To some, maybe it seemed an odd choice. In the wake of Jake Gibb’s retirement following the 2021 season, here was Taylor Crabb, the hottest free agent on the beach volleyball market. Could have had any American blocker he wanted. Yet, months earlier, he had hinted that his next partner might take some people by surprise, that it wouldn’t be the all-Hawai’ian team many expected, with Crabb and Tri Bourne.
Who, then, could it be?
Oh, just a guy who hadn’t played a competitive beach volleyball match since he was 20. Taylor Crabb would be writing his next AVP and Olympic chapter with Taylor Sander.
What an ending to their first season they just wrote.
In front of nearly 7,000 fans at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday evening, Crabb and Sander won their first event, in what is arguably the second-biggest tournament of the season, claiming the AVP Phoenix Gold Series Championships, beating Miles Partain and Paul Lotman 21-17, 17-21, 15-13 in the finals.
How good was Sander, in just the 12th tournament of his professional career? He killed 11 of 13 attempts, leading all players with a .769 hitting percentage. In a match where Lotman and Partain led in every team category save for one — serving — it was Sander’s four aces — with an untold number of serves that put Lotman and Partain out of system, taking the claws out of an option-heavy offense — that proved the difference in a match decided by two points.
“I don’t even think I needed to be on the court,” Crabb said afterwards. “That guy did f****** everything.”
He did, of course, need to be there. Not least of all because if Crabb doesn’t give Sander the call, is Sander on the AVP at all right now? Or is he still collecting massive checks, deploying that massive right arm indoors, making another Olympic run with the U.S. National Team?
“Taylor’s one of the best players in the world,” Sander said. “I’m lucky to call him my partner. It’s so fun to play with him. Without him, we wouldn’t be here, first place.”
So without Crabb, then, the AVP, and its fans, would be without the 6-foot-5 30-year-old who just finished his first season on the beach ranked seventh in hitting percentage (.470), fifth in blocks (88), passed with a .932 efficiency, and first in aces (75), winning that category by a full 15 over Jeremy Casebeer.
“I grew up with this guy since we were 14, 15 years old,” Crabb said. “I knew what I was going to get. And now everyone else knows what they’re going to get. And we’re not done, either.”
Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth, “Murica’s team”, win third 2022 AVP title
Neither are their female counterparts, those lovable darlings of the AVP Tour, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth. Multiple times throughout the weekend were Nuss and Kloth referred to as ‘Murica’s Team.’
Each tournament they play, each time they’re on the mic, it gets easier to make that claim.
For the third time this year on the AVP, and fifth overall — they also won gold medals in Australia and Turkey — Nuss and Kloth finished a tournament holding a trophy, which, for some reason, Kloth continues to forget is a thing that happens when you win a tournament.
“I don’t know how I forget,” Kloth said after their decisive 21-16, 21-17 win over Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint. “But I just get so focused on the game and then you get a trophy after!”
How can you not love ‘em?
Their season has been, poetically, in a way, as so much of Phoenix was, the counterpart to Crabb’s and Sander’s. Where Crabb and Sander were met mostly with reservations and doubt at the beginning of the year, Kloth and Nuss were on the receiving end of a full 300-car American Hype Train. Anything less than eight straight wins might have seemed a disappointment to some. Even when they won AVP Austin to begin the season and followed it up with those golds in Australia and Turkey, a string of three straight fifths prompted a surprising chorus amongst American fans who wondered if teams might be beginning to figure them out.
Figured out, they are certainly not.
No team came remotely close to stealing a set off Nuss and Kloth in Phoenix, much less a match. In their opening match, against Geena Urango and Julia Scoles, they flipped an 11-13 first set deficit into a 20-13 lead, a 9-0 run that hardly seemed to slow or stop until they had a victory, and $15,000 in prize money — and, yes Taryn, a trophy — in hand.
“You just see the look in Kristen’s eyes and she is like: ‘It is go time. I don’t want to have anything touch the sand,’” Kloth said. “And that’s when you go. When Kristen gives you the look, you just go.”
Nuss gave the look, and all the way to the top have they gone, the only female team to win multiple events on the AVP in 2022.
“Absolutely unreal,” Nuss said. “When we walked in the first day we were absolutely wide-eyed. We were like ‘This is incredible!’ And Phoenix, y’all showed out. Thank you so much. I hope we can keep getting to come back because the atmosphere was insane, the fans, unbelievable. Whoo!”
A final farewell to Casey Patterson, ‘the player you love to love’
As Rich Lambourne was commentating the final match of Casey Patterson’s 18-year beach volleyball career, he summed up the suavehawk-rocking, constantly-dancing, forever-celebrating Patterson as well as anyone could have: “He’s the player you love to love.”
Take a stroll through the player’s tent and you won’t find a single player who doesn’t hold the 42-year-old father of five with the utmost respect. Take a stroll through any AVP event, and you’ll have found the largest crowds consistently congregating to wherever Patterson was playing, regardless of who he was playing or whether it was a good match or not.
For almost the entirety of his career, Patterson has been, simply, beach volleyball’s chief ambassador, the man who made the sport incalculably better and entertaining. And he was honored for it following the final AVP match of his career, a 15-21, 27-25, 14-16 loss alongside emergency substitute Andy Benesh and against good friend Troy Field and his former partner, Chase Budinger. He was given a lengthy, and deserving, standing ovation, an introduction from the legendary Chris ‘Geeter’ McGee, and, of course, the microphone.
“It’s been such a fun ride because I feel like I’m going to be with all my best friends whenever I show up,” Patterson said. “That makes it so much more fun to do what I love and hopefully show you guys that this is the greatest sport on earth. For me, it’s been an honor.”