I have to admit, going in, I didn’t know what to expect from a beach volleyball tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. Especially once I found out it was supposed to be 100 degrees all weekend. Let me tell you what my experience was like and you can be the judge….
First off, for Brad (@BradKeenan6) and I to fly it would have been almost a grand so we chose the ten hour drive instead. We stopped in Beaver, Utah about seven hours in to spend the night. I felt like I needed a work out and in this tiny town there was no chance I was going to find a gym so I ran in a circle around our hotel for twenty minutes, felt kind of ridiculous, but it got the job done. In the morning we ate breakfast in one of my favorite establishments- the small town diner, it did not disappoint. Two and a half hours later we checked in to the AVP (@AVPbeach) player hotel in downtown Salt Lake.
After a delicious food truck BBQ lunch we headed over to the event site to pass and serve, this was going to be the moment of truth… As we walked up to the site (after parking in the prime “athlete parking” spots!) any doubts I had were immediately dashed. It was one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen! Green grass throughout, monstrous evergreens surrounding the courts, four pristine courts ready for competition, a picturesque center court complete with jumbotron, VIP suites, and court side seating, AND when we went to start practice we were supplied with as many Wilson balls as we needed! All my suspicions that we had found the right guy (Donald Sun) to lead us (the players of the AVP) were confirmed that instant, and the tournament hadn’t even started yet.
First round on Friday we played Dianne DeNecochea (no twitter), who at 6’4’’ and 45 years old is still baller and not the best first round draw, but we managed to come out on top. That was it for Day 1, so we got some great local Mexican food, saw a movie (We’re the Millers, it was hilarious), and rested up for Day 2. Unfortunately, we didn’t play very well in the first match the next day and our opponents- Christal Engle (@ChristalEngle) and Tealle Hunkus (@TealleHunkus)- brought their A game. We ended up losing that one in a close three set-er and therefore dropped into the losers bracket. BUT we were still alive! After playing every tournament internationally in a pool play/single elimination format we were stoked to be given a second chance and we definitely took advantage of it!
Luckily the day cooled off and we actually got some sprinkles. We took our next two matches in two each which brought us to Day 3. The draw would have us play Kerri (@KerriLeeWalsh) and Whit (@WhitneyPavlik) to get to the semi’s, you don’t normally see the 1 seed play the 2 seed in the contender’s bracket… This match-up could qualify for a final in any tournament so we were ready for a battle, and a battle it was! We were able to pull it out in three close sets winning 17-15 in the third and it felt like we had just won the tournament, but we had only qualified for the semi’s and would have to win two more matches if we wanted the title of SLC champs.
In the semi’s we came up against Christal and Tealle again and were stoked to have a second chance at them. We learned from our first match, adjusted accordingly, executed a little better, and won in two. On to the FINALS!!!
In the finals we played a great team that we (shockingly) had never played before- Brittany (@BrittHochevar) and Lauren (@LaurenFendrick). We were tired, it was hot, the stands were packed, and it was on TV (@CBSSportsNet); I wouldn’t expect anything less for an AVP final. Dustin Avol (the MC- @DustyGringo) did a great job getting the amazing fans fired up and after 15 minutes of warm up we were ready to go.
We played well in the first set overall, we had a slow start and ended it in a way that I plan on learning from for a very long time. We lost the first when they came from behind and scored a run of points at the end. I made myself wipe the slate clean and start over in the second. We played much better and took the second pretty handily, on to the third. Anything can happen in a third set on the beach so you HAVE to be ready to go and not assume any momentum from the second set is going to stay with you. The third set was a back and forth battle, we were up, then they were up and then thankfully at the end we were up enough to hang on for the victory.
I can’t tell you how excited I was and still am to have won this AVP Open!! Especially since it was the first stop, we hadn’t seen a lot of the competition for almost a year, it was our first competition with the Wilson ball this year, and in a place we’ve never competed before. And, to add to it, I know my time on the court with Jen (@JenniferKessy) is slowly dwindling and that makes the win that much sweeter.
I am so thankful to Donald Sun (no twitter) for taking over the tour, putting his heart and soul into it, and creating an inaugural event that really sets the bar for the sport. The fans that came out were awesome and I have a strong feeling we’ll be back next year, so you better be back too! And to all the sponsors that make it possible to play this amazing sport for a profession, my personal ones (@MizunoVolley @TheWilsonVB @4point4) and the event sponsors (@RockwellWatches + others), you guys rock!