One of my favorite moments in beach volleyball came roughly two seconds after I lost maybe the funnest, most exciting matches I’ve had the opportunity to play. I sat, head drooped, collapsed under the net, having double- or triple- or maybe even quadruple-contacted a set, handing Derek Olson and Brian Cook the final point of our third-round match in the AVP Manhattan Beach Open qualifier. Yet Olson, before taking a second to celebrate with Cook, yelled hey, jogged over, offered his hand to help me up, and said something to the effect of “Don’t even worry about that. That was a great match.”

It was. And everyone I talked to afterwards said the same. It was a great match.

And then I went to Shellback’s.

You know my thoughts on losing. I won’t write about that again. Instead, I’ll focus on the flip side of that: Why I, and many others, continue to invest our time and poor legs and a few bucks here and there to play a sport where the return on investment is, tangibly speaking, next to nothing.

I’ve played most any sport there is to play. I pitched until my freshman year of high school, played basketball from the day I could walk through college, swam a bit, dabbled in tennis, played far more soccer than I would have liked, cussed out a little white ball for thousands of holes on golf courses around the country.

The camaraderie in beach volleyball is unlike anything I’ve seen in sports. Basketball has a similar vibe, but basketball also brings a level of animosity unlike any sport I’ve played, too. There’s a certain level of hate there.

There’s no hate in beach volleyball. Not that I can see anyway. Not yet. I read a book called Tribe not too long ago, which explains how certain groups of people become close to one another. Enduring difficulty and adversity together is one of the most powerful binders of friendships. It’s why, in fraternities, the majority of the members still hang out with their pledge class buddies more often than anyone else, even though they’re all in the same fraternity.

Those of us stuck in the qualifier are basically pledging to be in the main draw fraternity. We all know what the other players are going through – sleeping on floors, working the oddest part-time jobs (Ryan Doherty delivered pizzas, John Hyden hung Christmas lights in San Diego…), grinding, grinding, grinding – so at the end of the day, qualifier guys root for qualifier guys when they make it through.

It’s why Brett Ryan, a defender from Seattle against whom I’ve split qualifying matches in Austin and San Francisco but who was able to bypass the quali in Manhattan Beach, approached Skyler McCoy and I after we “upset” Skylar DelSol and Jon Mesko in the second round. He said we looked great, that he was rooting for us, that we played well together. And I could tell by the tone of his voice that he genuinely meant it, that these weren’t empty platitudes, saying them just to say them.

It’s why the father of Brian Miller, Ryan’s partner, approached Skyler and I after our marathon with Cook and Olson and introduced himself, saying that he enjoyed my writing and thanks for writing about his kid and that he hopes to see us up in Seattle one of these days.

It’s why Dylan Maarek and Ben Vaught and David Ryan VanderMeer and J.D. Hamilton – all of whom either played in the qualifier or earned a wild card through it – offered their unequivocal support afterwards. They’ve been through it. They get it.

It’s beach volleyball.

It’s why, after we lost and washed what little sorrows we had left into the Pacific Ocean, we changed and went to Shellback’s, that bastion of beach volleyball players turned best friends of bartenders, where it seemed half the qualifier knockouts had forgotten that the qualifier happened at all. There were more pressing issues at hand, like why certain people are liabilities in flip cup, what pitcher to order next, and what in the world is happening in Game of Thrones.

The amount of success we have in qualifiers will likely have a negative correlation with early evenings at Shellback’s, and I’m ok with that.

For now, I’m just happy that early evening at Shellback’s wasn’t needed for yet another top seed.

Curse of the top seeds

From the very first tournament of the year, one of the most unenviable seedings a team could have is that of No. 1.

You’ll recall that in Huntington Beach, Kevin McColloch and Rafu Rodriguez-Bertran, after taking a fifth the year before, were sent back into the qualifier for the first event of the year. They were the one seed, with the pleasure of matching up with Reid Priddy and Chaim Schalk, a pair of Olympians, in their first round.

Down went No. 1.

In New York, the curse shifted to the No. 3 seed, where Rafu, now partnered with Piotr Marciniak, had Ricardo Santos and Schalk in the third round.

Down went No. 3.

In Hermosa Beach, Matt Motter and Mike Placek checked in at a remarkably mis-seeded 59. After waltzing through their pigtail, they sent the No. 6 seed – in Hermosa, eight teams made it out, so a six seed was the top seed in its bracket – packing.

AVP Manhattan Beach may have had more of these land mines than any qualifying tournament ever. I covered most of them in the preview for the tournament, but somehow I missed Mike DiPierro and Steven VanZwieten at 61, who had to play No. 68 Cullen Irons and Andy McGuire in the first round. I also missed Chris Austin and Hawk Hatcher at 73 – 73!

DiPierro-VanZwieten and Austin-Hatcher authored “upsets” a combined 138 seeds above them.

The most absurd land mine of all, of course, was Matt Olson and Matt Motter, who at 65 had to play-in to a match with the unfortunately-seeded No. 1, Mike Brunsting and Jeff Samuels.

It lived up to its billing: 18-21, 21-17, 16-14 in favor of Samuels and Brunsting. Most considered that match – a first rounder for Brunsting and Samuels – as the de facto play in.

“Such a boring first round,” Brunsting deadpanned afterwards.

I wish there was something the AVP could do to avoid stuff like that happening, but to be honest I’m kind of stumped. The seeding system they have is completely fair and unbiased. An idea I’ve heard kicked around is to have some kind of threshold to enter an AVP tournament, to make “open” somewhat of a misnomer.

If you look on BVB, you’ll notice an unusual epidemic of matches in which a team didn’t score double-digits in either game. Some of these even occurred in the second round. It’s kind of a waste of energy, time, man-power, and even money to pay the refs to stand there and yawn for half an hour.

The only other sport with a purely open concept that I know of is golf’s U.S. Open, but even then, open isn’t entirely accurate. You still need a 2.5 handicap – last I checked – to enter the first round of the qualifying tournaments.

Beach volleyball has a similar kind of handicapping system with its AAA, AA, A ratings. Should players have to have a AA ranking to enter? AAA? A certain number of points? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like the worst idea, but then again, that brings in the tricky matter of a uniform system of how players earn ratings and points. The only organization I know of that could possibly monitor something of that magnitude would be USAV, which is pretty hands-off in terms of the AVP. Plus, earning a AAA in, say, Wisconsin, is not exactly equivalent to earning a AAA in Manhattan Beach.

Just a thought. I’d love to hear yours.


The strangest of qualifiers

I bring this up because, as a result of all of these land mines and insane mis-seedings and teams who signed up just to get shellacked and tell their buddies they played in the AVP Manhattan Beach Open (I’ve done this before, so I’m not hating on it really), I think we had arguably the least effective qualifier in terms of parsing it out so that the highest quality teams made it through.

I think that if you simulate that qualifier 100 times, you would never get the result that happened yesterday more than once. The only teams to make it through that I think are really the most talented teams who would make it through more times than not are Brunsting-Samuels, Ian Satterfield-Dave McKienzie, Myles Muagututia-Kyle Friend, Paul Lotman-Gabe Ospina.

I don’t mean any disrespect to any of the teams that made it through, all of whom earned a main draw and should be credited accordingly. But to see exceptionally talented teams like Brian Cook and Derek Olson, Matt Olson and Matt Motter, Skylar DelSol and Jon Mesko, Travis Schoonover and Alejandro Parra, Reuben Danley and Dylan Maarek, among a few others, not make it through while several teams I can’t imagine any of the former losing to very often make it through is kind of a shame.

I get it. A draw is a draw is a draw and sometimes draws are shitty and life isn’t fair and sometimes draws are favorable and life is awesome. But this one was one of the most lopsided draws I’ve seen in that certain brackets were absolutely loaded while others were, um not absolutely loaded, relative to the field.

Now, all of this said, congrats is in order to everyone who qualified.

As for the rest of the weekend?

See y’all at Shellbacks.