JUNE 8, 2022, MUSKEGON, MI – The last time the AVP took a stop in Muskegon, Michigan, a team you may have heard of surprised exactly nobody when they won. Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers were crowned champions on August 23 of 2009. For the sake of this story, however, we are not interested in the Thin Beast and the Professor, Olympic gold medalists so they were.
We’re more interested in the team who finished 13th: Albert Hannemann, and Jon Mesko.
There are two players in the field for this week’s AVP Tour Series in Muskegon who competed here in 2009 and are doing so again 13 years later: Mesko, and Adam Roberts. They are locked in a funny little battle for who can play at a higher level for longer; Mesko is 45 years old and will soon compete in his 100th AVP; Roberts is 46 and is, incredibly, closer to 200.
On Friday, Mesko will be playing alongside a partner, Kacey Losik, who was just 9 years old the last time the AVP was here. While Mesko is no longer the 33-year-old pup he was in 2009, Losik is no longer a starry-eyed 9-year-old kid from Santa Cruz. He’s a legitimate main draw player, with four AVP main draws to his name, with a veteran, Michigan-native of a partner by his side.
Men’s teams to watch during Friday’s AVP Muskegon qualifier
TJ Jurko, Dylan Zacca
It’s far more difficult to spot and track the next generation of male AVP players than it is for the females. The women now have a robust and thriving NCAA system in which to develop and prove their mettle. The men have whatever beach tournaments they can find during their free time in the summers. Dylan Zacca has used that free time well, and the 20-year-old is, make no mistake, one of the more promising talents making his way through the AVP system. While his partner, TJ Jurko, isn’t literally as young as Zacca (Jurko is 29), he’s almost equally as new to AVP competition, with just three AVP qualifiers to his name. They may be young, but the Floridians are talented.
David Vander Meer, Christian Honer
While Logan Webber will undoubtedly get the lion’s share of the local love throughout the weekend, David Vander Meer will be a close second. Like Webber, he’s a native of Grand Rapids, which is just a half hour’s drive from Muskegon. Like Webber, his career-high finish on the AVP is a fifth, which he took in Atlanta a year ago, stunning Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena with Mike Groselle in the first round of the main draw. Now he’s seeded third in Friday’s qualifier, with journeyman Christian Honer, who hasn’t played an AVP since 2019, but who has proven, many times over, that he can compete at the highest level.
Garrett Peterson, Joseph Reysen
Straight out of the Justin Phipps School of Young and Talented Floridians have these two united. Both emerged onto the scene partnered with the veteran Phipps, and both have a similar style of play that Phipps seeks: young, energetic, bouncy, physical. Both have significant wins to their name, and both are also seeking their first AVP main draw via qualifier (Peterson earned a wild card into Manhattan Beach in 2018).
Charlie Van Rees, Jordan Drake
Much love must be given to the locals, and Van Reese and Drake are as local as it gets: Van Rees is literally from Muskegon, while Drake, a 28-year-old blocker, lives down the road in Grand Rapids. While they don’t boast the abundance of experience as, say, Mesko and Roberts do, they’ve played plenty of beach volleyball. Van Reese has competed in nearly 20 AVP tournaments, and together, in San Francisco in 2018, they pushed Andy Benesh and Cole Fiers into a third set in the third round of the qualifier. All Benesh has done since is, oh, get picked up by Billy Allen, Nick Lucena, and Phil Dalhausser and win an AVP.
Mark Bucknam, Jake Fleming
This team has been unofficially dubbed “The AVP Uncovered guys.” Bucknam is one of the minds behind the upcoming docuseries, AVP Uncovered, though prior to this year, not many really knew he played beach volleyball, much less that he’s actually good at it. But they are good. Both of them. This year, they’ve finished second in a pair of AVPAmerica tournaments in Texas, including a $5,000 open in San Antonio on April 30, and won an event at Highline Arena in New Jersey. They’re now looking to make their first main draws.
Ryan Ierna, JD Hamilton
JD Hamilton thinks it’s a curse to be written about in these little previews since he has made it a habit of beating teams who were written about. But he and Ryan Ierna have more than earned a few words of praise for their play thus far this season. They finished second at the Summer Kickoff at Rock Star Beach on May 7 and took a ninth in San Antonio, just one or two wins away from making both of their first career main draws. Hamilton’s been playing volleyball for longer than most in this field, and Ierna possesses the athleticism of a 6-foot-5 forward who played college hoops for Hastings College.
Brad Connors, Brett Greiner
Brad Connors, The Mouth of the South, will if nothing else, keep the qualifier mood lively and loud. For as much attention as his ubiquitous trash talk gets, he’s also a very good volleyball player, as is Brett Greiner, his 30-year-old partner. The two have both come close, so many times, to qualifying for an AVP, including last year in Chicago, when they fell to Chase Frishman and Piotr Marciniak, 20-22, 22-24. Perhaps Muskegon is the proper venue for their first main draw.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew