HUNTINGTON BEACH, California — It has been a proper off-season for those playing on the AVP Tour. A full eight months without competing in a domestic event. Eight months to train and lift and watch film until your eyes fall out. Eight months to get hungry for a three-tournament sprint of an AVP season beginning Thursday in Huntington Beach, California for the first Heritage Series of the year.

But that, for the first time in the sport’s history, isn’t all.

Should that three-tournament sprint go well enough for 16 men’s and women’s players, another sprint will follow during this fall’s inaugural AVP League.

Yes, with the advent the League, there’s more on the line at each of the AVP tournaments this season. Beginning this week at AVP Huntington Beach, a win isn’t just a win, replete with the prize money and the points and the extra notch on the legacy ledger, though those are all good and well. This year, the AVP has added another incentive to each of the three Heritage events: Standings for a League that kicks off two weeks after the closing event in Chicago on Labor Day Weekend.

The winner in Huntington Beach will punch their ticket to the League, earning one of the eight spots. Those who don’t win will log one of their two required finishes to qualify. Of the eight slots per gender, three are allocated to the winners of a Heritage Series, three via accumulated points, and two, should they be used, are reserved for wild cards. It adds intrigue not just for the semifinals and finals this weekend — and weekends in Manhattan Beach and Chicago — but in the quarterfinals, the seventh-place matches, all the way down to ninth, really. Now, every point earned could very well earn a second season of sorts this fall.

A win, however, promises that second season. So…

Who are the favorites to win AVP Huntington?

For the women, this is a relatively easy answer: Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson are all ranked in the top five in the world. It is a borderline guarantee that at least one of those teams will be in the finals.

And then, of course, there is the No. 2 seed: April Ross and Alix Klineman. They’re Olympic champions, winners of the last five AVPs they’ve played together. Perhaps even more impressive, the last time played in an AVP and didn’t make a final? AVP San Francisco…of 2018…before Kloth had ever stepped foot on a beach volleyball court, before Cheng and Hughes had rekindled their college flame, before Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes called one another partners.

How things have changed.

Both mothers now, Ross and Klineman have entered a new phase of their lives and, by extension, careers. While this is not the first event for Klineman since having her son — she competed at the Paris Elite16 and the 2023 World Championships with Hailey Harward — it is the first time the world will see Ross since she entered motherhood.

Bet against them at your own risk. Betsi Flint has already laid the current blueprint on how to transition from motherhood back to AVP success with nary a pause. The five seed, Flint is returning with Julia Scoles, with whom she won her first Manhattan Beach Open in 2023, coming all the way back after a first-round loss to Chloe Loreen and Natalie Robinson. Scoles is coming off a pair of knee surgeries, and both are competing for the first time since a ninth place at the 2023 World Championships last October.

While the women have a Big Five of clear favorites, the men’s field has been considerably whittled, making for what will be the most wide-open AVP of the season. The three pairs still vying for the two USA Olympic spots — Andy Benesh and Miles Partain, Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, Chase Budinger and Miles Evans — are all sitting out, getting to Portugal early for next week’s Espinho Elite16. It makes Huntington a parity-filled affair, with Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander and Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk the odds-on favorites, but these are far from guarantees.

Avery Drost, back with Phil Dalhausser, is seeking his first AVP win. He’s playing well, too, coming off a gold medal at the Varadero NORCECA stop, where he and Cody Caldwell upset Cubans Noslen Diaz and Jorge Alayo in the finals.

From there, teams four through 12, and even well into the qualifier, are nearly indistinguishable in terms of picking a favorite. Several are new partnerships, or old ones turned new again, which leads us to our next section.

Kristen Nuss, right, gives a celebratory drink to Taryn Kloth/Rick Atwood photo

Who are the new partnerships in Huntington? 

I’m going to amend the term partnership and rephrase it to “team.” As Adam Roberts once said, there’s only one person in beach volleyball who is guaranteed to not dump their partner, and that’s whoever is playing with Phil Dalhausser (Anders Mol could also fit the bill). The rest are tenuous teams who would bolt for a better partner without hesitation. So, some of the more exciting new teams in the mix include:

  • Evan Cory and Alison Cerutti
  • Billy Allen and Paul Lotman
  • Troy Field and Tim Bomgren
  • David Lee and Jake Urrutia
  • Bill Kolinske and Chase Frishman
  • Caleb Kwekel and Alvaro Filho
  • Brook Bauer and Megan Rice
  • Zana Muno and Emily Day
  • Toni Rodriguez and Geena Urango
  • Kylie DeBerg and Hailey Harward
  • Deahna Kraft and Lexy Denaburg
  • Savvy Simo and Abby Van Winkle
  • Carly Kan and Madelyne Anderson
  • Chloe Loreen and Molly Shaw

Who are some sleeper teams to watch in Huntington Beach? 

I define a sleeper as any team seeded eight or below. Anyone seeded better than that is no longer a sleeper in my book. I’ll point out three teams from each gender with relatively long odds that I’d bet on to make deep runs:

Troy Field, Tim Bomgren: Somehow, Field and Bomgren are seeded No. 8, reviving the team that was so dang fun to watch in 2019, when they made semifinals in Huntington Beach and Austin and a final in New York. Team TNT is a dark horse contender to make a final.

Lars Basey, Gage Basey: Outside of Denver, which can hereby be renamed Baseypalooza, I don’t know what to expect from the brothers from Lyons, Colorado. They’re positively must-watch volleyball in Denver, and their play there earned them a bid into Atlanta, and Gage played well enough in Waupaca with Diego Perez to qualify for Manhattan Beach as well. Regardless of setting, they’re just good volleyball players, with excellent ball control and vision and craft. If you haven’t watched them play, I recommend you pull up a chair in Huntington and find their court.

James Shaw, Jordan Hoppe: I had these guys on my players to watch list earlier this year, and I’m sticking to it. In three Beach Pro Tour events this season, they’ve won a bronze and a gold in Futures and finished ninth out of the qualifier at a Challenge in Xiamen, China. That’s big league stuff. They’ll be in the qualifier in Huntington, but if they make it out, they’re no easy draw.

Kylie DeBerg, Hailey Harward: The NORCECA Queens of 2024, Harward and DeBerg have won three medals in as many tries, two of them gold. On the Beach Pro Tour, they took a ninth at the Xiamen Challenge and upset Germans Laura Ludwig and Louisa Lippmann in the process. Between DeBerg’s 6-foot-4 block and Harward’s ubiquitous defense, they are one of the more formidable defensive teams in the USA.

Deahna Kraft, Lexy Denaburg: Denaburg recently became the all-time winningest player at UCLA, no small feat for an individual whose Bruin peers include Sarah Sponcil, Zana Muno, Nicole McNamara, Megan McNamara, Jaden Whitmarsh, Devon Newberry and a host of others. She should be just about peaking, too, coming off another NCAA Championship finals run, blocking for Kraft, who made her defensive debut with Toni Rodriguez in Chicago last fall and finished ninth.

Alaina Chacon, Mariah Whalen: Similar to Shaw and Hoppe, Chacon and Whalen have dominated the Futures circuit this season, winning three medals and finishing fourth in the other. At the Xiamen Challenge, they qualified and had Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain on the ropes before ceding the second set and, ultimately, the match, but even with the loss, the potential is obvious: This team of former NCAA stars is an easy one to bet on.

Where can I watch Huntington? 

In person is best. If you can’t come in person, the AVP is back to streaming on its YouTube Channel.

Where can I buy tickets for AVP Huntington Beach

We got you right here.


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