2021 was the Year of the AVP Women’s Qualifier Teams. I previously highlighted the exceptional Quali to Title run by Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss in Atlanta. And, of course, I had to profile Larissa and Lili after MBO, even though their Chicago run ended up being even more impressive.
The Men’s Qualifier teams had markedly less success this year. That is until fan favorites Paul Lotman and Miles Partain breezed through the Chicago Qualifier and into Sunday’s Semifinals. I’ve been teasing this feature for weeks now, so let’s get into it.
Paul Lotman started his career as an indoor phenom. He led his Long Beach State Indoor team in kills, digs, and aces – that’s insane! He then played for the US National Indoor Team, helping them to 5th place in the 2012 London Olympics. After being named an alternate for the 2016 Olympics, Paul hung up his tennis shoes and headed for the beach.
Paul played his first AVP in 2017. “It was a hell of a lot harder than I expected,” Paul admits. “I struggled for the first few years.” After missing out on the Main Draw for the first five tournaments, he secured a spot in the final two – Manhattan Beach and Chicago – with Gabe Ospina. He played with five different partners in 2018 but only made one Main Draw in Hermosa Beach.
One of Paul’s 2018 partners was 16-year-old Miles Partain. A year earlier, at the 2017 Hermosa Open, Miles and his brother Marcus became the youngest team to qualify for an AVP. Miles, who was just 15-years-old, also took the cake for the youngest player to ever advance from an AVP Qualifier to Main Draw. The previous Men’s record was 18-years-old. So he didn’t just take the cake, he crushed the record.
The Partain brothers have a miniature volleyball court in their parents’ backyard. Marcus and Miles grew up playing on that backyard court and in local tournaments all over SoCal. The Partain brothers are known for their unorthodox style of play. Just check out this photo of Miles jump-tomahawking a set. You never know what to expect, and people took notice of their instinctual and uber-athletic play. The Partain matches in Hermosa 2017 were packed with impressed beach volleyball fans.
When Miles sent a very formal email to Paul a year later asking to play Seattle 2018, Paul had heard of him but didn’t know much. “He wasn’t really on my radar,” Paul says. “Not that I was some hotshot player. I just didn’t think I would have ever played with a 16-year-old. But he was really, really good. I don’t think we even had a training together; we just showed up to the tournament. As soon as we stepped on the court, we had good chemistry from the beginning.” The two didn’t qualify, however, and didn’t play together again for another year.
In the 2019 season, Paul really found his footing. Early in the season, he and Gabe secured 9th place in Austin. That’s a respectable finish, but their shining moment from that tournament was beating Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb in the first round. It was a 3-set absolute barnburner, an hour-and-thirteen-minute-long battle that gave Paul and Gabe the upset of the year. Meanwhile, Miles played with his brother for most of 2019 but struggled to find success.
Paul and Miles found their way back to each other for the final tournament of the 2019 season. Marcus was off to UCLA; Paul was interested in rekindling their chemistry. It worked.
They made magic in Chicago, earning an impressive 5th place and also beating some teams that had just done very well in MBO. They bested Eric Beranek and Bill Kolinske, who had just had a miraculous run in Manhattan and earned 3rd place, in the Qualfier’s Game to Get In, 23-21, 18-21, 15-13. They then beat the MBO winners Trevor Crabb and Reid Priddy in the first round, another 3-setter, 21-17, 21-23, 15-12.
After winning their next against Ed Ratledge and Skylar del Sol, they had two very tough opponents in the Contenders Bracket. Their match against Chase Budinger and Casey Patterson, though only 2 sets, was 57-minutes long. I believe the Freeze lasted about 20 minutes on that one, with Paul and Miles never giving up.
They were such a fun team to watch. Paul, an indoor Olympian with exceptional fundamentals and experience. And Miles, a 17-year-old wunderkind who looked as comfortable as anyone playing against his childhood icons. It was amazing.
Paul didn’t play the 2020 Champions Cup Series, and Miles went on to fare pretty well with partner Ty Loomis. He continued to impress fans with his unconventional style of play and insane defense. Even though Miles is young, his whole life has been volleyball. His fundamentals are better than some players double his age. And speaking of double his age, Miles and Ty broke the AVP record for the greatest age discrepancy between players. Ty, who was 41 at the time, played his first AVP when Miles was 6 months old. I love it.
I could talk about Miles’ age all day, but the reality is: it doesn’t matter anymore. He’s almost 20 years old and, in my opinion, the next best defender on the AVP. Miles ranks 3rd in total digs on the season, but he beat Casey Patterson in digs per set (4.11 to Casey’s 3.86). I just wrote about how stellar Casey was this year, and then Miles went and put up better stats. He was just behind Olympians Chaim Schalk and Taylor Crabb in digs per set. In Chicago – Miles led the tourney in overall digs with 59 and was among the top in digs per set (4.21).
But it’s not just his defense. It’s also his siding out and transition offense. Miles hit .457 on the season, sandwiched right between John Hyden and, once again, Casey Patterson. This makes him 2nd among defenders who played in all three events and 6th overall. These guys are his idols, ones who started playing before Miles was born. And he’s competing right alongside them as one of the best.
Miles and Paul played with different partners in Atlanta this year. They then earned a bid to the MBO, so they reunited and rekindled the fire. After earning 7th in MBO, Miles and Paul still had to qualify for the smaller draw in Chicago. The Qualifier proved no problem. They easily crushed their three Qualifier opponents, never allowing more than 13 points in any set.
In the Main Draw, Miles and Paul took down Tim Bomgren and Jeremy Casebeer first, in a 3-set thriller. Under the pouring rain, all four athletes left everything on the table in just the first round of play. Miles had 2 aces, including one to close the match out. Paul had an even better game, notching 6 terminal blocks, 2 controlled blocks, and 4 aces.
Miles is easy to rave about, being such a prodigy. At 19, his potential and ceiling are so high, and he has (optimistically) 20 years of playing left. But Paul is the steady force that really makes this team thrive. Most opponents serve Miles because Paul is so good at siding out. He’s also a talented blocker, notching 1.52 blocks per set, sitting 6th overall on the season. He’s second in controlled blocks, notching 1.15 per set for the season, but he blew the water out in Chicago.
Paul had 27 controlled blocks in 14 sets on Oak Street Beach. That’s almost 2 per set and worlds above the next best. Everyone else had less than 1 controlled block per set. A controlled block is a block touch that stays on your side of the court, a ball that can then be converted to a potential kill. It’s a vital opportunity for a real point, and it served Miles and Paul well.
Paul’s dominance was proven in their next match – a seemingly impossible win over Olympians Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb. The court was packed 10-rows deep; everyone wanted a glimpse of the spectacle. Paul had an insane 9 terminal blocks, including one to close out the 3rd set, 15-11. Miles once again held his own against the big dogs; he had 23 kills and 17 digs.
Even in their 3-set loss against Billy Allen and Andy Benesh, Paul and Miles played brilliantly. Miles had 19 kills and 11 aces. Paul had 3 terminal blocks and a whopping 10 controlled blocks. Statistically, they outperformed their opponents in every category. Not sure how this one slipped through their fingers.
They rebounded brilliantly in their next match, a wild ride held on Court 1 on Sunday morning. Co-occurring with Jake Gibb’s final career match, this Quarterfinal against Casebeer and Bomgren (again) still drew in hundreds of adoring fans.
In this 1-hour-and-23-minute-long match, Miles and Paul came out on top 22-24, 21-16, 18-16 to advance to the Semifinals. They were down 13-14 in the Freeze, but then got a 15-14 advantage. After Tim and Jeremy tied the score twice, Paul and Miles powered through and sealed the deal with a terminal block from Paul at 18-16. Both teams were dominant offensively, hitting .500 and above. Miles had 31 kills, 14 digs, and 3 aces. Paul had 13 kills, 5 terminal blocks, and 8 controlled blocks.
I think that 83-minute match understandably took it out of Miles and Paul. They lost their Semifinal in 2 sets to MBO winners Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb. Their never-back-down mentality prevailed even with the loss: in their 17-21, 19-21 loss, Miles earned 9 digs and 2 aces while Paul was once again a beast at the net with 3 terminal and 5 controlled blocks.
With that 3rd-place, Paul and Miles wrapped the season with their best career finish, once again in Chicago. I had to ask Paul if there’s something to it. “You know, I’m not superstitious. But yeah, I think there’s something special about Chicago. Whether it’s the sand, whether it’s the city or the venue. It’s my favorite place to play, and not just because we’ve done so well. It’s such a great location – easily accessible for players and fans. I’ve always enjoyed playing there. And I’ve been fortunate enough to play with Miles, and we’ve done really well both times.”
In asking about the future, Paul knows he’s playing with one of the most desirable defenders on Tour. People may be sending him their own formal emails during the offseason. But after seeing their hard-fought 3rd place and undeniable chemistry, if Paul keeps playing and blocking like he is now – I can see this team together for a very long time.