April 11, 2022, PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – More than 250 athletes descended upon Panama City Beach, Fla. for this weekend’s AVPNext with one goal in mind: Qualify for AVP Austin.
Seain Cook was not one of them.
He was partnered with Logan Webber in this weekend’s AVPNext, one that offered both $20,000 in prize money and four main draw berths into AVP Austin on May 6-8. Webber is already into the main draw with John Hyden; even if they won the entire tournament, Cook would be left hanging during that May 6 weekend, watching from home like every other team that didn’t make it to the semifinals.
So what, he was asked, was he doing in Panama City Beach? Why not grab a different partner, one with whom he could qualify for Austin?
Because Seain Cook wanted to win, and Webber is a guy – a 6-foot-9 gangly mess of an elite blocker whose improvement these past two years has been nothing shy of meteoric – he knows he can win with.
And win he did, Cook, deploying his devastating right arm over and over and over again, marching through seven straight matches with only a single set dropped, defeating Caleb Kwekel and Marty Lorenz in a breezy yet telegenic sunset final, 21-15, 18-21, 15-10.
“I was speaking to other players but it was like: ‘Why wouldn’t I play with a guy I can win with?”’ Cook said afterward. “I need to get my points up, I don’t have enough points, and I don’t think getting a wild card once or twice is the play.”
In three tournaments together, he and Webber have won two, and they’ve made them big ones. This past fall, they won the Laguna Beach Open, the biggest CBVA of the year, twice defeating Andy Benesh and Billy Allen in the process. On Sunday, they won arguably the biggest AVPNext to date, one that featured more than 50 teams on the men’s side, one in which Cook and Webber finished ahead of both teams that are already seeded into Austin’s main draw: Bill Kolinske and Evan Cory, and Avery Drost and Eric Beranek.
“After we won our quarterfinal, which would have got Seain his bid, we don’t have a lot of deep, serious moments but I just thanked him for doing this with me,” Webber said. “I know I can win with Seain and I’m stoked he played with me.”
It’s worth mentioning that Webber can, and has, won with virtually any defender who is fortunate enough to play behind him. Last season, he and Cory cleaned up on the AVPNext Gold circuit, winning events in New Orleans, Waupaca, and Seaside. It was exactly that kind of success that attracted Hyden’s eye when the veteran sought a partner.
“I’ve noticed that and that’s how he came into the conversation,” Hyden said in January. “The guy likes to play. He wants it.”
So, too, do the other qualifiers from this weekend. Runner-ups Kwekel and Lorenz will be making their first main draw as a team, and Lorenz’s first since the Manhattan Beach Open of 2019. Main draw will be another first for Mark Burik and Dave Palm as a team. They dropped in the semifinals to Webber and Cook, 19-21, 18-21. As Cory and Kolinske and Webber both had main draw bids sealed up, the remaining two berths into Austin will go to the top two seeded quarterfinal finishers, which were technically Avery Drost and Eric Beranek, and Raffe Paulis and Jeff Samuels. Given that Beranek and Drost are also already into the main draw, their bid trickled down to Lev Priima and Lila Tucker, who fell in the quarterfinals to Burik and Palm, 17-21, 14-21.
As for Cook? He’ll be watching Austin from the comfort of his own home. But he earned points. Oodles of them. He won a tournament. A big one.
He’s leaving Florida with exactly what he came for.
“I want to be all in,” he said. “I want to keep winning.”
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew