Maldives - challenge - Beach Pro Tour 2022 - News


Molly Turner just wants to practise. She has a run of tournaments coming up – Challengers in Dubai in late October, then an AVP stop in Huntington Beach in early November – and needs proper training before hopping on a flight halfway around the world. Problem is: there’s hardly anyone in the United States left to practise with her.

Nearly everyone else is in the Maldives.

Peruse the entry list for this weekend’s Maldives Challenge, and you’ll find a regular motif next to the names: the American flag. Two teams – Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn, Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft – are directly into the main draw, while six (six!) fill out a qualifier of just 24 teams. So loaded is the event with Americans that USA Volleyball has even sent Jose Loiola, its national team coach, to prep the teams.

The Maldives isn’t exactly a changing of the guard for the Americans, but it’s certainly a signal that the next generation is making its transition from the ranks of the NCAA college system and onto the Beach Pro Tour. Only three of the 16 players representing the United States in the Maldives – Stockman, Schermerhorn, and Violeta Slabakova – are older than 30. The average age of the other 13? Twenty-two.

This season marks the first one that includes international play for Savvy Simo, Megan Gebhard, Hailey Harward, Xolani Hodel, Katie Horton, Slabakova, Deahna Kraft, Julia Scoles, and Megan Kraft. This event in particular is the first Beach Pro Tour tournament for Gebhard, Harward, Hodel, Slabakova, Deahna Kraft, and Scoles.

All of which is to say: the qualifier is going to be a messy affair. Upsets that look like upsets on paper are likely, though they won’t really be upsets at all. Three of the teams in the qualifier – Scoles and Muno, Deahna Kraft and Wheeler, Harward and Hodel — include at least one player who won an AVP tournament this season: Scoles won in Atlanta, Kraft and Wheeler in Virginia Beach, Harward in Fort Lauderdale with Latvian Tina Graudina. Not that any of them are guaranteed to win a single match, of course, let alone qualify.

At the top of the qualifier are China’s Jinjin Zeng and Xinxin Wang, Xinyi Xia and MeiMei Lin, Finland’s Anniina Parkkinen and Sara Sinisalo, and Japan’s Akiko Hasegawa and Yurika Sakaguchi. Only one American team – sixth-seeded Savvy Simo and Jessica Gaffney – will be the on-paper favourites to qualify. Any of the other six U.S. teams competing on Thursday will require at least one upset to make the weekend’s main draw.

Evandro Goncalves (BRA)

Evandro headlines men’s Maldives qualifier

Rest assured, most teams in Thursday’s qualifier will be doing the math in their heads, curious if their path could potentially run them into the one team nobody would ever want to see in a Challenge qualifier: Evandro and Vinicius.

It was hardly more than a year ago when Evandro Goncalves announced a blockbuster partnership with Alvaro Filho that had all the makings of becoming the next elite team on the Beach Pro Tour. But the fit wasn’t quite right, and after a year of disappointing results – six events without a single semifinal made – they went different directions. Alvaro will be returning to his former partner, Alison Cerutti, while Evandro picked up the relatively unknown Vinicius Rezende, who has played just one event this season, the Itapema Challenge, where he lost in the first round of the qualifier.

Should they qualify, the world would get its first true glimpse at the 27-year-old Vinicius, and it may also get its first introduction to another potential Beach Pro Tour star in the making: Miles Partain.

The 20-year-old American defender had a breakout year on the AVP, making the semifinals in six of eight events, including a victory in Atlanta. His style will immediately draw comparisons to that of Swedes David Ahman and Jonathan Hellvig, the jump-setting European Champions who are seeded second in the main draw, and it ultimately led him to being named the VolleyballMag MVP of the AVP season. He’s making his international debut alongside Andy Benesh, who finished with a silver medal at a Futures in Thailand and added a pair of ninths in Espinho and Morocco.

Switzerland's Adrian Heidrich and Leo Dillier, the top seeds in the qualifier, will look to continue improving in their first season together, and Thailand's upstarts Surin Jongklang and Banlue Nakprakhong will seek to do the same. Issa Batrane and Freddy Bialokoz of England, the second seed, are looking to continue holding the torch high for England as its new No. 1 team.