nehrlich (nehrlich) wrote,

Pro beach volleyball

I went to the AVP Brooklyn Open today. I went last year too, and this year resolved to get there earlier so as to catch the morning matches. I still didn't get there until 11am (matches started at 9am), but got my money's worth as I watched six continuous hours of volleyball played by the best players in the world.

The highlight of the day was the men's semifinal - because of a wacky loss into the loser's bracket, the #1 (Dalhausser/Rogers) and #2 (Lambert/Metzger) teams ended up playing in the semifinal. And it was sick. They played in the finals that I saw last year (Lambert/Metzger won easily), but Dalhausser has gotten a lot better since then. He's almost getting to the point where he's unfair, because he's 6'9" and just towers over the competition. He makes other pro beach volleyball players look outclassed at times. When he jump serves, he lands about eight feet into the court, and then he gets to the net and blocks with his entire head and arms over the net.

This match had the highest quotient of "holy crap" moments, where both sides were making plays that were just unbelievable in their athleticism. There was one play where Metzger was off the net and did a high roller to the deep corner and Dalhausser's arm just extended way up and spiked the ball down. Sick. There was one point where Metzger made a save that was so unbelievable the ref actually called the play dead. The ref blew the whistle because he thought the ball was out of reach, but Metzger somehow got to it, and the ref had to call a re-play because of the inadvertent whistle. Boos rained down on the ref. Another boo-worthy moment was when Dalhausser dinked it over on two - everybody in the stadium booed him for that.

The men's finals were fun too. Dalhausser and Rogers were the clear favorites, as the #1 team in the world that's won something like 10 tournaments this year, and the other team was Wong and Wachtfogel, two kids in their first tournament final ever. I'd caught a few points of Wong and Wachtfogel earlier in the day (I was watching two women's matches at the same time), and they'd closed out their two previous matches with a block and an ace, so they were feeling pretty confident.

But the final looked ugly to start as they seemed a bit overwhelmed by the stadium atmosphere - at the first side change, it was 6-1 Dalhausser/Rogers. But the crowd started cheering for the underdog and rooting against the Goliath Dalhausser. Cheering every great play of Wong/Wachtfogel, booing Dalhausser, it was a lot of fun. Especially when Dalhausser and Rogers started to get rattled - after Dalhausser was called for a bad set, Rogers just lost it screaming at the ref and drew a yellow card. Another highlight was when Wong roofed Dalhausser - it was completely unexpected to see this 6'9" guy skying into the air, hitting the ball straight down and somehow having it land on his side of the net.

I saw a couple awesome matches in the outer courts too. The outer courts are great because there's no stadium seating - there's just a court with maybe ten feet on each side cleared. So you can get right up next to the court to watch the players and see how high they're jumping and how hard they're hitting. Two matches in particular were great - Boss/Ross vs. Fopma/McPeak went to 29-27 in the second game (games are to 21, win by two, so they were trading point for point for 10 points before McPeak broke through), and More/Stonebarger vs. Wacholder/Turner went to 31-29 in the second game and 18-16 in the third game (third game is to 15, win by 2). Just incredibly hard-fought matches that were fun to watch.

Watching McPeak pull out the second game was amazing. Holly McPeak is 38 now, and has been one of the best women's players for a long long time. But she's starting to slow down - in the first game of that match, Boss and Ross were picking on her and McPeak wasn't able to get the passes she needed. But in the second game, she buckled down and starting serving and hitting better, and willed her team to victory. Unfortunately, she couldn't keep it up and lost in the third game despite the cheering of the crowd.

Admittedly, I was rooting against McPeak - she's not the greatest of teammates as far as I can tell - she wants things done her way and only her way, so she has a track record of picking up young fresh talent who are psyched to play with the legend, teaching them how to win in the AVP, then them moving on when they're sick of McPeak's haranguing. It happened with Misty May, it happened with Logan Tom last year, and I'm sure it will happen with Fopna, who's her current partner.

Speaking of Misty May, I did get a chance to see May and Walsh play, who I missed last year. They played in the women's quarterfinals in the stadium after the men's final was done. They were almost boring to watch - they are so coolly efficient at this point, that they barely even exert themselves even over a team like Jenny Johnson-Jordan and Annett Davis, who are one of the top teams on the tour. The game was see-sawing back and forth when May and Walsh got annoyed, and decided to step it up. Instead of taking turns blocking (which they normally do), Walsh went to blocking full time, and the difference between the 5'10" May and the 6'3" Walsh blocking is significant. After they did that, the games went quicker, and they rolled out of there with a 21-16 and 21-15 win that wasn't as close as it sounds.

It was lots of fun. Part of the fun is that pretty much everybody in the crowd plays volleyball, so they appreciate the athleticism and the truly amazing plays that are seen. Part of it is the informal nature of it all - while watching one of the women's matches, I looked over and saw several other top women's players sitting there watching as well. And, hey, watching tall, attractive athletes in swimsuits? Not a hardship :)

I just wish I'd thought to tape the men's final so I could look for myself in the crowd (it was broadcast on NBC). Oh well.

Oh, the other annoying bit was that it took me over two hours to get home. I hopped on the D train, and we just stopped for about 30 minutes. Then the train moved, but only enough to get us barely to the next platform (everybody had to walk through the train and exit from the front most door). The train ahead of us at the platform was stopped as well - apparently there was a fire or something in the next tunnel. I hung out for thirty minutes on the platform waiting for a sign of progress, and then left the station and walked the mile to the next subway line over. Yuck.
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