It doesn’t seem long ago at all that the FIVB 2018 season was getting under way, and the irony is still thick: a beach volleyball season began indoors, in the freezing cold Netherlands.

April Ross and Alix Klineman, making their debut together, barely slipped through the country quota and then promptly took gold, their first major win of the year. The American men weren’t so great, nobody near the podium, though that’s sort of a reflection of how the year went for the American men.

Worry not, it wasn’t an Olympic year.

Since then, we’ve seen the unbelievably fast rise of Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum and Russia’s Oleg Stoyanovskiy, Igor Velichko. We’ve seen Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Piotr Kantor come into their own, while veterans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo take it easy.

We’ve seen the entire Brazilian beach volleyball union blow up and reform, a hydra simply creating new heads equally as threatening as the last.

We’ve seen a lot, though with Tokyo now two years away, not nearly enough.

Here is my take on how the FIVB ranks.

1. Anders Mol, Christian Sorum, Norway

The rise of this team has been an absolute blast to watch, and absolute kryptonite to any semblance of work productivity. My hours on YouTube escalated quicker than their world tour ranking, so fun it is to watch Mol put up that massive roof of a block and Sorum read behind him.

It’s almost scary, to be honest, how young these two are – Mol is 21, Sorum 22 – yet how poised they are. They didn’t finish fourth all season, a somewhat remarkable achievement given that every time a medal was on the line, they didn’t wilt, culminating in six podiums, three of which ended in gold.


2. Piotr Kantor, Bartosz Losiak, Poland

Prior to Mol and Sorum taking over the world tour, this was my YouTube catnip. I love everything about how this team plays, from the way they refuse to bump set to the physicality to the shooty offense to their body language, which is the exact same whether they’re up 10 or down 10.

They were one of the most consistent teams all season, with just three finishes ninth or worse while piling up five podiums, including a win in Warsaw and a silver in Ostrava.


3. Alexander Brouwer, Robert Meeuwsen

In terms of whom I just plain like on the world tour, the Dutchies are my favorites, because they were incredibly welcoming and open on our podcast prior to Huntington Beach. But they’re also just really, really good, even when the other teams know exactly what’s coming.

They’re going to hit the ball. They’re going to hit it hard. A lot of times, they’re going to hit it directly at you for no other reason than because they can. Good luck digging it.

They won three events early in the year but cooled towards the finish, going seven straight tournaments without a podium.


4. Vitor Felipe, Evandro Goncalves

This is a new partnership, so it’s difficult to place them so high. Honestly, this team is so high not because of the partnership but because of one player in particular: Evandro.

It doesn’t matter who Evandro’s playing with or what position he’s playing. He’s going to win. He’ll win with Pedro. He’ll win with Andre. He’s already proving he’s going to win with Vitor, a 27-year-old who had six tournaments with Evandro and only finished worse than fifth once.


5/6: Adrian Gavira, Pablo Herrera, Spain; Aleksandrs Samoilovs, Janis Smedins, Latvia

I’m giving myself an out by not picking between these two, since they’re basically the same exact team. No player stands above 6-foot-5. Both teams split block. None of the players are old by any measure, and yet they’ve all been around since what seems like the genesis of Olympic beach volleyball.

They’ve got 12 Olympic Games between them, for Christ’s sake!

And they’re all still so, so good. After a gold medal drought in 2017, Samoilovs and Smedins won two this season. The Spaniards finished with a gold, silver and bronze, with three more quarterfinal appearances on the season.


7. Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena, United States

It pains me to put these guys so low, but Dalhausser and Lucena sort of limped to the FIVB finish, in what few events they did play. Though it’s wise to limit their international schedule in a non-Olympic year, the Americans had but one podium, in their first event of the year, a spectacular display of dominance in Fort Lauderdale. After that it wasn’t bad, necessarily, just not up to the standards laden upon Dalhausser and Lucena.


8. Oleg Stoyanovskiy, Igor Velichko, Russia

The young Russians got off to a torrid start at the beginning of the year, taking silver in Doha and gold in Xiamen. And then, as it can go in debut seasons, they slowed down, going five straight tournaments without a finish better than ninth, before recovering with a bronze on their home soil in Moscow.

Like the Norwegians, these two just 21 and 23, have incredibly bright futures ahead.


9. Clemens Doppler, Alexander Horst, Austria

The Austrians are consistently in the mix, yet also consistently inconsistent. On the one hand, you could get a performance like the 2017 World Championships, where they kept the home crowd raucous and loud for the entire week, landing upset after upset en route to the finals. On the other, they could lay an egg, as they did in Fort Lauderdale and Ostrava.

But still: a gold medal in Baden and a fifth at the Vienna Major, along with a number of notable wins and few bad losses, is enough to keep them in the top 10

10. Daniele Lupo, Paolo Nicolai, Italy

Like Dalhausser and Lucena, it seems the Italians, 2016 Olympic silver medalists, took it easy on the traveling this year. Lupo’s eight FIVB events are his lowest since 2011, though he still finished with a silver and a bronze, as well as two more quarterfinal appearances. Just because they didn’t play a lot doesn’t mean they didn’t play well.


Honorable mention

Jake Gibb, Taylor Crabb, United States

John Hyden, Theo Brunner, United States

Cherif Samba, Ahmed Tijan, Qatar

Martins Plavins, Edgars Tocs, Latvia

Michael Bryl, Grzegorz Fijalek, Poland

Alison, Andre, Brazil