Panama City Beach makes for ‘special’ debut of AVPNext satellite qualifier system

Panama City Beach makes for ‘special’ debut of AVPNext satellite qualifier system

April 11, 2022, PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – The mission, the one in which Carly Kan and Kaitlyn Leary flew all the way from O’ahu, Hawai’i, to Panama City Beach, Fla., was accomplished. The pressure was off. Relief imminent.

Yet there were still two matches to play. 

It was a different sort of tournament this weekend in Panama City Beach. It was a $20,000 AVPNext, yes. It was a full tournament, indeed, one that was played out all the way through the finals, which were won by Brazilians Larissa and Lili Maestrini.

But it was also the first of its kind: An AVPNext with legitimate prize money that also doubled as a qualifier for AVP Austin on May 6-8. A tournament where, if you made it to the semifinals, you were also moving onto the main draw of AVP Austin.

So when the quarterfinals were finished, and Kan and Leary, Molly Turner and Jessica Gaffney, the Maestrinis, and Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez advanced to the semifinals, one version of the tournament – the one in which the goal was to qualify for Austin – was over. Yet there was still the remainder of the tournament to play.

“It took some pressure off for sure,” said Kan, who will be playing in the third main draw of her career. “Getting to the semis, it felt like it wasn’t as much pressure as single-elimination. I don’t mind it. We were just curious to see how it would work out.”

It worked out well enough, as Leary will now be making her first main draw appearance. Simo and Rodriguez will be playing in their first main draw as a team, while Gaffney and Turner will be playing in their second main draw together. 

Austin, of course, will not be the first main draw for Larissa and Lili. They were not in Panama City Beach simply to punch their tickets to Texas. That much had already been earned, thanks to a magnificent 2021 AVP season in which they finished third in Manhattan Beach and made the finals – coming out of the qualifier to do so – in Chicago. They were here to play against some of the best competition the country has to offer. And they were here to win.

Win they did.

The Maestrinis topped Kan and Leary in the finals, 21-15, 17-21, 18-16, finishing a tournament in which they played six matches with just a single set dropped. A dominant tune-up before the AVP season begins in earnest.

Their win, of course, opens up the question: If four bids to Austin were on the line, and Lili and Larissa were already in the main draw, and they finished in the top four in Panama City Beach, which team gets the final bid?

It’s a new system, this satellite qualifier tournament, so no precedent had been set, but the ruling was that the highest seeded fifth-place team would get the bid. That would be Aurora Davis and Teegan Van Gunst, who finished fifth after losing in the quarterfinals to Turner and Gaffney, 7-21, 21-16, 11-15. 

“We just had no idea what to expect,” Kan said. “We wanted to do our best but, I don’t know, this is really special.”

~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew