It’s a process. That’s what they say, at least. And even after AVP San Francisco, I believe it. It’s just not so easy to accept when that process drop kicks you, smashes your face in the sand, makes you eat some white dog poop – a Step Brothers reference, if you missed it – and steals your lunch money while you’re down.

That’s basically what happened in AVP San Francisco today.

We won our first. And by “we,” I mean Travis Schoonover and I. He played awesome. We beat a pair of Seattle guys, Brett Ryan and Brian Miller, who sent me packing in Austin. It felt nice, especially since we went down 9-5 in the third and jump-served and poked and scrambled and grinded our way back in it.

It was Babe Ruth who said “It’s hard to beat a guy who doesn’t give up.” Schoonover didn’t give up on me, and indeed we proved hard to beat.

And then came the second round.

Raffe Paulis and Spencer Sauter.

I know both of them very well. We trained against them this week, and then when the brackets were reseeded, we were inevitably placed in their bracket. That’s just the way beach volleyball works. When you break up with a partner, you play that guy first round, every time, in the next tournament. When you train against a team, you play them in the ensuing tournament, every time.

We actually played them very well in training. Every game went to deuces. We won in three.

And then came San Francisco.

Raffe played probably the best volleyball I’ve ever seen him play. He dug seams. He dug lines. He crawled to cut shots and somehow popped them up, too. And he didn’t just pop them up. He flipped them perfectly into Spencer’s platform, and he either took out the driver and teed it up or set Raffe, who then took out the driver and teed it up.

Spencer, too, balled out. He set well. Raffe pounded everything. He passed well, and the ensuing sideouts were easy.

They dropped a beach volleyball nuke on us, 21-15, 21-12. Or something. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe it was worse. I’m too scared to check BVB, to be honest.

It was one of those losses where you sit in the chair by the sidelines, and you don’t even say anything. You just let your mind wander to wherever minds go after being obliterated into outer space. Adam Roberts handed me my sunglasses and I don’t even know if I thanked the guy. I was, physically and mentally, mute.

It was one of those losses where, afterwards, you hop in the shower, and you just put your hands on the wall, let your head droop, and run the water and take a flashlight to your soul and do some inspecting.

It’s amazing, the existential crisis such a beautiful sport, and losing two games to two of your buddies, can send you into.

It helped when Raffe and Spencer did the same to TK Kohler and Art Barron in the finals. I don’t know the score, but it wasn’t too close.

Evidently they travel packing nukes.

As far as I know, nobody came within two of those guys all day.

This marks Spencer’s first main draw via qualifier, and I’d expect that, given how he played, he won’t have to play in too many more.

They earned every bit of this main draw. Afterwards, Spencer said he was literally too excited, he didn’t have the words to express it. His cheeks hurt from smiling.

I loved that. Spencer is a great guy who has done all the right things – move to California, train and train and train, play in qualifiers, move up and advance and be nothing but beatific throughout it all.

In that moment, I was both happy for him and incredibly envious that I wasn’t too excited for words. I was at a loss of words for all the wrong reasons.

The rest of the qualifier was pretty much par for the course.

Adam Roberts and Brian Cook, who picked up some AVP points just after deadline, cruised through to main draw. And here I want to point something out: If nothing else illustrates the difference between qualifying teams and main draw teams, it is Adam Roberts.

Adam has had, relative to him, a subpar year. He has taken three ninths and was then sent back into the qualifier. Nobody wants to be in the qualifier.

But Adam absolutely, unequivocally dominated. Whatever shortcomings he may have had thus far in the main draw, they are not evident in the qualifier. He sided out at an astonishingly consistent clip, tagging lines, finding seams.

Cook, his partner, has an indoor background and is making the transition to the beach. He swings harder than you, and in the big blue box he’s supposed to, and on Adam’s buttery sets, he’s going to side out. They make for a good team.

How they’ll do in the main draw, I don’t know. But that’s the difference: Adam Roberts made quick work of good volleyball teams in the qualifier.

For the doubters: He’s still a main draw volleyball player.

Shane Donohue, meanwhile, should not have a single doubter, if he even does at this point. The guy is en fuego, qualifying in New York, winning Pottstown, sweeping the San Francisco qualifier with Ian Satterfield.

They were stress free, winning their final set of the final match 21-12, which is basically how they played all day – smooth, controlled, consistent volleyball. It’s the kind of volleyball that gets you through qualifiers.

Ben Vaught and Branden Clemens, alas avoiding two individuals by the name of Chaim Schalk and Ricardo Santos, played six sets and won six sets, making their second main draw of the year. With Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Chicago all being big draws, they should be automatic from here on out.

I’m happy for Benny. I’m always happy for Benny. This kid wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to trek to San Diego to play with Clemens, who is doing all of this while fully employed like a real person in the real world.

Some may look at their road and scoff – “It was easy,” “I wish I had that road.”

They earned whatever road they had.

They deserve it.

As for the rest of us?

It’s a process.

A really long, frustrating, lose-and-learn-and-lose-and-learn and hope you don’t lose your wit process.


The site

A huge congrats goes out to the following:

Camie Manwill and Maria Salgado

Lara Dykstra and Allie Wheeler

Terese Cannon and Nicollete Martin

Branagan Fuller and Delaney Knudsen

I want to write about the women. I really do. But I legitimately have no idea what happened over there, aside from what BVB has for me.


We were separated by 30 miles, or 10 hours’ worth of San Francisco traffic.

The AVP had to split the site. There was really no option. Eighty-four total teams were in the qualifiers, and there was no way a site that isn’t a natural beach can accommodate that. So the women finally – they were bumped to off-site venues in Austin and I believe New York, so it was their turn – got to play at the main draw site, while the guys were moved into a parking lot of a place called The Foundry.

The place itself was cool. It had batting cages and basketball hoops and indoor volleyball courts and a sweet little weight room and a turf something or other and is a young athlete’s funhouse. And the courts weren’t bad. Really, they weren’t.

But to have a professional volleyball event – yes, I consider qualifiers quasi-professional, since many players (Roberts, for one) in qualifiers do this for a living – this was not a great look.

The sand was, in spots, inches deep. Donohue slipped on concrete.


In beach volleyball?

I’m not one to complain. We get to play an amazing sport, in amazing cities, for – kinda, sorta – money. But yes, I was disappointed. I don’t think I’m alone there. I wanted the Golden Gate Bridge and the telegenic backdrop and real San Francisco.

We played the first day of #AVPSanFran in Redwood City.

I’ll give all the credit in the world to the staff at The Foundry. They were excellent. They raked and raked and tried to fluff that sand until it was Easter Bunny soft – until it got swept over and we were turning on concrete again.

You can have fun events in venues like that. Junior tournaments. Maybe even a youth USAV something or other.

But if growing the game truly is the goal of the AVP, sites like this shouldn’t happen if it is to appear professional.

I have to wonder why we didn’t play at, say, Stanford, with a Division I beach complex and a cool setting and a very NorCal vibe. That would have been a good look. I know I can’t be the first one to think of that, so maybe there was more to it. Money, probably, which beach volleyball notoriously does not have.

Either way, good site or bad site or just a shallow site, the best teams qualified today. That’s what matters.

Raffe and Spencer played excellent and qualified.

Satterfield and Donohue payed excellent and qualified.

Roberts and Cook played excellent and qualified.

Ben and Clemens played excellent and qualified.

The best teams won, no matter the site.