MAY 24, 2022, SAN ANTONIO, TX – They’re self-described psychos, Molly Turner and Jessica Gaffney. How else to explain what the final weeks of May and the first weeks of June look like?
Earlier this week, they boarded a flight for San Antonio, Texas, for a two-day, 48-team tournament that would require a minimum of seven matches in heat that regularly jumped into the triple-figures. Late-night storms didn’t help matters, delaying the evening matches on Saturday to the bleary-eyed hours of the morning on Sunday.
The dilemma for West Coast teams, and particularly Turner and Gaffney, who entered the San Antonio AVPNext as the No. 1 seed and favorites to qualify for AVP New Orleans, was what to do on Sunday night or Monday morning? Do they book a round-trip flight, head back to Hermosa Beach, California, or do they gamble, bet on themselves, and make it a string of one-way flights, from Los Angeles to Texas to Louisiana to – get this – Lithuania, of all places in this beach volleyball-crazed world.
They bet on themselves with a “one-way flight and a carry-on suitcase packed for potentially three weeks,” Gaffney said.
They won big.
For the second consecutive time in 2022, Turner and Gaffney qualified for an AVP Pro Series main draw. They played seven matches and won 14 consecutive sets, beating Hailey Harward and Carly Skjodt in the finals, 21-19, 21-19. There will be no flight changes needed.
Los Angeles can wait. There’s an AVP in New Orleans to play.
“We didn’t even know if we were going to qualify,” Turner said. “I literally would not allow myself to say ‘When we qualify.’ So the start of the trip was so focused on the task of qualifying. We packed enough for three weeks but were trying to just focus solely on San Antonio.”
It served them well, that focus. The tournament was a fully-loaded affair, with veterans and up-and-comers alike joining the field. There were AVP champions in Kim DiCello and Kendra VanZwieten, who wound up in ninth, falling to Abby Van Winkle and Macy Jerger. There were teams who joined Turner and Gaffney in the main draw of AVP Austin in Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez, who finished third and will also be in the main draw of New Orleans. There were international medalists in Megan Gebhard, Allie Wheeler, Carly Kan, and Kaitlyn Leary, as well as perennial winners such as Aurora Davis.
In the end, it was Turner and Gaffney, the psychos on one heck of a road trip, who prevailed over all of them.
“Starting it off with a full tournament win was incredible,” Turner said. “Not that I didn’t think it was possible, we just don’t fully know our abilities yet as a team. But this weekend really helped our confidence in knowing how hard we work and how mindful our practices have been that it’s worth it and we are doing something right.”
Joining them in New Orleans will be Katie Horton and Brook Bauer, Simo and Rodriguez – who are on the same itinerary as Turner and Gaffney, heading to Lithuania for a Volleyball World event after New Orleans – Mackenzie Ponnet and Chelsea Rice, Jerger and Van Winkle, and Kahlee York and Gebhard.
“These trips are always fun, but qualifiers are crazy pressure,” Gaffney said. “I feel a huge sense of relief getting the job done in San Antonio. Now we have an exciting opportunity to compete in another Pro Series followed by our first Futures event. Can’t wait to put the work to the test.”
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew