April 6, 2022, Panama City Beach, FL - The first AVP of the season will not commence for another few weeks, in Austin, Texas. And yet, much of the field in Austin will be decided this weekend, in Panama City Beach, Florida.
In the first of what is a radical, and welcome in the eyes of most, change to the qualifying system, AVPAmerica is now hosting AVPNexts, among other events, to serve as satellite qualifiers. At least four bids to the Austin main draw are on the line this weekend, it could be more, should anyone drop to play in the Volleyball World Challenger event in Doha, Qatar, which coincides with Austin.
More than 50 teams on the men’s side will be descending upon Panama City Beach this weekend in the hunt for those four spots, and another 33 on the women’s side will be competing as well (the NCAA beach volleyball season does not finish until May 8, depleting much of the women’s field).
Below are 10 teams to watch on the men’s side, with the women’s preview to come on Friday. A few quick notes before we begin:
- There are dozens of good teams in this event. I chose 10 that have a mix of a fun storyline and the ability to qualify. When San Antonio rolls around, I’ll choose 10 different ones.
- I deliberately chose not to include teams who are already in the main draw of Austin, which are: Evan Cory and Bill Kolinske, Avery Drost and Eric Beranek, and Logan Webber, who is playing in Panama City Beach with Seain Cook but will compete in Austin with John Hyden.
Michael Groselle, Angel Dache
Groselle enjoyed one of the biggest breakout seasons on the AVP a year ago, claiming a fifth with DR Vander Meer out of the qualifier in Atlanta, upsetting a little-known duo of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena on the way. Playing defense behind him in Panama City Beach will be Angel Dache, who always comes packing one of the toughest serves and biggest swings on the beach. The two recently won an event in Dallas in early March, beating Canadians Jake Macneil and Alex Russell, silver medalists at the recent Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Futures event in Australia, in the finals.
Mark Burik, Dave Palm
Burik and Palm have likely spent more hours coaching volleyball than any two players combined so it makes sense that they’d put their volleyball minds together and partner up for the first time. This will be a solid, and physical, partnership, with Burik bringing his fusillade of different serves and Palm his steady, formidable block.
Steve Roschitz, Pete Connole
Honestly, it’s just awesome to see Roschitz able to play beach volleyball again at all, much less at the AVP level to which he has become accustomed. He was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a condition that is potentially life-threatening, and one that very nearly derailed his volleyball career. Just a few weeks ago, he and Connole won a Texas Beach Volleyball Association event at 210 Beach in San Antonio.
“It’s difficult to balance the thought process of ‘just ease back into playing’ and ‘defend the home court with your life,’” Roschitz wrote on Facebook. “Beyond that, choosing to be both grateful to compete, and hold myself to a high standard in competition was a challenge.”
In Panama City Beach, he’ll be back to competing and competing gratefully, with good friend and longtime partner Connole.
Alex Diaz, Ian Satterfield
Alex Diaz has only played in eight AVP events, but in almost all of them, Chicago of 2019 and Atlanta of 2021 being the exceptions, he has thrived. He made the main draw in Huntington Beach in 2019, despite being seeded No. 39 in the qualifier, and has twice made the final round, Austin in 2019, Manhattan Beach in 2021. He’ll be playing in Panama City Beach with Ian Satterfield, a veteran on the beach who is fresh off a six-week indoor stint in India.
Silila Tucker, Lev Priima
There is, of course, no way of measuring this, but it’s possible that nobody has played more volleyball, in any format, over the past six months than Lev Priima. The Russian recovered from knee surgery and decided to play and practice any day of the week, any grouping assembled: Fours at 17th street in Hermosa Beach? How about 21st street? Yes and yes. Doubles in the morning? Afternoon? King of the beach at sunset? He’s in. And now he’s partnered with one of the quickest defenders on the beach in Lila Tucker, a Texas native who will enjoy the luxury of playing defense behind Priima’s 6-foot-4 block and howitzer of a jump serve.
Jake Urrutia, Max Martin
If this tournament were to somehow devolve into a weight lifting contest – it’s Spring break in Panama City Beach, anything can happen – you could do worse than to bet on Jake Urrutia and Max Martin. And all that weight they can push around results in some of the heaviest swings you’ll see on the beach. It’ll be interesting to see how Martin does in a new partnership, as he has long competed with fellow mid-westerner Tomas Goldsmith, who is seeded 16th with Ryan Lehman. Both Martin and Urrutia bring big jump serves and big swings, which should bode well on the breezy and jumpy Panama City Beach sand.
Ben Vaught, Branden Clemens
Ah, the Bengal and the Caribou reunite. Beach volleyball is full of relationships that resemble that of Ross and Rachel from Friends, and few are more accurately personified by that fictional couple than Vaught and Clemens. They made their first AVP main draws together in 2017, and have had an on-again, off-again partnership ever since. Clemens is off the heels of surgery and is as healthy – and hitting as hard – as he has ever been. Vaught has been working with Brazilian coach Dan Wainer, dialing in the ball control and defense.
Caleb Kwekel, Marty Lorenz
Just when you think Marty Lorenz might be retired for good…he moves to Florida and starts playing a tournament almost every weekend. With Lorenz, it really doesn’t matter how much time he takes off; he just starts exactly where he stopped, which is perpetually at a remarkably high level. Now he’s partnered with 19-year-old Caleb Kwekel, who made the main draw of the USA Volleyball King of the Beach in November of 2020 and made his first AVP main draw in Manhattan Beach last year.
John Schwengel, Devon Burki
Schwengel and Burki had the strangest of years in 2021, beginning each AVP in the first day of the qualifier. And in the final event of the season, in Chicago, they became not only the first team to win a match on day two of the qualifier after emerging from the first day, but they won all three, qualifying for the main draw, Burki’s first. They are an excellent team, and after a full off-season working with USC legend Anna Collier, they’ll begin 2022 on much higher footing.
Uncle Phipps just keeps on playing, discovering all of the diamonds in beach volleyball’s rough. The latest? Young Joseph Reysen, with whom Phipps has played five tournaments, making at least the semifinals in three. Most notably, however, is the third-place finish the two claimed in Treasure Island, Florida, where they beat Switzerland’s No. 1 duo of Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer, who are ranked in the top-15 in the world. Not bad for the team currently seeded 27th in Panama City Beach.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew