CHICAGO — Of course they went three.
“Wow! Oh, my gosh,” Kristen Nuss said. “That was fun.”
“That was fun,” Taryn Kloth added with a giggle.
And fun to watch, as sixth-seeded Nuss and Kloth beat third-seeded Canadian Olympians Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes 21-18, 17-21, 15-10 in the rain to win the AVP Gold Series Chicago Open.
The victory was their first on the AVP Tour since they opened the season by winning Austin four months ago. Not only did it earn them a berth into the AVP Phoenix Championships on September 23-24 — it also netted them $30,000.
“That was tiring but such fun. It’s just fun to be in battles like that,” Nuss said. “Who doesn’t love that? Obviously you want to blow out a team sometimes, but who doesn’t love the high-level, point-after-point, get after it back-and-forth fun?”
That was the M.O. all weekend for the second-year pros.
“I don’t know why we keep doing that ourselves,” Kloth said.
They opened Friday with a 21-17, 28-26 victory over Emily Day and Savvy Simo. Then they beat Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes 21-18, 21-15 on Friday afternoon, which by Sunday felt like eons ago.
Saturday, things got dicey. After they lost to Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon 21-19, 18-21, 18-20 their work would be cut out for them on Sunday.
“We love a dogfight,” Kloth said. “Going into this weekend I was like I don’t care what happens but we are not backing down and after taking that loss it was like a shot to the heart. And then you have to battle back and there’s nothing else you can do about it.”
“That’s our mentality,” Nuss said. “Go out and fight.”
They opened the final day by beating Canadian Olympian Sarah Pavan and Latvian Olympian Tina Graudina 12-21, 21-18, 17-15.
That got them into the semifinals, where they knocked off Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint 15-21, 21-19, 25-23. In the second set alone they twice squandered four-point leads and faced match point at 22-21 before winning it on a Nuss dribbler ace and a Kloth kill.
In the first set of the final they came back from being down 9-15 and still trailed 17-18 before scoring the last four points. In the third set, they built a 13-6 lead, saw that gap closed to 13-10, and then finished it when Humana-Paredes hit wide and Kloth blocked her on the next point to end it.
“I play with my rock. Kristen is just the most even-keeled and cool, calm and collected no matter what happens,” Kloth said.
To think: They didn’t even know each other before the 6-foot-4 Kloth finished her great Creighton indoors career and transferred as a graduate student to LSU in 2019. She paired with the 5-foot-6 Nuss in 2021 and they’ve never looked back.
“It is a nice cherry on the top — obviously we have Phoenix — but it’s just been a grind and a half and having five fifth-places in row, it was kind of a like the monkey on our own backs,” Kloth said. “Now we’re through with that, which is nice.”
Nuss, as always, was quick to praise coach Drew Hamilton.
“We trust him from every day at practice and you can fall back on that, even in those crucial moments. We can side out, we can hang with the best of them,” she said. “And also a big shoutout to the crowd. TKN nation was loud and proud. And we were definitely feeding off of them.”
Hamilton recognized how hard his team battled the past couple of days. But it also wasn’t lost on him how much it helped TKN to be back home the past couple of weeks after a grueling summer of AVP and Volleyball World tournaments.
“It’s been a rough few months, just with all the travel for them for the first time,” Hamilton said. “It was good to get back to training and get back to what we’ve done in the past. They kind of settled in a got more comfortable and it for sure showed on the court.”
Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes, together for the first time, also fought their way into the final Sunday. They opened with a victory over top-seeded Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske 21-10, 17-21, 15-13 before topping fourth-seeded Cheng and Flint in the semifinals 15-21, 21-19, 25-23.
“It was blast to get this opportunity to play in Chicago,” Humana-Parades said. “We grinded the whole way. That team is solid. We played them earlier in the tournament and knew it was going to be tough. The last game of the day, another three-setter, I was just trying to enjoy the moment.
“I’m happy that we got all the way to the finals and it’s a bummer that we didn’t win, because I know we totally could have.”
Wilkerson had been playing AVP with Zana Muno. Humana-Paredes had been the longtime partner of Pavan’s. Wilkerson is expected to get back with her partner, Canadian Sophie Bukovec, for the rest of the Volleyball World season.
“I haven’t gotten that far yet. I was just focusing on this game here and now I’m gonna take some time to think about it.”
Click here for the complete AVP Chicago results, courtesy of BVBinfo.com