JUNE 15, 2022, MUSKEGON, MI – You watch as Evan Cory’s line shot sails long, and the scoreboard ticks to 26-24, the final two-point lead required for Dave Palm and Rafu Rodriguez to win AVP Muskegon last Sunday afternoon.

You see Rodriguez pump his fists and turn to his partner. You see Palm drop to his knees, spent, every last ounce of energy expended. Six matches in two days would deplete any man. The emotional volatility of contending, and winning, your first AVP, as Palm did, would leave anyone empty.

And, really, you’d have no idea.

No idea that just two days before Palm and Rodriguez would take AVP Muskegon by storm, winning all six matches while dropping just two sets, they very nearly dropped out of the tournament. Whatever Palm ate for lunch on Friday afternoon didn’t sit well; by 8 p.m., just 12 hours prior to the first serve of the main draw, he was curled up on the bathroom floor of his hotel room.

The first AVP title of his career couldn’t have seemed further away.

“Massive pain,” he calls what he was feeling that evening. But he was already here, in Muskegon, a lovely little laketown on the shore of Lake Michigan. He was in the main draw. And he had a partner in Rodriguez who could at least partially carry the load, with a devastating serve made all the more wicked by the consistent 12-15 mile per hour gusts off the lake.

“I woke up Saturday morning, and I said ‘Well I gotta play,’” Palm recalled.

Play they did.

Down went qualifiers Tyler Penberthy and Frank Field. Down went eighth-seeded Chase Frishman and Noah Dyer. Down went top-seeded Avery Drost and AVP Austin champion Andy Benesh. Three matches in eight hours, all fueled by a single protein bar.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Palm said. “It was definitely God’s gift to me: You’re going to win, but you’re going to struggle a little bit. Mentally, physically, during the play, it was something I’ve never experienced due to the sense of knowing I had to deal with that every single point.”

It helps explain why, when Cory’s line shot in the finals went long, Palm didn’t sprint around the stadium in a celebratory victory lap. He didn’t beat his chest and shout with joy. He simply collapsed, depleted, and looked upwards, allowing Rodriguez to pull him to his feet. It might not have been the manner many imagine winning their first, long-awaited AVP, but Palm wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I didn’t think about it so much as ‘Oh I won!’ It was more of ‘Wow, I won with everything that I just went through,’” Palm said. “There’s only one possible explanation of that even happening: I believe in God, and I definitely believe that was his hand upon me going ‘Hey, you’ve gone through some stuff, but you put your love and faith in Me and we’re going to show the world how great things can be.’ That’s why, towards the end, I broke down after the match.”

There was no breaking down for Rodriguez. No falling to the sand. He’s been here before, almost exactly four years ago, when he and Ed Ratledge danced their way to a Cinderella win in San Francisco.

“Different and the same,” Rodriguez said when comparing the two wins  “Different in every way, from partners to opponents to site to I was in better shape then. Same in the way of, it’s almost like a blur how everything went. From Dave barely bearing pain Friday night to battling against really good players but at the same time, just getting out there without much of a plan and letting instincts take over. Being in the moment, as an older partner of mine [Ratledge], used to say.”

The win qualifies Palm and Rodriguez for what will be their fifth main draw of the season, in Hermosa Beach. Also qualifying for Hermosa are Dyer and Frishman, Miles Evans and Ratledge, and Cody Caldwell and Adam Roberts, who finished seventh.

“We’ve been qualifying in the main draws but we’ve been doing pretty bad,” Palm said of AVP Austin and New Orleans. “It was tough to find a rhythm but for some reason this weekend was different. It was interesting, but overall, a fun weekend.”

~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew

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