GUADALAJARA, Mexico — It was only two years ago, but they had almost forgotten. Hailey Harward and Kylie Deberg came to Mexico for this week’s Beach Pro Tour Guadalajara Challenge fresh off a gold medal at a NORCECA in the Dominican Republic.

Did it feel a bit full circle, they were asked, after they played a most random Futures in the Netherlands a few years back? Their faces registered the full spectrum — confused (did we?), recognition (oh wow, we did!), amusement. They were just kids back then — all the way back in December of 2022.

Harward has since become an AVP champion, a defender skilled enough, with a ceiling so high, that Alix Klineman picked her up for the 2023 World Championships. Deberg, still new to the beach after competing on the sand during her grad year at LSU, has since won a Tour Series and taken a seventh at the Manhattan Beach Open.

Now they are both in the USA Volleyball developmental pipeline, under the tutelage of Scott Davenport. They’re hitting the road, winning gold last week in the Dominican, seeded 11th in the Guadalajara Challenge qualifier, where they have just one match, against Slovenia’s Tjasa Kotnik and Tajda Lovsin.

“It’s cool, I feel like we both improved and matured since the last time we played,” Harward said. “Individually, more reps, we were both improving with experience and reps. Coming back, it’s nice.”

“I’d only been playing beach for half a year at that point,” Deberg said. “It’s been like two and a half years almost now.”

In fact, every team who medaled in the Dominican Republic is now in Guadalajara, attempting to climb the Beach Pro Tour ladder beginning with its bottom continental rung. Puerto Ricans Allanis Navas and Maria Gonzalez, who are redshirting from GCU and TCU, respectively, as they make their run at the Paris Olympics, had two match points for gold against Harward and Deberg. Neither fell, and they settled for silver. They are now seeking to qualify for their second consecutive Challenge main draw after qualifying in Saquarema, Brazil two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Savvy Simo is continuing her lengthy road trip, one that began in Brazil with Toni Rodriguez and has since featured stops in New Orleans, the Dominican Republic and, now, Mexico with Abby Van Winkle. Van Winkle, a former National Champion at UCLA, is a newbie to the international scene, with just a single Challenge and one NORCECA on her resume. They’ll meet Japan’s Kana Motomura and Nayu Motomura in the first round of the qualifier.

All of the men’s medalists, too, have made the same trip.

Canadians Jake MacNeil and Alex Russell, with back-to-back gold medals in a Futures in Australia and last week in the Dominican, are looking to ride the momentum. As is the pair they played in the finals, Evan Cory and Wyatt Harrison, who played in his first NORCECA last week. Cory and Harrison play Portugal’s Joao Pedrosa and Hugo Campos in the first round of the qualifier.

No such international rookies, Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend collected their fifth NORCECA medal in as many tries, making it bronze in the Dominican. Now they’re looking for their first main draw in a Challenge event since last November’s Haikou Challenge, beginning with Latvia’s Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Mihails Samoilovs.

Amidst all of those fresh faces climbing the ladder, the Olympic race rages on.

With a fourth and a fifth in consecutive Challenges in Brazil and a recent ticket punched to the NORCECA Continental Finals — an event worth the same amount of points as a Challenge — Chase Budinger and Miles Evans have tipped the scales in the USA men’s Olympic race and are now in a virtual tie with Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner. Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, a ways back in the race, begin Guadalajara in the qualifier, as they did in Recife and Saquarema, qualifying both times.

Their campaign for a third straight main draw begins with Spain’s Huerta brothers, Javier and Alejandro, at 11 a.m. local.

You can watch all matches of the Guadalajara Challenge at Volleyball TV. 

The podium at the NORCECA in the Dominican Republic. From left: Maria Gonzalez, Allanis Navas, Kylie Deberg, Hailey Harward, Savvy Simo, Abby Van Winkle/NORCECA photo


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