JUNE 28, 2022, POTTSTOWN, PA - It was 6-4 in the finals of the Pottstown Rumble when something totally benign, yet undeniably significant, happened: Teegan Van Gunst tipped up the shot of Jessica Crum, landed from her block jump and calmly set her partner, Aurora Davis. A year ago, during the 29th annual Rumble, Davis may well have allowed her beach brain to take control of what would – should in her mind – happen next. She would have searched for the right shot or swing and hit it, as the rules of the beach would require her to do. She did neither of those things.

Instead, as Van Gunst backpedaled to create an approach, Davis set her, and Van Gunst subsequently buried an angle swing around the block of Kelly Vieira. To those well-initiated with Pottstown, this play is as regular as a deep angle swing or a cut shot in front of a pulling blocker. But a year ago, Davis was not among the well-initiated. Prior to the onset of pool play, she inquired about the specific rules of the event, which are famously unique: big court, sideout scoring, with a dash of indoor in which a block touch does not count as one of your three touches.

That play, then, innocuous to most, was actually quite daunting: Aurora Davis knew the rules.

Uh oh.

Davis and Van Gunst would go on to win that final over Crum and Vieira, 15-8, completing a perfect run of uninterrupted dominance through the Rumble: 10 sets played, 10 sets won, by an average of 15-4.3. The final, crazy as it sounds, was actually the closest set the two played all weekend.

That’s how good they were.

Crum and Vieira, for their part, were equally as dominant in the leadup to the finals. They won their first six sets of pool play by a total of 90-13, then marched through bracket play with a 15-11 win over Lexi Morrow and Brittney Moyer, 15-10 over Ashley McGinn and Sarah Wood, and a forfeit to Bri Civiero and Denise De Vine, who finished third. Sydney Alvis and Maddy Kline were the other third place finishers.

It’s Davis’ second attempt at Pottstown and her second consecutive title; Van Gunst, like Davis a year ago, won on her first go at it, a rarity in an event with a $70,000 prize purse and the invaluable pride that comes with winning such an iconic tournament.

“It was so cool to be able to defend the title from last year,” said Davis, who won in 2021 with Lydia Smith.  “Everyone’s so good, so to be able to pull that off was awesome. Teegan was an absolute beast at everything. It was such a blast getting to share the court with her.”

They have been sharing the court on whatever surface they can find this year. Van Gunst’s usual partner, her twin sister Annika, is pregnant, which left her in search of a new defender. What she has found, as so many have, is that picking up with Davis is remarkably easy. They played in Panama City Beach and finished fifth, good enough to qualify for the main draw of the AVP Pro Series in Austin, Texas, where they’d take ninth. In Muskegon, Michigan, an AVP Tour Series, they claimed seventh, a career-high for both.

They’re both well-versed on the beach – Van Gunst competed at Georgia State; Davis at Florida State – and the partnership made perfect sense. But on the grass? A surface in which neither have much experience? At a marathon of a tournament with strange rules, where the opponents are far more familiar with the grass and its unique style of play?

“It was pretty cool to win the title my first time there,” Van Gunst said. “Old school volleyball rules definitely take a different level of persistence and patience that were both tested at different points throughout the weekend, but I thought we battled well and took advantage of the extra court space on the other side of the net than we’re used to.”

True to her words, rare was the occasion that Van Gunst, who stands 6 feet tall, had her hands on the ball and didn’t score. Davis, who possesses one of the more formidable jump serves on the women’s side of the AVP Tour, not necessarily for its pace but its precision, used every extra inch of available space, picking up timely aces time and time again. Those aces provided more than just valuable points, too.

“I’m actually not as wrecked as I thought I would be,” Van Gunst said. “Shout out to Aurora’s serving runs giving me breaks up at the net.”

Good thing, too, that neither is all that wrecked from the bodily punishment of the grass. In a few days, they’ll be on another plane, this one bound for the Denver AVP Tour Series. Currently seeded seventh in the main draw, they’ll return to the familiar: small court, soft surface, three touches only, with points won on every rally. The rules, the surface – at this point, it doesn’t seem to matter much where and how they’re playing volleyball.

Aurora Davis and Teegan Van Gunst simply adapt and advance, leaving a trail of wins in their wake.

~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew

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