Time to give away some unsanctioned and meaningless awards. No – not the Golden Globes… Kim’s Unofficial 2021 AVP Awards! And because this is my show, we’re starting with my fave: Blockers.
Theo Brunner was hands down the best blocker on the Men’s side. Unassuming Theo, (a trait that I’m convinced is his superpower) absolutely dominated the net. I’m referring to stats because they often tell a better story than wins, but I’m also choosing him based on pure admiration. Theo, in my mind, has often been overlooked as one of the best blockers on Tour. But this year, the numbers prove it.
Theo led in overall blocks on the season with 61 terminal blocks. Considering he only played 29 sets (mainly because he and partner Chaim hung in the Winners Bracket for most of the year and therefore had to play fewer games), this number of blocks is wild. Chase Budinger, who albeit had a better overall season, had 59 blocks to Theo’s 61. But Chase played in 43 sets, a whopping 14 more than Theo.
I mention this because I’m more impressed by blocks per set than I am overall blocks. Generally: 1 block per set is expected; 1.5 is great; 1.75 is exceptional; 2 blocks per set is otherworldly. Theo had 2.1 blocks per set on the season. Just absolute, consistent greatness! And because he stayed in the Winners Bracket, he was playing the top teams. Olympians and AVP Winners had no chance against Theo. So dope. Here’s the breakdown of blocks per set of the Top 10 Blockers.
Theo – 2.10
Ricardo – 1.87
Jake – 1.76
Avery – 1.56
Paul – 1.51
Andy – 1.43
Ed – 1.38
Chase – 1.37
Tri – 1.35
Troy – 1.28
Of the Top 10 Blockers, the only person who gets even close to Theo is Ricardo
“The Wall” Santos. When you beat maybe the Best Blocker the world has ever seen, someone whose nickname is literally “The Wall,” then you deserve to take the cake.
When Theo’s not stuff-blocking, he’s getting controlled blocks (CBLKs). 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 point. While Theo didn’t lead this category, he was in 5th place for overall CBLKs at 33. Again, because he played in fewer sets, his CBLKs per set were higher than almost everyone at 1.13. Of the Top 10 in Controlled Blocks, Theo was only beaten by Paul Lotman (by .02 CBLKs per set at 1.15). And if you read my recent story on Paul and Miles, you realize Paul on the CBLKs is a formidable foe.
Now for the Ladies, who are a little less cut and dry.
While Taryn technically had the most overall blocks, Brandie Wilkerson is my “Unofficial Best Blocker” of the 2021 Season. Stick around for my Honorable Mention.
Brandie, who played in 12 fewer sets than Taryn, had 1.32 blocks per set to Taryn’s 1.2. Brandie also had 50 CBLKs, the same as Taryn, for an astounding 1.79 CBLKs per set. That’s head and shoulders above her competition. She and partner Sara Hughes often capitalize on those touches and turn them into real points.
Brandie’s terminal blocks and CBLKs represent the amount of space she takes up at the net, a stat that’s hard to quantify. Brandie forces her opponents to shoot the ball or hit an angle they’re uncomfortable with. Space-taking at the net is hard to quantify – until you consider that Sara had 6.36 digs per set on the season. Sara’s dig count reveals how well Brandie is lined up on her blocks, opening up the backcourt for lightning-quick, razor-sharp Sara to scoop and deliver.
Another thing I love about Brandie’s block is how she gets so low, literally touching the sand, and then explodes at the exact right time. She lies in await, reading the hitter, and then times her block perfectly. It’s a sight to behold, a skill I never mastered. Very fun to watch Brandie.
With this said, I have to give a shoutout to Crissy Jones. She only played one tournament due to a season-ending injury, so I couldn’t rightly grant her my official unofficial commendation. But I’d be negligent if I left her out of the conversation. Crissy wrecked house in Atlanta.
Crissy made the Top 10 in overall blocks on the season. Yes – you read that right. She sits at #8 with 17 blocks in only 8 sets. Imagine if she’d had 32 more sets like Taryn? Or even 13 more like Alix who had 26 total blocks!
While everyone else in the Top 10 hovered around 1 block per set, including Alix (1.23) and the aforementioned Brandie and Taryn, Crissy had 2.13 blocks per set. She beat Theo! More than 2 blocks in a set is not just 2+ more points on the board. Crissy’s monstrous block also forced tons of errors and helped her partner Zana Muno to a staggering 7.16 digs per set in Atlanta. Plus, Crissy had 12 CBLKs; she’s tied for 4th in that category overall. Again – breathtaking numbers in such a short span of time from the future of beach volleyball. Love to see it.