JUNE 23, 2022, POTTSTOWN, PA - It is a nod to the effectiveness of the nascent AVP Grass Tour that at least one of the registrants is making her debut at the Pottstown Rumble this weekend purely because Pottstown is now an established stop on the Tour.
Despite being raised on the East Coast, in Fayetteville, Georgia, Teegan Van Gunst had never heard of the Rumble, which seems almost impossible. The East Coast is, in a volleyball sense, the Grass Coast. The biggest grass tournaments are – at least prior to the quick rise of the Out of System boys, Joe and Gage Worsley and Micah Ma’a – largely won by those who hail from the East: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina.
Yet there was still a certain independent, underground element to many grass tournaments. The marketing and promotion for such events was largely word of mouth, spread from player to player, until the AVP legitimized it, in a sense, and Pottstown – like the Clash, Crown, Waupaca, and others – became the colossal affair that it is now: A $70,000 stop on the AVP Grass Tour.
“I’d only heard about it two years ago when the AVP started the pro Grass Tour and it was one of the stops,” Van Gunst said. “Prior to that, I didn’t know it existed.”
She was intrigued, but scheduling conflicts kept her out of the competition until this season. Despite this being her first Rumble, Van Gunst enters as an immediate favorite, partnered with the defending champ in Aurora Davis. It’s a friendly atmosphere to rookies, Pottstown. Only a year ago, it was Davis who made her debut at Pottstown, without a clue about the rules. Didn’t matter: She won with Lydia Smith. Now it’s Van Gunst who is making her debut.
“I’m excited to see what all the hype is about,” she said. “It’ll be fun getting to play against a lot of new people who play grass all the time and I’ve heard some players have been coming to this tournament since they were little kids! What a legacy to be doing this for 30 years. There must be something special about it.”
Indeed, nearly every competitor in the field will note that ambiguous ‘something special’ about the event, without being able to point to exactly what it is that makes Pottstown arguably the most significant stop on the Grass Tour. Mark Burik called it a family reunion, a sentiment also shared about the Clash.
Andrew Dentler, a two-time champ, said there’s no better-run tournament on the schedule, beach or grass. Shane Donohue particularly enjoys the endurance element to it, something of which Van Gunst has heard plenty.
“I’ll most definitely be sore for several days afterwards – my neck and lower limbs from the knees down get wrecked – but in the moment it’ll be all fun and games,” the 27-year-old said. “And getting to play with Aurora and hang out with the whole Davis clan is always a blast. I feel honored to have been asked to play it with the defending champ. Hopefully we can get her a repeat title.”
It won’t be easy. The field is, as always, deep at the Rumble. While it is not the 104-team monster that the men’s field is, it’s dense, with Jessica Crum and Kelly Vieira leading the seeding. Sarah Wood, a 14-year-old who just broke the AVP’s record for youngest to qualify for a main draw in Muskegon, is third alongside Ashley McGinn.
“Insane,” is how Adrianna Nora, Wood’s teammate during the Clash, which they won alongside Davis, described Wood. Insane though she may be, they’ll all have to battle through four separate Kleespies: Haley and Chloee, the 4 seed, and Cassaundra and MacKenzie, the 5. Like any grass tournament, there will be landmines, lower-seeded teams who can beat anyone in the field – like Davis and Smith a year ago.
“After playing Pottstown for the first time last year it is definitely a tournament I don’t want to miss,” Davis said. “I loved the atmosphere, the fans were amazing, the competition was great, and I loved throwing it back and playing on a big court with side out scoring. I thought it added a fun twist to the game. And definitely had to have a different mindset with so many points happening but the score staying the same. Can’t wait for it.”
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew