When Stafford Slick put up a 6-foot-8, goggled roof for one final block in Seattle, putting an exclamation point on the first AVP Tour win of his career, we officially reached the midpoint of the AVP season.
We’re four events in with four to go. It’s going by depressingly fast.
Contrary to other major sports, which get an All-Star break or a dunk contest or some form of intermission, beach volleyball heads into the midpoint at its busiest juncture, with two five-star FIVBs, two AVPs, an NVL and the World Series of Beach Volleyball all in the same month.
That said, it’s time to take a look at some mid-season awards, and what players are in line to take home some hardware at the end of the season.
- Phil Dalhausser
- I really don’t feel like I need to qualify this answer with an explanation. He’s Phil freaking Dalhausser. He’s the best blocker in the world, and every AVP tournament he plays in, he finishes in the top two in blocks. More than that, he’s the best setter in the world, which in turn makes him that much better at his job as a blocker, as transition setting might be the most important aspect of being an effective blocker. As long as Dalhausser is alive and healthy, he should win this award, and there really shouldn’t be much of an argument, hence why he’s my only nominee.
- Reid Priddy/Jeremy Casebeer
- I’m lumping these two together because their styles are so similar: They hit jump serves so hard, with so many RPMs, that it seems their goal is less to ace their opponent than it is to knock them over. Priddy willed a win over Eric Zaun and Marty Lorenz by acing his way back into it, and Casebeer should receive a large portion of the credit for a huge win over Ricardo and Chaim Schalk for his performance at the service line.
- Sean Rosenthal
- Rosie isn’t necessarily hitting with the same brute force he used to, but the spots he’s picking, as evidenced by his number of aces, are sharper and proving difficult to pass. He finished third in aces in Austin with 9, fourth in New York (8) and second in Seattle (8).
- Taylor Crabb
- More than any other defender in the country, when Taylor Crabb is playing defense, I expect him to touch anything that Jake Gibb doesn’t block. It’s an unfair expectation to have, of course, but that’s how good he is. He makes the routine digs he should make, but he also makes some of the most spectacular defensive plays I’ve ever seen. There’s a reason he won this award in 2016.
- Billy Allen
- I think it was Chris Marlowe on an NBC broadcast who said “Mr. Right Place and the Right Time” when describing Allen in the finals in Seattle. That pretty much sums it up. Allen, without taking stupid risks and guessing every play, always seems to be where the ball is headed, a big reason he won again in Seattle and made consecutive finals.
Best Offensive Player
- Phil Dalhausser
- I didn’t want to pick Dalhausser simply because few teams are suicidal enough to serve him. He won this award last year, and Nick Lucena could hardly believe it, because the guy never has the chance to be an offensive player, let alone the best offensive player. But dammit, I can’t help it. He’s too good. I can’t NOT pick Dalhausser. When he gets the ball, he puts it away. It should be viewed as a nod to his offensive abilities, not a negative, that nobody wants him to have the ball. Baseball writers don’t punish Mike Trout for being intentionally walked at record-setting rates, and I won’t punish Dalhausser for the volleyball equivalent of being intentionally walked every match since, like, 2005.
- Stafford Slick
- Ever since Slick’s bizarre and frightening injury last year in New Orleans, the guy has been en fuego. He made the finals in New York and then picked up his first win two weeks later in Seattle. What little was holding his game back appears to be gone, and by season’s end he may very well be in discussion for MVP.
- Ed Ratledge
- The Eagle! One of my favorite people in California, Ratledge might also be the most confounding to play defense against. Any blocker under 6-foot-6 will get the OT treatment, every single time, no exception. It drives Trevor Crabb nuts. His option game is unstoppable, and he’s secretly one of the better setting big men out there. His two fifths with Zaun have already matched his career-high for a single season.
Newcomer of the Year
Note: I will not consider Ricardo or Chaim Schalk for Newcomer of the Year for the simple fact that they are far too accomplished, in my mind, to ever be “newcomers.” Ricardo has won multiple Olympic medals and more tournaments than any active player in the world. Schalk went to the Olympics. Yes, they’re “newcomers” to the AVP Tour, in the technical sense because they are “new” to the AVP Tour, but they’re far too accomplished in this sport for me to divvy out an award on a technicality.
- Eric Zaun
- My man Zaun lives in his 2006 Dodge Sprinter and scrounges together some sustenance from Kind bars and the occasional splurge on Pho. If nothing else, he’s the Most Interesting Man on Tour. But he’s also really, really good, taking a pair of fifths in his first four events, beating an Olympian in Casey Patterson and one of the best teams on Tour in Billy Allen and Stafford Slick.
- Reid Priddy
- Priddy is a newcomer because he has never seriously pursued beach before, unlike Ricardo and Schalk. After barely missing out on qualifying in Huntington Beach, he took a fifth in Austin, grabbed a ninth in New York and a seventh in Seattle. He serves as well as anyone on Tour, and when he catches a ball flush it just will not be dug.
Most Valuable Player
- Billy Allen
- The humblest guy on Tour might also be its most valuable. Nobody gives less credit to himself than Allen, who after his win in Seattle said that he just “always has a partner get hot,” as if his outlandishly controlled defense and hyper-effective offense weren’t the chief reasons for winning both years. Offensively, he’s masterful, and defensively, he’s something of a clairvoyant, somehow always winding up exactly where the ball is.
- Phil Dalhausser
- He’s the best blocker in the world, best setter in the world, best server in the world, and best offensive player in the world. I rest my case.
- Jake Gibb-Taylor Crabb
- As far as teams I’d like to play against the least, this is No. 1. Scoring on these guys has proven to be a Herculean feat, and anybody doubting how Crabb would do in transitioning to the left side has been convincingly silenced. Offensively, neither is particularly error prone. They’re one of the best teams in transition. When the second greatest blocker in American history is providing the first line of defense for the 2016 Defender of the Year, well, that’s a formula that works, and it has quite well.
- Stafford Slick-Billy Allen
- Perhaps the surprise team of the year, these two have been remarkably consistent, with two finals appearances and a win. Allen, Mr. Consistent, is playing as well as anybody in the country at the moment, and Stafford Slick has, in Allen’s words, turned into the Incredible Hulk. They’ve agreed to play all eight AVPs this season. Another couple finals appearances are not out of the question.