Three first-time champions, two teams that captured their first titles as a duo and one big family-and-friends affair made the AVP Seattle Open the perfect way to close out the first half the tour’s 2019 season.
Chaim Schalk and Jeremy Casebeer, in their first season together, knocked off top seeds Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, securing their first AVP championship.
Emily Stockman and Kelley Larsen, also in their first season as a duo, knocked off newly minted rivals Emily Day and Betsi Flint in a 2-set Final.
It was the first time in four tournaments this season that a top seed has not won on the AVP tour but it clearly would not be a surprise to see that happen again. Schalk, Casebeer, and Stockman are the first-time winners and clearly, they’ve built some momentum.
“This is our first win together as a team and there’s more to come,” Larsen said, no doubt speaking for all of the first-timers. It was Larsen’s third career victory.
It wasn’t just a breakthrough victory. The winners also qualified for the season-ending Hawaii Open, where $200,000 in prize money will be up for grabs.
The tour now takes a month for a breath before the Hermosa Beach Open on July 26-28. But there’s still plenty for AVP teams to accomplish; four of the team entrants quickly left Lake Sammamish State Park to head to Hamburg, Germany for the FIVB World Championships from June 28-July 7.
Eight AVP teams will be playing in the biennial event, with the top prize being the winners receive a bid for their country to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Gibb and Crabb, Seattle Semifinalists Stafford Slick and Billy Allen, Larsen and Stockman plus Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil (also Seattle Semifinalists) will join their compatriots in Hamburg. Already there waiting for them are Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross plus April Ross and Alix Klineman were already in Germany.
It was the second crack at a title this season for Casebeer and Schalk, who lost to Gibb and Crabb in Austin last month.
This time, it was the serving and blocking of Casebeer and the all-around play of Schalk that turned the tables as they vindicated their partnership.
“It feels amazing to do it with Jeremy,” said Schalk, the 2016 Olympian for Canada. “We’ve been working really hard. We’re a new partnership still, but just our chemistry and the way we mesh together is perfect. I had a feeling it was coming soon, we’ve been playing well all year so we’re both real proud. It’s amazing to do it with him.”
When the final ball hit the sand, they hugged each other and Casebeer had a simple reaction.
“Crazy emotions right after, just bawling,” he said. “We’re a new team but it just felt right. It felt different because he had a bunch of his friends from Canada here, I had my whole family, it definitely just felt right.”
They were definitely more right than Gibb and Crabb, who won the first two events of the season.
“They just played great volleyball,” Gibb said. “I give them all the props in the world. Serving, sideout, setting, defense, they just played really well. It was one of those games where we were just trying to keep pace because they played really well. They deserve it.
“They’re both amazing players. I’m just really happy for both of them. That’s their first win on the AVP and just couldn’t be happier for a couple great guys.
Stockman and Larsen were facing Day and Flint for the fourth time in a month, including twice in Seattle.
“I think it’s sinking in,” Stockman said. “It’s pretty exciting, we played some great volleyball and this is just the beginning.”
The duo had to survive a 17-15 third-set win in the Semifinals over Claes and Sponcil, the top seeds.
“That first match, our Semifinal match, we had to battle back from being down,” Larsen said. “All day we were fighting each point, playing with our heart each point. In the Finals we were worried more about our side of the net, controlling their serves and just paying clean volleyball.”
Day and Flint, trying to repeat as Seattle champs, could never gain their traction.
“They’re a great team,” Day said. “They served really well, they transitioned almost at 100 percent. They played awesome and they’re a great duo and kudos to them. We just didn’t have what we had been doing all tournament. We didn’t bring it, that was a disappointment.”
Casebeer, twice named the Best Server on the AVP Tour, became a fan favorite with his boomers throughout the tournament. He was at his best, though in the Semifinals and Final.
Against Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger, Casebeer – or Ace-Beer, as one sign said – ripped five aces as they jumped out to a 7-0 lead. He finished with nine in that match and added four more in the Final.
For the tournament, Casebeer had 25 aces in five matches (11 sets, for an average of 2.27 aces per set).
As far as records go, the most in an AVP tournament (as far back as those records go) was delivered by Fred Souza in the 2007 Seaside Heights (N.J.) when he had 26 aces, but it took him eight matches to do it.
“I don’t care who that team plays in that first set, if he serves like that, they’re going to win that set,” Patterson said. “We knew he was going to come out and be aggressive and think he can get an ace every time and that’s what makes him a good server.
“It doesn’t matter what we did on our side, we could have had four people, he’s just going to serve the same ball.”
As Ricardo Santos and Sean Rosenthal were warming up for the second-round match against Gibb and Crabb, Ricardo hit the sand awkwardly and the 44-year-old took a while before he could get up and limp to his seat.
He was diagnosed with a calf strain, which could cost him four to six weeks of being out of action. He and Rosenthal had to exit with two forfeit defeats.
Ricardo was schedule to play internationally with Brazilian compatriot Gustavo “Guto” Carvalhaes, but now all plans are on hold.
Prior to the women’s Final, all of the AVP players on hand plus the four finalists met on Stadium Court and put their arms around each other to honor Eric Zaun, who passed away two weeks ago after taking his own life. He and partner Avery Drost had just picked up a ninth-place finish in the Gold Series New York City Open.
The AVP presented an emotional video tribute that included interviews with Zaun.
“He’s a good friend of all of ours,” Patterson said. “With anyone like that, it kind of blind-sided everybody. I had no idea. He’s always been a fun-loving, quirky, funny guy who always had a good attitude. I never saw lows like that. You see lows when you lose but . . . I never saw it. I was blown away when it happened.
“We’re a huge family, we all support each other [and our rivalries are not like we are out to get each other]. We all understand that more now. It used to be more rivalries and stuff like that. Now we’re all family.”