JUNE 22, 2022, POTTSTOWN, PA - Angel Dache has sworn off grass volleyball. That’s the story he continues telling himself, anyway. But the temptation can sometimes prove too much for the 31-year-old Cuban-American. Earlier this year, in late April, he was asked to play The Clash, the first stop of the AVP Grass Tour alongside Nick Drooker and Brett Rosenmeier. He didn’t want to say yes.
Of course he said yes.
“I played and couldn’t walk for three days after,” Dache said, laughing. “I’m too old.”
And yet, peruse the entry list for this weekend’s Pottstown Rumble, and you’ll see a familiar name: Andrew Dentler – and Angel Dache. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how bad it hurts.
Because this is the Pottstown Rumble. And one does not simply skip the Pottstown Rumble.
For 30 years now, this tournament has been held. Depending on your viewpoint of things, it has an argument as the most iconic stop on the nascent AVP Grass Tour, though nobody can really specify exactly why.
It’s just Pottstown.
“For me it’s a mix of it being a family tournament where I get to see all of my guys,” said Mark Burik, who is playing with perennial Pottstown contender Shane Donohue. “All of my best friends are there and are going to show up.”
The fact that Burik is showing up is a surprise to some. After finishing third at an AVPNext in Panama City this past April, qualifying for the AVP Pro Series in Austin, Texas, Burik broke his foot. He dropped out of Austin, skipped San Antonio, skipped New Orleans, skipped Muskegon, and only two weeks ago began an expedited rehab process to get his foot ready in time for Pottstown.
Risky to rush a return from injury to play on a harder surface? Sure.
Is Pottstown worth the risk?
“A lot of people questioned me for the broken foot on grass thing but if you’re ready to play volleyball, you’re ready to play volleyball,” Burik said. “The fact that it’s such a huge event, that so many families and friends treat it as a reunion and more than a tournament, and it’s got that huge family and friend vibe, and these guys – it’s a crew of just awesome people who you think wouldn’t have any business running an event like they do. But they have an army of volunteers they pay in beer, and they slave for a week. They run one event, and they crush it.”
Indeed, legends of the allure of Pottstown are nearly endless. There is the time that Avery Drost and Eric Zaun were eliminated earlier than expected in AVP Seattle, and rather than mope on their losses and explore Lake Sammamish, they hopped on the earliest flight they could find to make a late entry into Pottstown. Burik has executed similar slapdash adventures. Cash games abound. Eric Lucas’ family has attended Pottstown for nearly two decades, if not more. Last year, with Andrei Belov, he finally got his win – and the two are somehow seeded No. 14 this year.
Ah, yes, that’s another element to this beast of a tournament: The field. The top is unbelievably strong, but it’s littered with landmines throughout, making for a wondrous mess of things when pool play is finished and the brackets are made.
“It’s a different game. It’s for sure a different game. Any team could get knocked out by somebody who can just go nuts on jump serves,” Burik said. “So you’re passing and setting just need to be ultra-focused. You cannot fall asleep for a single serve receive. Just some 23-year-old kid with a cannon can get three or four points in a row just by jump-serving on big court.”
Need an example? You’ll likely have heard of the obvious contenders at the top: Ian Capp and Nate Miller, Tomas Goldsmith and Nolan Albrecht, Marc Fornaciari and Liam Maxwell, Donohue and Burik, Dentler and Dache. But you needn’t go far to find more bombers who can author an upset or two or three or four: Nick Drooker and Brett Rosenmeier (18), Josue Castillo and Jake Urrutia (19), Kyle Mariano and Kris Fraser (28), Kyle Radde and Michael Michelau (50), Chris Long and Kyle Stevenson (59), Anthony Winter and Will Veverka (63) – and on and on it could go, all the way into the triple-figures.
“That bracket is so big, there are so many land mines,” said Dentler, who has won Pottstown twice, in 2017 and 2019, both with Donohue. ”Winning Pottstown is probably second to finishing fifth in New Orleans. I would rather win Pottstown than get 13th on the AVP, no doubt.”
By virtue of playing, everyone wins in their own way. The word “family reunion” was used by every single player who was spoken to.
“It’s more than just a tournament,” Donohue said. “It’s a time to reunite with my volley family and compete against some of the best competition on the East Coast. It’s a two-day, 125-plus team tournament on the grass, so it’s more than your typical volleyball tournament. It’s a marathon test of endurance and determination. Maybe you can’t walk for a week or two after, but it’s totally worth it.”
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew