Every spring, Marc Fornaciari would unfailingly wonder the same question: Could he win the Clash?
It seemed an unreasonable request at first, the type that, if said aloud, might draw some snickers and sneers. Because when Fornaciari began aspiring to one day compete in the finals in the Clash, a grass triples tournament held annually in Lexington, South Carolina, one of the biggest events of the year, he couldn’t even break pool.
Still, a boy can dream.
“There were so many eyes on it, it was always so large,” Fornaciari said. “There’s a lot more spectators. Then when I finally won it, I said ‘I’ll just keep playing it.’”
It has that effect on people, the Clash. It isn’t grandiose, like the Pottstown Rumble. Doesn’t have the allure of the Waupaca Boatride, proclaimed as the U.S. Open of Grass Volleyball. Yet it is undeniably charming, this tournament, a perfect pick to kick off the 2022 AVP Grass Tour season.
“It’s almost like a battle of the local areas, then you got all these outsiders coming from Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, some from New York, Tennessee, all these people. It’s basically a big family reunion,” said Austin Daniel, the president of the Columbia Volleyball Club and who will be running the Clash for the first time. “Now when they come back, we’re reuniting with these friends, with these people, we’re playing late at night on stadium court. It’s just a giant family reunion of volleyball.”
There are a number of factors that create that family-friendly environment – “family-friendly, but with beer,” joked Kelly Wood, a North Carolina native who will be, as always, playing in the Clash. The triples format is one of them. While the vast majority of grass tournaments are doubles, the Clash is triples, allowing former liberos like Wood to hit, allowing typical opponents to team up, allowing camaraderie to ascend and rivalries to dissolve.
“It’s a really big local tournament, right? You get the grass volleyball players in North and South Carolina, you get the East Coast, that’s everyone’s jam, they love that,” said Wood, a former NC State libero who is playing with a pair of former Duke Blue Devils Cadie Koppenhaver and Amanda Robertson. “It’s an opportunity to get together with the most high-level players, even some of the beach players come play grass. It just brings a big community together. That’s what makes it special. People I’ve known since I started playing get together.”
Indeed, there are some beach names beginning to populate the entry list. Aurora Davis and Teegan Van Gunst, who qualified for AVP Austin after finishing fifth in the AVPNext in Panama City Beach last weekend, are teamed up with former Minnesota outside hitter Adrianna Nora. Carolinians Angel Dache and Nolan Albrecht, both of whom also played well in Panama City Beach – Albrecht authored the upset of the tournament when he and Ian Bicko beat second-seeded Avery Drost and Eric Beranek in pool play – are also signed up, though on different teams. Dache is partnered with Nick Drooker and former Hawai’i outside hitter Brett Rosenmeier.
Albrecht, arguably the top grass talent in the U.S., meanwhile, is with Tomas Goldsmith, who played indoors professionally in Denmark, and Schylar Lillethorup, a former setter at CSUN. What’s funny is that neither of those teams is even the top seed. That honor, at the moment, belongs to Travis Mintzer, Logan Hunsberger, and Anthony Rivera.
The entry list, of course, will continue filling up. The registration deadline is not until April 25, and there is little doubt it will fill up. Because this is the Clash.
This is grass volleyball’s family reunion.
“People that come and play, they’re going to come and play,” Daniel said. “We don’t have to worry about losing out or some people coming to play. The Clash is the Clash.”
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew