CHICAGO — Two weeks after a thrilling tournament at Manhattan Beach and a week after a stop in Virginia Beach, the AVP season of so many first-time winners moves to the shores of Lake Michigan for the Gold Series Chicago.
The stakes are high Friday as teams vie for spots in the Phoenix Championships later this month.
And, thanks to Canadians Sarah Pavan, Brandie Wilkerson, and Melissa Humana-Paredes, the women’s bracket is full of surprises.
The MBO winners, Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske, are the top seed. Olympian Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon are No. 2.
But the third seed is the new pair of Canadian Olympians Brandie Wilkerson, who has American citizenship, and Melissa Humana-Parades.
Wilkerson, whose partner during the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, Heather Bansley, retired, had been playing the AVP season with young American Zana Muno. Humana-Paredes was the partner of Canadian Olympian Sarah Pavan, the former Nebraska great, but they recently announced their volleyball divorce after a wildly successful partnership in which they set a number of Canadian milestones on the beach.
Pavan, the 6-foot-5 left-hander, is seeded fifth with Latvian Olympian Tina Graudina, the former USC great who also has American citizenship. She won AVP Fort Lauderdale with another former USC standout, Hailey Harward.
And not to be missed in there is the No. 4 seed of Olympian Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint, who lost in the MBO final.
At No. 6 are Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, who won the season-opener in Austin in May — when they beat Pavan and Humana-Paredes in the final — and the seventh seeded are the Maestrinis, Larissa and Lili, who have three 2022 titles to their credit and lost in the AVP Virginia Beach final last weekend to Deahna Kraft and Allie Wheeler, who are not in the bracket.
There is, of course, just as intriguing a men’s field. Former Canadian Chaim Schalk, now an American, and Theo Brunner are the No. 1 seed. They won in Hermosa Beach and lost in both the Atlanta and Manhattan Beach finals.
The second seed is the pair of Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, coming off their MBO victory. They also won in Fort Lauderdale.
Paul Lotman and Miles Partain, who won in Atlanta, are seeded third, and the Taylors, Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander are No. 4. They lost in the New Orleans final to the old-guys pair of Phil Dalhausser and Casey Patterson.
Speaking of which, the veterans are pairing again, the 6-9, 42-year-old Dalhausser and the 6-6 42-year-old Patterson.
They’re seeded fifth and it’s not a stretch to say they’ll be the crowd favorites. Dalhausser won the season-opener with Andy Benesh and he and Patterson took third in both Hermosa and Atlanta.
Patterson got here early and has been making local media appearances to promote the event.
Winning MBO was quite a moment for Hughes, 27, the former USC great, and Kolinske, formerly Kelley Larsen, the 30-year-old who played at Pepperdine. They were down 13-10 in the third set against Cheng and Flint before staging a five-point rally that will live in the lore of the sport.
“We actually had to go back and watch the last five points,” Hughes said, “because sometimes it’s like, what exactly happened? But she had that trickle ace and that changed the momentum, and, of course, that huge block. Everyone got chills at that moment.”
Hughes and Kolinske won the first set 21-18 but got drubbed in the second 21-11. And then Kolinske had that incredible block of Flint at 13-13.
“That was definitely up there,” said Kolinske, who won on the AVP Tour for the fourth time, the first since 2019 when she and Emily Stockman took Seattle, beating Emily Day, and, interestingly Flint.
“But we’re always in every match, whether we’re down or up, I always feel like our defense is one of best attributes as a team,” Kolinske said. “I knew if we could get one point on defense we could turn it around.”
It was also the fourth AVP win for Hughes, the last in 2018 with Summer Ross when they beat April Ross and Alix Klineman in Hermosa.
“It’s been amazing with the outpouring of love and support from the volleyball community,” Hughes said. “For Kelley and I it was really special because our friends and families were in attendance for that big win. That was just so memorable.”
“I was telling Sara I hardly got much sleep the first couple of nights, thinking about it and replaying in my mind,” Kolinske said. “It was just a fun way to win, a comeback win, and like Sara said, the last five points happened so fast. It was pretty crazy, but we’re focused on Chicago.”
PHOENIX EXPLAINED: Next up is the Phoenix Championships, which will feature the top four teams per gender from the 2022 Gold Series events (Atlanta, MBO and Chicago). In addition, two wild-card spots (per gender) will be added to the field.
Only Brunner and Schalk have secured spots on the men’s side, while on the women’s Hughes and Kolinske and Cannon and Sponcil are in.
FOREIGN PLAYERS: By the way, an explanation from the AVP handbook on the eligibility of the Canadians:
Participation in AVP events generally is open to qualified players who are legal
residents of the United States, who are eligible to work in the United States and
who have entered into an AV Player Agreement. International players who are
in the process of obtaining work authorization from U.S. immigration authorities
may be granted the right to participate in AVP events, as long as such
participation otherwise complies with applicable immigration laws.
Additionally, in very specific circumstances (e.g., when AVP enters into an
international television deal which requires participation by international players),
international players may be invited, in the AVP’s discretion, to participate in AVP
events, provided that participating international players must sign the same AVP
Player Agreement as every other AVP player. AVP will use reasonable efforts to
notify all AV players in advance of any international player’s participation in an
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