MAY 20, 2022, SAN ANTONIO, TX – So begins the partner shuffling. It took a grand total of one event for pastures to be looking awfully green elsewhere, as the men’s players attempt to reconfigure their teams, trying to find the perfect alchemy to qualify for AVP New Orleans next weekend.
Seven of the top 10 seeded teams are different from the previous qualifier, in Panama City Beach, Fla., as are four of the next 10.
The qualifier system might be new, but the bi-monthly qualifier partner shuffle remains the same, whimsical beach volleyball musical chairs it has always been. Below, you will find 10 teams to watch this weekend in San Antonio, which aren’t necessarily the best teams, just talented ones with good storylines who also, yes, have a shot at finishing in the semifinals and punching their ticket to New Orleans.
Skylar del Sol, Andrew Dentler
With the exception of the AVP Champions Cup, del Sol has been straight into the main draw in his last seven AVP tournaments. But with his former partner Ed Ratledge popping around between Casey Patterson and Miles Evans, and Paul Lotman, his teammate in Austin, going back to the young Padawan, Miles Partain, del Sol has been thrust back into the gauntlet of the qualifiers. He’s picked up Dentler, and the two will be a sweet setting, tough serving team, with both packing jump serves that bring pace and accuracy, which will be a huge source of points all weekend long in San Antonio.
Rafu Rodriguez, Dave Palm
It was only a few days before AVP Austin that Rafu Rodriguez knew he was even playing. Mark Burik, with whom Palm qualified in Panama City Beach, broke his foot, leaving Palm in search of a last minute injury sub. Rodriguez was his guy, and although they finished 13th, it belied just how well they played, pushing finalists Troy Field and Chase Budinger in two tight sets, then taking Tim Bomgren and Piotr Marciniak to three. With a tournament under their belt, expect a few things to be smoothed out, and this team to be a dangerous one in Texas.
Mike Groselle, Grant O’Gorman
It was only nine months ago when Mike Groselle made his first AVP main draw, cruising through the qualifier with DR Vander Meer before stunning Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in the first round. Now he’s partnered with Grant O’Gorman, the No. 2 defender in Canada who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games with Ben Saxton.
Not a bad pickup for the AVP rookie.
How much preparation they’ll have had together is likely less than ideal, but still: O’Gorman has played with the best, against the best. They’ll figure it out just fine.
Brandon Joyner, Kyle Friend
There may have been no two individuals who wanted Chase Budinger and Troy Field to skip Austin for the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenger in Doha last weekend than Brandon Joyner and Kyle Friend. Had Budinger and Field decided to play in Qatar, it would have opened up an additional spot into the main draw of Austin, which would have trickled to, you guessed it, Friend and Joyner, who finished fifth in Panama City Beach.
The good news is that they proved they could play well enough to qualify, losing a tight three-setter in the quarterfinals to eventual finalists Marty Lorenz and Caleb Kwekel. Should they play that way again, they’ll be headed for beignets and beads.
Chase Frishman, Noah Dyer
You never really know what Chase Frishman is going to do next. One day he’s being named the AVP Rookie of the Year, as he was in 2016, the next, he’s living in a Subaru Outback. One day he’s playing with an AVP veteran in Piotr Marciniak, the next, he’s developing an up and coming talent fresh off the indoor scene in Noah Dyer.
But no matter what Frishman is doing, he’s always doing it well. He and Dyer have played two tournaments this season, finishing ninth in Panama City Beach before winning a tournament last weekend in Belmont Shores. Solid momentum heading into San Antonio, where Dyer, a former outside hitter and libero for Pepperdine, is looking to qualify for his first AVP main draw.
Ian Bicko, Nolan Albrecht
The Cinderellas of Panama City Beach! These two put on a crowd-pleasing show in Florida, upsetting Avery Drost and Eric Beranek in the final match of pool play. This was most unfortunate for Steve Roschitz and Pete Connole, of course, who had the brutal draw of getting Drost and Beranek in the first round, but in the moment, it was a seminal win for Bicko, who has been steadily improving, seeking a signature win. A signature win was had.
They’d fall short of qualifying, but between Bicko’s size at the net and Albrecht’s menacing jump serve, there are no easy points on these two.
Andrew Holman, Adam Hartmann
Of the many – many – teams I watched in Florida, I was left most impressed by these two youngsters. They play such a smooth, sweet style of play that is just dang fun to watch and so very difficult to stop. Their ball control makes them an excellent team in the wind, a Florida signature of sorts, and that kind of play translates well to any weather. Even if it’s hot and rainy and still and muggy in San Antonio, these two will be dangerous.
Alexander Biz, Leor Schiffer
Aside from Hagen Smith and Jake Dietrich, who have won back-to-back CBVAs, qualifying for AVP Hermosa in the process, there are few teams playing better volleyball on the CBVA circuit than Alexander Biz and Leor Schiffer. They have the best arms in the entire tournament, hands down, and when they’re hot, they are scolding, blisteringly hot. This will be the most physical team in San Antonio, hands down.
Andrew Royal, Ethan Elkins
The Florida panhandle is best known for the four-man tournament/bi-annual boozefest on the beach that is Fuds. It is not exactly known for producing an abundance of beach volleyball talent. Yet Royal and Elkins are proving an exception to that rule. They won a tough pool in Panama City Beach before bowing out in 17th, but still, the message was clear: They could beat any team in the tournament, especially when it gets a bit breezy. Elkins is an athletic marvel, with an impressive vertical and a bigger arm, while Royal’s ball control and cheeky on-two and on-one plays are a huge source of points.
Ben Vaught, Tanner Woods
Woods and Stanford libero Evan Enriques became the darlings of the 2021 Seaside Open when they lost in their second match of the tournament, then clawed their way back, winning somewhere around seven straight just to get back to the quarterfinals. It was epic. And, good as Enriques was, much of it was on the back of Woods, who packed a massive jump serve and big swing after big swing in an indefatigable right arm that just could not stop. Partnered with Ben Vaught, a veteran on the sand, this is a talented 41 seed who could upset quite a few.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew