Panama City to host qualifier for AVP Austin Pro Series
March 12, 2022 - When the AVP schedule was announced in early February, the immediate reaction was a mixed one. Sixteen events, spread from May to November, hitting Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, California, New Jersey, Florida – Florida! – Georgia, Virginia, Illinois, and Arizona. It was a schedule that would please virtually anyone, the most events on the AVP calendar in more than a decade, stopping in states that had been unusually vacant for a long time. Yet there came one inevitable, and oft-asked, question: How can we qualify?
Traditional qualifiers, held in a single-elimination format the day or two days prior to each AVP tournament, were mostly wiped from the schedule, save for Manhattan Beach. Tour Series events, the lowest rung of the new three-tiered system, it was decided, would be the new qualifying process, which made sense to most, with one issue: There were no Tour Series events prior to the season-opening Pro Series stops in Austin and New Orleans.
Again came the question: How can we qualify?
Answer: With a trip to Panama City, Florida.
On April 9-10, in the United States' most famed host of spring break, AVPNext will be hosting a $20,000 event that will double as a qualifier for the Austin Pro Series tournament May 6-8.
The top four teams from each gender will qualify for Austin. In the case that there is a team or player who is already in the main draw of Austin finishing in the top four, the main draw spot will then go to a fifth-place finisher.
"I think it's a really cool venue and it's definitely something we want to build in the future, something bigger and better," AVPAmerica Executive Director Wayne Gant said. "Originally, we had it targeted for a high profile event. For not being a Tour Series, your quality is not going to be that far off because if you're not top 10 in Austin, you're going to be there. If you look at the rankings, there are a lot of good players who are not in that top 10. Pretty darn good. It's going to be really strong."
With only 10 teams automatically seeded into the main draw for Austin, Gant, and the players, figure the entry list to resemble that of a Tour Series professional event.
"It's going to be a bloodbath," joked longtime AVP defender Chase Frishman.
In a perfect world, these AVPNext events would run as a double-elimination with a crossover in which every team who makes it to the crossover would qualify. However, with just 12 total courts available in Panama City, space is a limitation, and Gant does not want to put a cap on the number of teams in the event, as it is the only way to qualify for Austin. For Panama City, then, a two-day double-elimination tournament simply wouldn't be possible.
The format will, therefore, be a modified pool play followed by a single-elimination playoff bracket. The four teams reaching the semifinals will punch their tickets to Austin.
"For some qualifiers, it stinks because if they don’t get in, it's not part of a main draw event so they don't get that weekend," Gant said. "But all of these events are semi-pro or pro tour, higher-level events anyway. Overall it's good because the qualifier stinks when you only play one game. You get a bad draw and that's it. I think this is a fairer system, and more importantly, you can make some money in the qualifying process."
It's different, to be sure. Yet this new style of qualifier comes with no shortage of positives. As Gant alluded to, rather than competing in a single-elimination tournament, with no prize money to earn, players can now play a full tournament for $20,000 and a main draw berth. It's akin to the AVPNext Gold Series, only, instead of the victors claiming the main draw spot, it's the top four teams.
"You're playing a true tournament format, too. You're not just playing this free for all," said Tri Bourne, who lauded the AVP's new system. "You're getting reps, playing an event, but also winning an event. You're getting used to being a champ. I think that's really important for anyone. If you win one of the Tour Series in, I don’t know, Denver, now that you've won Denver, everyone who watched, wants to see you play. You're not just some random team who scrapped their way in."
The qualifier for New Orleans, too, has been decided: A $20,000 AVPNext in San Antonio May 21-22.
More money. More tournaments.
More beach volleyball to be played.
It’ll all begin in Panama City, with a tournament that's anything but a spring break.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew