our season daily. “Creating a safe platform for the sport to operate during this international health crisis is one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced,” AVP Senior VP Josh Glazebrook says. “My teams have been working around the clock to secure a location in the state of California that can facilitate our needs while meeting all of the health and safety requirements.”
All the wheeling and dealing Josh and his teams have done with public health and city officials have provided us with a tour. They’re jumping through all the hoops and finding all the loopholes to make it work. The AVP will have three events in a row in the same location because running events on any beach in California is unfeasible right now with regulations as they stand. The Champions Cup Series site in Long Beach will be zoned and permitted as a film set, not a full sporting event. Because of this, only about 175 people will be credentialed throughout the entire series. With 72 athletes, coaches, medical staff, referees, TV production, and talent – we’re maxed out. By limiting events to 175 people from start to finish, the AVP can assure safe social distancing and frequent testing, mitigating risk as much as possible. And having the events in Long Beach allows most of the athletes to stay in their SoCal homes instead of traveling and quarantining in hotels.
So how do the athletes feel? I’ve talked to many, and the overall consensus is positive. The ones who won’t make the cut are generally frustrated, but they understand the limitations of the virus. Many are using this year to tend to injuries, build muscle, and work on parts of their game they’ve been neglecting. And the ones who can play are, in a word, stoked.
Chase Budinger is ready to play and thinks we may be able to increase our audience. “I’m very excited about this format,” he says. “It gives us something to train for and look forward to. It got my juices flowing again, and I’m so happy the AVP was able to put something on, especially when there are no sports on TV. I feel beach volleyball and the AVP can get a lot of new viewers.” Chase has also been staying busy for the past few months. “During the quarantine, I have been working out and trying to stay in shape. I also have been taking online classes to finish my degree since I left college early to go pro in basketball.”
Canadian Melissa Humana-Paredes, 2019 AVP Manhattan Beach Open Champ, says, “Initially, I was torn with the idea and risks behind traveling back to LA and competing. But coupled with my need to feel useful again, to feel the joy of playing again, to feel a purpose and have a goal, honestly just have something to do… it changed very quickly. I got excited. And felt the butterflies again. I felt like me again. You can tell the AVP has put a lot of thought and effort behind this. I’m just so grateful we have this opportunity to play. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone (from across the net) and being a part of this community again.”
Energetic newcomer Eric Beranek is thrilled with the news, especially because of his phenomenal 2019 season. If this were the format last year, Eric wouldn’t have made the cut. Now, he’s prepping mind and body for those Friday battles. “This will be one of the most intense Qualifiers the AVP has ever seen,” he says. “I’m very curious to see who rises to the occasion, and which teams come out mentally and physically in shape. During this time, the quarantine hit me hard and made me feel as if all my hard work had disappeared. I’ve felt bad for all of the athletes that have dedicated their lives to the sport, people that were losing their jobs, and of course, the sad stories of loved ones getting sick. But with every low, there comes a high. The AVP is officially back. This is exciting and has fired me up once again.”
Eric is also looking forward to proving himself on tour. “Stafford Slick slid into my DMs because he was worried about my lack of presence on social media,” Eric says. “He assumed that I found a private court during this time and had never stopped training. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know if I count the grassy park pepper sessions with Geena Urango.” I’d say those count, Eric. A pair of pros peppering in a park is great practice.
Alix Klineman feels refreshed and ready for the season. “Quarantine was a huge change of pace,” she says. “I’m used to having days completely packed with workouts and different volleyball commitments, and so to have days with no formal commitments was weird! But it was also refreshing, to be completely honest, to slow down and make time for things I normally can’t. But now I’m so ready to get back on the court again.”