And now – Rookie of the Year! We’re seeing a promising crop of young talent on the AVP. The emergence and growth of NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball have raised the bar faster than most of us were ready for. And as I talked about in recent pieces, the Men’s side is seeing their own up-and-coming fresh talent from the likes of Miles Partain and Andy Benesh.
I already spoiled (in awarding my Most Improved Award) that Andy Benesh is also my Rookie of the Year pick, so I’ll skip the ado. He blew it out of the water this year, looking more like a veteran than a Rookie. There’s really no other competition for the award in my book (feel free to let me know if you have a better candidate).
It’s unconventional labeling Andy as a Rookie because it feels like he’s been around a while. He played in all the Champions Cup Series qualifiers but never qualified. So while he was among the top teams last year, he technically didn’t make it into any of the events. He also earned an impressive 7th place at the 2019 Hermosa and drew a lot of attention to his blocking prowess. But this is the first year he’s been in more than two Main Draws. Just so happened to also be his first Sunday appearances, which he did in all three events.
Andy’s stats are good, but his on-court presence is what really sets him apart. I detailed his ice-water-for-blood in my Most Improved piece and explained why Andy is getting paradoxical awards. His skill and his demeanor led to a 5th place in Atlanta and two 3rd places afterward. The sky’s the limit for this newbie, and seeing as how much he improved so quickly, he may be grabbing the Best Blocker, Offensive Player, or even MVP next year. Heard it here first.
For the ladies, the pick is obvious. I’ve written and spoken about these two athletes at length – Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss. They broke records, upset big teams, won a tournament, and sat atop the leaderboard in all the right categories.
Taryn notched a mind-blowing .528 hitting percentage on the season. In blocking – she sat 1st in overall blocks at 48, had a respectable 1.2 blocks per set, and tied with my Best Blocker Brandie for 1st in controlled blocks. Taryn also tied for 3rd with Molly Turner and the Best Server in the World April Ross for overall aces at 20. Kristen already won my Best Defender of the Year. She had 6.5 digs per set and most on the year as a whole at 259. She also hit .413 and had 13 aces.
Picking Kristen and Taryn for Rookie of the Year candidates was maybe my most straightforward decision. But choosing between them? I literally can’t. We’re going to have to leave that up to a fan poll or your imagination. Taryn’s height and quick learning make her a specimen. But Kristen’s cunning, speed, and technique, despite her lack of height (she’s 5’6″), are astounding. It’s hard to know who’s leading whom on the court, who has more of a hand in their wins, who is the better player.
It’s so hard to conclude that I won’t be doing it. So I’m dubbing Taryn and Kristen dual Rookies of the Year. No one can stop me from doing that (I’m still drunk with power). Plus – they share the court and their home, so I don’t presume they’ll mind sharing this award.