April 10, 2022, PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – They began early, the upsets. And the wind.
Neither really started before the other; both were ubiquitous presences throughout the first day of this weekend’s $20,000 AVPNext in Panama City Beach, in which four main draw spots to AVP Austin are on the line.
By 9 a.m. the breeze had kicked up to 15-plus miles per hour, the waves were whitecapped, and already, the No. 2 seed had been felled. Kim Hildreth and Deahna Kraft, in their first tournament together, toppled Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn in the first recorded match of the day, 21-19, 21-16, serving as a harbinger of what was to come over the next 11 hours in a wild and gusty day.
“We played a lot of wind ball today which requires you to communicate a lot and trust your partner,” said Kraft, who after a decorated career at Pepperdine University is now the Waves’ volunteer assistant coach. “I think today we got a crash course on how to find your gel in a new partnership.”
And if the first recorded match of pool was an upset the final match was nothing shy of a stunner. Nolan Albrecht, more known for his play on the grass than the sand at this point in his career, and Ian Bicko beat the men’s No. 2 seed of Avery Drost and Eric Beranek, 14-21, 21-14, 15-13. It sent Drost and Beranek to the bottom of their pool, with young Andrew Holman and Adam Hartmann, who had a battle of their own with Drost and Beranek to begin the day, claiming the second position.
“Our pool was tough but it was a blast,” Albrecht said. “Being out there playing in front of a big crowd with Ian, in our first two matches ever playing together. Drost and Beranek served tough and made scoring points difficult, but Ian’s setting was phenomenal.”
In between the matches in which both the men’s and the women’s overall No. 2 seeds getting upset – Beranek and Drost are still alive, and will play Texans Steve Roschitz and Pete Connole in the morning, while Schermerhorn and Quiggle forfeited their next match and are out – there was certainly no dearth of the unexpected.
Ryan Ierna and JD Hamilton opened their pool up with a win over John Schwengel and Devon Burki, who later survived a 21-15, 19-21, 22-20 marathon in the elimination rounds that ended well after sunset against Will Rodriguez and Sammy Gibson.
Former Pepperdine Wave Noah Dyer and Chase Frishman stole the top spot in their pool with a 22-20, 21-18 sweep over Mike Groselle and Angel Dache. Marty Lorenz and Caleb Kwekel, too, upset the 1 seed in their pool, Mark Burik and Dave Palm, to earn a bye. Same with Ben Vaught and Branden Clemens, who won Pool 11 with a win over Tim Brewster and me.
Arguably the most impressive pool play performance went to Andrew Royal and Ethan Elkins, locals who opened their day with a 23-21, 22-20 win over Tomas Goldsmith and Ryan Lehmann, and followed it up with a 21-23, 21-19, 15-8 win over Jon Ferrari and Brian Miller to claim the top spot in Pool 10.
The women’s side featured much of the same, with many of the two or three seeds in pool finishing on top: Jade Race and Katie Horton, Violeta Slabakova and Aleksandra Wachowicz, Adrianna Nora and Sara Putt.
In the grand scheme of things, little made a tremendous difference, just a matter of who was seeded where once bracket play began. The overall goal on Saturday was to survive and advance, particularly with wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour. Thirty teams remain on the men’s side, while the women have made it to the ninth-place rounds.
The wind is, alas, supposed to relent a touch on Sunday.
“Kinda bummed,” said Hildreth, a Floridian who is no stranger to wind ball.
But as for the upsets?
Panama City Beach might not be finished with those just yet.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew