DENVER, Colorado. – Oh, where had we seen this one before? Take your pick, really.
The matchup in the finals of AVP Denver, between Brazilians Lili and Larissa Maestrini and Carly Kan and Kaitlyn Leary? Rewind it back a few months and pop on a flight into Panama City, where the Brazilians won, 21-15, 17-21, 18-16, in a thriller, one in which Kan and Leary sealed up a main draw bid into AVP Austin while the Maestrinis won yet another title in Florida.
The eventual victors of the second Tour Series stop of the year? You just need to take it back a few weeks and a bit East, to Muskegon. The Brazilians won there, too, beating another pair of up-and-coming youngsters in Geena Urango and Julia Scoles in the finals.
But that’s the hallmark of greatness, is it not? To win, in all conditions, in any state, against any opponents. The Maestrinis win on virtually every beach they step on, and this 2022 season has been a tour de force of new lands conquered. Never before had they competed in Michigan.
Consider it conquered, with a run of five straight matches won in Muskegon while dropping only a single set.
Never before had they stepped foot on a beach volleyball court in Denver. Consider the Mile High City conquered as well, as the Maestrinis delivered another virtuoso performance at The Island and its massive 18-court facility that was packed from sunup to sundown all weekend long.
They were challenged in Denver, surviving a 21-18, 18-21, 16-14 white-knuckler in the second round over Savvy Simo and Abby Van Winkle, former teammates at UCLA who would finish ninth. Then they bounced back from an upset at the hands of Mackenzie Ponnet and Chelsea Rice, the 13 seed who swept their way into the semifinals, finishing third. The Maestrinis responded with a 21-16, 21-18 win over Molly Turner and Jessica Gaffney in the quarterfinals – then had to rebound once more, just an hour later.
In the semifinals, they met a white-hot Scoles and Urango, who jumped out to a 21-15 win in the first set, putting the Brazilians in unfamiliar territory: On the brink of elimination.
There would be no elimination. Not here. Not in Denver, where new lands could be conquered. The Maestrinis did what they are already so known to do: They responded, winning in three, 15-21, 21-16, 18-16. That momentum carried them into the Panama City finals rematch against Kan and Leary, a pair of Hawai’ians who recently won a gold medal at a NORCECA in La Paz, Mexico.
There was never any doubt in Denver. No white-knuckling. No nerves. No tense moments, really. Lili and Larissa jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the first set and controlled everything about the match there was to control until a 21-13 win was sealed with a superbly placed high angle poke from Lili. The second set featured much of the same: An early 8-5 lead became a 16-12 edge, which then became 19-13.
The Maestrinis don’t give up six point leads. Not in the finals. Not ever, really.
No six-point lead would be given. They’d push it to the finish, winning 21-13, yet another impressively dominating performance in a season already full of them, and this 2022 AVP season is just getting started.
“Just really, really, really happy,” Lili said afterwards, crystal plaque in hand. Not that they’ll be able to celebrate long, the Maestrinis. They’ll rest for a day, maybe two, then it’s onto Hermosa Beach for the third Pro Series tournament of the season. It’s another land yet unconquered. Never before have the Maestrinis competed in Hermosa.
Another weekend – another opportunity to stake their claim on a new beach.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew