JUNE 13, 2022 MUSKEGON, MI – It’s magic. Plain and simple.
That’s how Lili Maestrini described her partner, Larissa, in the immediate moments following the first AVP victory of their decorated beach volleyball careers, a 21-17, 21-16 win over the fun new partnership of Geena Urango and Julia Scoles in Muskegon, Michigan on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a fitting descriptor, magic. Other than dipping into the realms of the ethereal, how else can you really explain Larissa’s amassing the type of resume that puts her firmly in the Mount Rushmore discussion for the greatest to ever play this sport?
Ten times, Larissa was voted by her peers on the World Tour as the best setter – 10! Despite standing a full head shorter than many of her opponents, thrice was she named Best Offensive Player, and twice more as the Best Hitter. In a mind-bending nine seasons did she finish atop the world rankings.
It’s magic. Fairy dust. Sorcery. An enchanted beach volleyball life she’s lived, one in which she continues building her legacy ever higher.
It’s reached a point that it’s a legitimate wonder what’s more impressive: Her uninterrupted dominance representing Brazil on the World Tour, or the fact that, on Sunday afternoon in Muskegon, Larissa conquered yet another mountain, when it seemed there were so few of them left to conquer.
They’ve now won on legitimately every single stage they’ve played, Lili and Larissa. Heck, in 2022 alone, they’ve already won four tournaments, including an event of similar size and magnitude: An AVPNext in Panama City that served as a tune-up of sorts for the Tour Series events to come.
Tune up they did.
Five matches did they play in Muskegon, the third stop on the AVP Tour this year, and five matches did they win. The only team who managed to steal a set off the Brazilians were fellow Tour veterans and AVP champions Kim DiCello and Kendra VanZwieten, who did so in the quarterfinals.
Aside from VanZwieten and DiCello? Not a single team managed to even push the Maestrinis to within two points. Qualifiers Ashley McGinn and 14-year-old wunderkind Sarah Wood scored 18 in the second set of their second round matchup – and that’s as close as anyone would come. That’s how dominant the Maestrinis were, and are: A 21-18 set is a relative barnburner.
“I love playing this sport,” Lili, the 34-year-old blocker, said afterward. “We’ve been doing this the most part of our lives. Of course, when you do a lot of matches, you feel tired. But again, it’s always what you say to yourself. I’m always telling myself that I can play my best every single game. It doesn’t matter if we need to play 10 in one tournament like last year. I will always do all I can to win.”
The win is a seminal one for both, no doubt. Twice in 2021, they came close to claiming their first AVP title, finishing third in Manhattan Beach and second in Chicago after coming out of the qualifier. They played a whopping 10 matches that weekend at Oak Street Beach, where they eventually fell to April Ross and Alix Klineman.
Only five matches and 11 sets were needed in Muskegon, exactly half of the workload they experienced in Chicago.
“Every tournament we play, we try to do 100 percent,” Lili said. “Here in Muskegon, our first goal was to help each other and support all the time.”
They’ll carry that support into Denver, for the next stop of the Tour Series, on July 2-3, then again into Hermosa Beach the following weekend. Joining them in the main draw of Hermosa Beach will be Urango and Scoles, Deahna Kraft and Allie Wheeler, Hailey Harward and Falyn Fonoimoana, DiCello and VanZwieten. Of note, however, is that three American teams – Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn, and Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman – are signed up for the Volleyball World Gstaad Elite 16, which conflicts with the AVP Pro Series in Hermosa Beach. Should any of those three teams drop from Hermosa Beach to compete in Switzerland, their main draw spot would trickle down to the next highest finishing seed in Muskegon, which would be, in order: Kaya Marciniak and Megan Rice, Aurora Davis and Teegan Van Gunst, and Lexy Denaburg and Kim Hildreth.
“Denver, Hermosa -- we want to play all the tournaments,” Lili said. “We love playing.”
And when they do, it’s magic.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew