On the surface, it looks like we’ve picked up where we left off on the AVP Tour. The duos who were named 2018 Team of the Year both emerged with victories but if you look a little deeper, there were plenty of surprises on both the men’s side and the women’s side.
Enough for the champions to issue a warning.
“It’s a win, but it’s a long year, we’ve got a long trek so I don’t want to oversell anything,” said Jake Gibb, who captured career title No. 31. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“We left off last season on such a high note and we did overcome some obstacles in the offseason and to win this first one is huge,” said Alix Klineman who helped partner April Ross bring home her 34th crown. “It’s a lot of confidence, we got a confirmation we’ve been working on the right things and by no means are we going to relax now, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.”
Gibb and Taylor Crabb, playing in their 14th tournament together, held off rising star Chase Budinger and Casey Patterson, Gibb’s former partner. Their meeting in the finals was the first time in three meetings since their post-Olympic breakup that Gibb has bested Patterson.
Ross and Klineman, who have now won four consecutive AVP events, ended the undefeated run of Canadians (and current Hermosa Beach, Calif. residents) Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes with a thrilling final victory.
Breakthrough for Budinger
It was a watershed tournament for Budinger, who blocked Olympians Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser off the court in the third round, sending the team into an unfamiliar place…the Contender’s Bracket. Budinger tied his career high with 8 blocks in that match.
“It’s definitely learning over the past year of studying film and studying players and angles and all of that,” Budinger said of his abilities at the net. “It’s an evolving thing and something I’m working on each and every day and trying to get better at. I’m a lot better blocker than I was a year ago when I started at this tournament. It’s coming along.”
Budinger and Patterson won their first four matches in the tournament before running into Gibb and Crabb.
Twice in the tournament, brothers Trevor Crabb and Taylor Crabb ran across each other. In the first meeting, Trevor and Tri Bourne dispatched Taylor and Gibb, sending them to the Contender’s Bracket early.
But in the Semifinals, Gibb and Crabb turned the tables on Bourne and Crabb. It’s more than just blood family though; Bourne also grew up with the Crabb family playing on the beaches in Honolulu, and the Crabb parents were quite low-key during all of the matchups. Taylor finished with 12 digs and 14 kills, and his partner added 8 blocks to combine for a stellar team performance. Although Trevor had 18 kills, the combined 7 service errors didn’t help Tri and Trevor.
“We both want to beat each other but at the end of the day, we’re brothers,” Taylor said. “Our goal in life isn’t to be one better than the other. We’re just trying to be the best players we can be.
“My mom and dad just stay quiet, they don’t want to cheer for anyone.”
Pavan and Humana-Paredes were undefeated through the Winner’s Bracket heading into the final against Ross and Klineman. Though they were seeded 14th, this should be no surprise. Sarah and Mel, as they are popularly known, are just now dipping their toes into the AVP waters; internationally, they are a force to be reckoned with, considering they are currently ranked fifth in the FIVB points table.
What does it mean to beat that team in the finals?
“It’s pretty epic,” Klineman said.
“It’s great,” Ross said. “In any situation, we’ll take a win over that team, that team is very good. To do it in Huntington Beach on U.S. soil is even better.”
It was the fourth meeting between the two teams and the series is even. Three of the four matches have gone to three sets. Pavan finished this match with a whopping 17 kills, 8 blocks, and a .441% hitting percentage. However, it was April’s 23 kills and 25 digs that was too much for the Canadians to handle.
Closing thanks from the Great North
Despite the defeat in the final, Pavan, a 2016 Olympian and four-time All-American at Nebraska, said playing on the AVP can only help their game.
“It’s a high level of play and we’re really grateful for the opportunity to play here,” she said. “This is an incredible organization and great chance for us to play domestically. We’ve loved our experience here and hopefully there will be many more and hopefully a lot more heated battles in finals like that one.”
Get all the stats and results from the entire tournament here.