We’ve arrived at the big one – Most Valuable Player of 2021. What defines an MVP? Wins? Stats? Swagger? My two picks have all three in spades. Thank you to Casey Patterson and April Ross for making this decision wicked easy. You two absolutely crushed it this year.
I’m starting with Casey because he’s never been AVP MVP. Can you believe that? I was just shocked to learn that. Casey has been a staple on Tour for almost two decades. He has won 17 AVP titles, gone to the Olympics, and has more sponsors than anyone on Tour (research amnesty). “Don’t pull on me” is a line known throughout the beach world as Casey’s personal tagline. Fans love him for his mohawk, dance moves, and epic commentary.
Whether he should have won this award in years past, Casey rightfully earned MVP multiple times over this 2021 season. I already went into his defensive prowess in addition to his conversion potential when I dubbed him Best Defensive Player of the Year. His stats prove a lot, but the timing of his greatness is what made him both impressive and a winner.
Casey and partner Chase Budinger made it to three of three Finals. They won two. Casey played lights out in both Finals wins. In Atlanta, Casey had 20 kills and only 3 errors over 3 scorching sets, hitting the best of all four players at .472. He also had 18 digs, a devastating 6 per set.
In their Chicago Finals win over Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Casey proved his veteran status. Having lost only two weeks before in the Manhattan Beach Open to Tri and Trevor, Casey and Chase masterfully adjusted to get the W. Casey hit .636 on 17 kills, 3 errors, and only 22 attempts. He had 10 digs, 8 of which came in the decisive 2nd set. In their 21-18, 21-14 redemption victory, Casey looked every bit the MVP of 2021.
Not only was Casey padding his stats and winning nearly every match he played (more than any other team this season), but he also looked like he was having more fun than I’d seen him in a while. I had to ask what was different this year.
“It’s twofold,” he says. “First – we’d all been deprived of the game. Not only did that show how much fun I was having, but I also think everyone was having more fun. The vibe this year was awesome. I was just so grateful to play and was appreciating the moment more than usual. Being happy and loose helps with how I’m able to perform. Second – I got a full-time job in the Pandemic, which took some of the pressure to win off of me.” Isn’t that funny how that happens? Not needing to make money made Casey more money. I love it.
Another thing that helped was a fresh body. The break allowed time for nagging injuries to fully heal. Casey altered his training regimen to be leaner and faster, switching from a “sand rhino” to a “sand cheetah.” All these changes were evident, even in the preseason.
“In practice, I was hitting as hard as I could and yelling things. And I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is gonna be a fun year.’ I had this feeling like – if I’m having this much fun at practice, goofing around, and trying to really hammer balls without fear of something tearing or falling off – this could be a good summer. That initial feeling set the tone for the whole team. It was a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time.
“I’ve always played the best when I was having fun – when I was confident and not worried about winning or losing. I got to a place where I could do that again.” We all saw it this year, and it was so fun. Crossing my fingers for many more years of happy, healthy Casey.
And now to the ladies. The reigning Queen of Beach Volleyball, April Ross.
April is no stranger to this award, both official and unofficial. She won AVP MVP in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019. She likely would’ve won in 2020 if we’d have given awards. April is just the best player in the world, and I’ll fight you if you disagree. I’ve gushed a million times over her and Alix (who is the only other potential option for MVP in my book) this season, so I won’t add to the deluge. Except to mention they only lost one set all year. Can’t get over that.
April herself was unstoppable at every turn. I struggled to not award her Best Defensive and Best Offensive Player of the Year. I had to settle on just offense because she hit .532 on the year throughout the Winners Bracket. That’s next level. April also would have won Best Server (2 aces per set!!) had I given that out. The only categories she’s not a candidate for are the ones in which she’s ineligible – Blocking, Rookie of the Year, and Most Improved. I guess she could have gotten Most Improved, but it’s hard to get better than the best.
April proved her dominance isn’t specific to our domestic AVP Tour. With her Olympic Gold Medal in Tokyo, April and Alix showed the world that they are indeed the top of our sport. But no matter how good that feels, that is a lot of pressure to bring into the AVP season.
“I’m so stoked that we had the AVP to come back to after the Olympics,” April says. “To play in front of the fans who cheered for us in Tokyo. At the same time, we were emotionally depleted and tired. There’s this responsibility almost after winning a Gold Medal to come back and kind of show everyone why you won it. We felt that pressure to come home and perform and win.”
Many would wilt under that expectation. The A-Team handled it beautifully. “Alix and I almost need a little bit of pressure; I think it’s contributed to our success over the years. And I’m glad we felt that pressure this summer on the AVP. Had it not been there, I don’t know if we would have risen to the occasion. It makes it more exciting, so I’m glad that was there. It forced us to be at our top level.”
I’m thankful for the pressure, too. April at her top level is the best you’ll get from anyone.