International Volleyball

favorites, new teams, sleeper picks

favorites, new teams, sleeper picks

HUNTINGTON BEACH, California — It has been a proper off-season for those playing on the AVP Tour. A full eight months without competing in a domestic event. Eight months to train and lift and watch film until your eyes fall out. Eight months to get hungry for a three-tournament sprint of an AVP season beginning Thursday in Huntington Beach, California for the first Heritage Series of the year.

But that, for the first time in the sport’s history, isn’t all.

Should that three-tournament sprint go well enough for 16 men’s and women’s players, another sprint will follow during this fall’s inaugural AVP League.

Yes, with the advent the League, there’s more on the line at each of the AVP tournaments this season. Beginning this week at AVP Huntington Beach, a win isn’t just a win, replete with the prize money and the points and the extra notch on the legacy ledger, though those are all good and well. This year, the AVP has added another incentive to each of the three Heritage events: Standings for a League that kicks off two weeks after the closing event in Chicago on Labor Day Weekend.

The winner in Huntington Beach will punch their ticket to the League, earning one of the eight spots. Those who don’t win will log one of their two required finishes to qualify. Of the eight slots per gender, three are allocated to the winners of a Heritage Series, three via accumulated points, and two, should they be used, are reserved for wild cards. It adds intrigue not just for the semifinals and finals this weekend — and weekends in Manhattan Beach and Chicago — but in the quarterfinals, the seventh-place matches, all the way down to ninth, really. Now, every point earned could very well earn a second season of sorts this fall.

A win, however, promises that second season. So…

Who are the favorites to win AVP Huntington?

For the women, this is a relatively easy answer: Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson are all ranked in the top five in the world. It is a borderline guarantee that at least one of those teams will be in the finals.

And then, of course, there is the No. 2 seed: April Ross and Alix Klineman. They’re Olympic champions, winners of the last five AVPs they’ve played together. Perhaps even more impressive, the last time played in an AVP and didn’t make a final? AVP San Francisco…of 2018…before Kloth had ever stepped foot on a beach volleyball court, before Cheng and…

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