Slinging the Sand: The Phoenix Championship lived up to the hype with incredible volleyball

The duos of Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth and Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander came out on top.

Taylor Sander (left) and Taylor Crabb (right) in white jerseys and black shorts celebrate after winning a point in a beach volleyball match.

Last weekend the climax of the AVP took place in Phoenix at the Footprint Center. The championships featured six of the best teams on both the men’s and women’s sides.

Since there were only six teams, this tournament was single elimination instead of the usual double elimination. Also, the top two seeds had a first-round bye.

Now that we have the details of the tournament out of the way, let’s talk about what actually happened.

I’ll start on the women’s side. The tournament kicked off with No. 4 seed Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth vs No. 5 Julia Scoles and Geena Urango. This was an all LSU vs all USC matchup and it was a great start to the tournament.

Unfortunately for the former Trojans, it did not go their way. Scoles and Urango were up 11-13 in the first set when Nuss and Kloth went on a 9-0 run and ran away with the set. The pressure from Kloth at the net continued to be too much as the LSU alumni took the match in straight sets.

The three vs five matchup also finished in straight sets. The No. 5 seed Zana Muno and Sarah Pavan had never played together and it showed. With the indoor conditions, Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint looked incredible, and even when it was close in the second set, the outcome never felt in doubt.

Both of the winning teams from day one carried their momentum into Saturday.

Kloth and Nuss played first, taking on the one seed of Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske. Kloth and Nuss dominated the first set winning 21-12. They took the second set as well with Nuss seemingly everywhere on the court making Hughes and Kolinske overthink their hits.

Flint and Cheng faced off against second-seeded Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil. Cannon and Sponcil passed a little sloppy at times, and that proved to be the difference maker. Cheng and Flint played very consistently all night long and took the match in straight sets 21-16, 21-18.

The Cheng/Flint vs Kloth/Nuss was an exhilarating match. Nuss showed up and showed out in the finals, with 17 digs and 20 kills. All three other players had nine kills. The shallow sand gave Nuss more options offensively, and she took advantage.

Cheng and Flint never found their footing in this match and had a hitting percentage of just .167. Nuss and Kloth took home the championship with a 21-16, 21-17 win.

The men’s side was equally exciting. It started with fourth-seeded Paul Lotman and Miles Partain vs fifth-seeded Casey Patterson and Andy Benesh. Unfortunately, Phil Daulhauser – who was supposed to be Patterson’s partner could not compete due to medical reasons.

The newly formed duo of Patterson and Benesh couldn’t contain Lotman and Partain. Both Lotman and Partain have an extensive indoor volleyball background, and it showed all weekend.

Partain used the fake jump set to perfection at times and sprinkled in a few on two hits to keep Benesh guessing at the net. The chemistry between Lotman and Partain proved to be too much winning in straight sets.

The next match was No. 3 seed Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander vs No. 6 seed Chase Budinger and Troy Field. Once again, the players with extensive indoor experience came out on top.

Crabb and Sander have both played for team USA indoor volleyball, and the conditions in Phoenix were perfect for them. Sander’s serve seemed to have even more pop than usual. He was firing all weekend long.

Sander and Crabb cruised to a victory in straight sets 21-13, 21-18.

Just like on the women’s side, the winners of the first day continued their momentum into day two. Lotman and Partain took on the No. 1 seed of Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb. They needed three sets to take the victory, but Partain’s 31 kills were enough to put him and Lotman into the finals.

The matchup between Sander and Crabb vs the No. 2 seed Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk was also a dogfight. But Sander and Crabb were able to squeak out the win and head onto the finals.

The championship was extremely high level. All four players had indoor experience and seemed poised and ready for the moment.

Sander came up big in the finals. His serve was huge, and he had a ridiculous .769 hitting percentage.

Partain and Lotman played incredibly well, but only one team could come out on top. Sander and Crabb got their first win as partners in exciting fashion with a 21-17, 17-21, 15-13 win.

The play of the “week” came from the men’s final with an incredible rally showcasing why both teams made it to the finals:

“Slinging the Sand” typically runs every other Friday.