Despite the fact that the No. 1 seeded team made it out of the qualifier rounds in both the men’s and women’s divisions of the Atlantic City AVP event, it was a thrilling day on the courts squashed between the Showboat and Revel casinos on the AC boardwalk.
In the men’s tournament, East Coast players had their moment to shine, with seventh-seeded Boston team Ryan Berning and John Breen as well as 14th seed New Yorkers Matthew Whelan and Kyle O’Neill advancing to the second round, and sixth-seeded local New Jersey boys Eric Zaun and Todd Strassberger making it through to the third.
O’Neill and Whelan laid claim to the biggest upset of the morning taking out Adam Roberts and Andrei Belov in a 26-24, 15-21, 15-10 first-round match. The 37-year-old Roberts has been playing on the pro tour since 1998 and finished fifth in the first AVP event this year in Salt Lake City, also with Belov. The team was seeded third in the qualifier but couldn’t get past the scrappy defensive plays of O’Neill and the big block established by Whelan.
Before the match O’Neill praised Belov’s explosive jump serve, saying he remembered watching him ace Olympian Todd Rogers a few times in a previous tournament. Then he laughed, “I mean, I’m not saying I’m not going to pass it. I’m totally going to pass it.” And he did, or at least enough times to force the third game and ultimately take the first-round victory.
O’Neill and Whelan met their ultimate end against the New Jersey squad of Strassberger and Zaun, who in turn lost their third round match to two-seed Kevin McColloch and Ed Ratledge, who had just finished taking down Berning and Breen in the second round.
Although Ratledge and McColloch had never played together before, they managed to make it to the qualifier final where they met first-seeded Stafford Slick and Adrian Carambula. Between Slick’s pure size and raw power and Carambula’s ball control that rivals that of Casey Jennings and Rogers, the match was never really in question with the final scores tallying 21-12 and 21-17.
On the women’s side, one seed Emily Day and Summer Ross met two-seed Lane Carico and Heather Hughes in the final after both squads rolled past the competition, taking all their matches in two sets and rarely allowing the competition to score more than 15 points.
Hilary Pavels and Dana Fiume represented New York on the women’s side but couldn’t make it past Morgan Miller and Brooke Nils in the first round. Jersey sisters Rachel and Devon Johnston had the misfortune of facing last week’s Cincinnati champs Day and Ross right off the bat and crumbled 21-11, 21-13.
The women had a much lighter day than the men and only had to play three rounds to qualify. In the round two (the semifinals) Carico and Hughes defeated Miller and Niles while Day and Ross took out Kendra Van Zweiten and Olaya Pazo, runners up in the NVL tournaments in Mason, Ohio, and Dallas.
In the final, Carico and Hughes came out blazing, delivering every serve and all the pressure to Day. After dropping the first set 19-21, Day and Ross recovered to take game two 21-19 and the third 15-10. Despite the loss Carico and Hughes proved their tenacity and their ability to play with the top dogs. Last week, the young duo finished 9th in Cincinnati, and they’re not likely to go anywhere but up in the rankings.
Tomorrow competition continues in the shadow of the Showboat. Matches will kick off at 10 a.m. ET with Sean Rosenthal and Phil Dalhausser taking on Slick and Carambula and April Ross and Jen Kessy meeting Kristen Batt and Raquel Ferreira. Also at 10, Christal Engle and Teal Hunkus versus Brittany Hochevar and Lauren Fendrick and Ryan Doherty and Rogers versus John Hyden and youngster Tri Bourne.