HERMOSA BEACH, California — It wasn’t hard to guess the subject of this month’s SANDCAST mailbag: After withdrawing from the Xiamen Challenge and Brasilia Elite16, Have Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk dropped out of the race to the Paris Olympic Games?

No less than a dozen individuals asked various versions of that question, one I’ll allow Bourne to answer himself:

“We are pulling out of the Olympic race. We basically got far enough back in it, and it was a grind, I don’t know what it looked like from the outside but it’s been an uphill battle the whole time. The stress of it, that’s all part of the package, all teams are dealing with it, but also health stuff, not being able to put the package together on the court, the travel, stuff we got going on in our personal lives, and we got far enough back in the race where we’re still in it but we’d have to break through these qualifiers, go to every event and win at least two Elites which we hadn’t been performing to that level over the last year and a half. We didn’t want to grind out another two months which seems like risking our health further, traveling, grinding, banging our heads against the wall to not get the berth. So we said ‘You know what, we’re going to cut our losses here and move on with our lives and reevaluate.’ It sucks but that’s what happens when you bite off a big challenge.”

Bourne and Schalk, Olympians both already, will not be Olympians in 2024. Which prompted out next glut of questions: Who will be?

What is the likelihood of Chase Budinger and Miles Evans beating Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner out for the Olympics?

At the time this question was asked, the likelihood was mostly a toss-up, and still is. This question came in prior to the Brasilia Elite16, with Budinger and Evans trailing by an even 400 points. But the deficit was deceiving, and every American in the race knew it. In a week, Budinger and Evans will be competing at the NORCECA Continental Finals, an event with Challenge points but hardly any competition. Barring something extraordinary, they’ll finish a minimum — and this is a bare minimum — of fourth. It’s mostly a contest between Budinger and Evans, Canada’s Sam Schachter and Dan Dearing, and Cuba’s Jorge Alayo and Noslen Diaz. Mexico’s Miguel Sarabia and Gabriel Cruz are a distant fourth. So with that factored in prior to Brasilia, Crabb and Brunner held onto a narrow lead.

That lead is now gone.

Budinger and Evans’ fifth in Brasilia, combined with a points-less 13th for Crabb and Brunner, tacked on 300 points to their total. They are now 100 behind Crabb and Brunner, and will overtake them by at least 100 points after the NORCECA Continental Finals are finished — again, barring something extraordinary.

After practice on Monday morning, Bourne asked me if I had to pick a position to be in, with three events remaining in the race — four if you include the NORCECA — which would I choose? That of Crabb and Brunner, or Budinger and Evans?

I’d rather be Chase Budinger and Miles Evans.

They’ve now taken the driver’s seat in the USA Olympic race.

Miles Evans, left, and Chase Budinger in Doha/Volleyball World photo

Who are the sleepers for gold in Paris on the men’s and women’s sides?

First, let’s set some parameters for what would qualify as a “sleeper” team. On the podcast, Tri Bourne and I said any team outside of the top six in the Olympic rankings would qualify, so we’ll go with that.

On the women’s side, I’ve opted for Chen Xue and Xinyi Xia, the Chinese duo currently ranked No. 8. Xue’s already won an Olympic medal — a bronze in 2008 — and Paris will mark her fourth Olympic Games. She’s no stranger to the big stage, nor is she unfamiliar with success on it. Xia is a young and brilliant defender, a 27-year-old with 20 medals on her resume already, including a gold at the Saquarema Challenge earlier this season. Picking a sleeper on the women’s side is difficult, because, deep though it may be, the top is so dang strong, with Ana Patricia Silva and Duda Lisboa, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Barbara Seixas and Carol Salgado, and Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes gobbling up the lion’s share of the medals. But if I were to pick one, I’m riding with China.

For the men, we both looked at No. 9 Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl and pegged the Polish as our team. They are an enigma, Poland. The team that won four golds in 2022 and won a bronze medal at the 2023 World Championships is the same pair who can suffer sweeps at the hands of England’s Bello brothers and all but forget to clock into the building in the playoff rounds of Elite16s, as they did in Brasilia against Chase Budinger and Miles Evans. They’re confounding. But given the proper incentive, and the Olympics would seem a proper incentive if there ever were one in beach volleyball, Poland could resume the form that has them as a contender to medal in any tournament they play.

Is the FIVB reacting to the Challenge forfeits because of the format?

A briefer for context: In a 24-team modified pool play format, the winners of the first round play one another in the second in a match that will determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in pool. Aside from that distinction, however, there is no real upside to winning. In some cases, there’s actually quite a substantial bit of downside. Win or lose, both teams begin the playoffs in the round of 16. On paper, the team who wins pool will theoretically get a better draw in the playoff rounds. But with the depth of the Beach Pro Tour and some occasionally wonky results in pool play, there is really no benefit to winning that match. Take the Recife Challenge as an example. Evandro Goncalves and Arthur Mariano lost their first round of pool but won their second, claiming the three seed in pool. The only way you’d draw Evandro and Arthur in the first round is if you took first in pool. Teams couldn’t forfeit fast enough, and for good reason: Evandro and Arthur would go on to win gold.

There was literally an incentive to lose.

Aside from the occasional stunner in the first round, the main line of thinking is thus: Why add another match of jumps and swings and stress on the body when I could just…relax? Nap. Eat. Recover. Find a good restaurant. Be 100 percent, or as close as players can get, for the matches that matter most.

It’s a no-win situation for everyone involved, particularly the promoters putting on the tournament and fans who came to watch. I chatted with a few at a convenience store in Guadalajara who were bummed  they didn’t get to see Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner play Cuba in the second round of pool, a match that surely would have been exceptional — and was, when they played later in the semifinals.

The good news for the FIVB and the Beach Pro Tour is that there is only a single Challenge event remaining in the Olympic qualification period: Stare Jablonki at the end of May. Once an Olympic qualification period begins, the rules and formats of events cannot be changed, so only one more tournament will suffer from the litany of forfeits that have plagued the Challenges for more than a year.

The bad news is that there are still four more Challenges on the schedule after the Paris Olympic Games, and something will hopefully be done about the second round of pool play for the winners. If not, we’ll keep seeing forfeits.

The FIVB hasn’t reacted yet, because they can’t, but with the first Challenge post-Paris not until October in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, there’s time enough to make a shift in the format, one with proper incentives on every match.

Double-elimination, anyone?

What new partnerships can we look forward to on the AVP?

The AVP season begins May 16 in Huntington Beach. Here are a few of the notable new and old partnerships you can expect on the men’s side:

  • Trevor Crabb, Theo Brunner
  • Taylor Crabb, Taylor Sander
  • Miles Partain, Andy Benesh
  • Chase Budinger, Miles Evans
  • Phil Dalhausser, Avery Drost
  • Tri Bourne, Chaim Schalk
  • Hagen Smith, Logan Webber
  • Cody Caldwell, Seain Cook
  • Evan Cory, Alison Cerutti
  • Billy Allen, Paul Lotman
  • Troy Field, Tim Bomgren
  • Brian Miller, DJ Klasnic
  • Tim Brewster, Kyle Friend
  • David Lee, Jake Urrutia
  • Jake Dietrich, Lila Tucker
  • Bill Kolinske, Chase Frishman
  • Caleb Kwekel, Alvaro Filho

For the women:

  • Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth
  • April Ross, Alix Klineman
  • Sara Hughes, Kelly Cheng
  • Melissa Humana-Paredes, Brandie Wilkerson
  • Betsi Flint, Julia Scoles
  • Megan Kraft, Terese Cannon
  • Brook Bauer, Megan Rice
  • Zana Muno, Emily Day Capers
  • Geena Urango, Toni Rodriguez
  • Kylie DeBerg, Hailey Harward
  • Deahna Kraft, Lexy Denaburg
  • Kim Hildreth, Teegan Van Gunst
  • Savvy Simo, Abby Van Winkle
  • Carly Kan, Maddie Anderson
  • Chloe Loreen, Molly Shaw
  • Alaina Chacon, Mariah Whalen

Will the SANDCAST Tour come to Canada? Toronto maybe?

We’ll go wherever the people want a podcast, some beach volleyball, and some good vibes! If you want to host a SANDCAST Tour stop, shoot me an email: travis@sandcastvolleyball.com.


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