January 26, 2023

Tri Bourne, Kelly Cheng win first AVP MVP

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — The new year is not yet upon us, but the new era of beach volleyball most certainly is.

On Thursday, the AVP concluded the rollout of its season-ending awards, announcing Tri Bourne and Kelly Cheng as the MVP of their respective genders. It’s the first time either has been named the MVP — and they both have at least six more seasons to play, with Bourne being 33 and Cheng 27.

“When you put team first, everything else falls into place,” said Bourne, who was also voted Team of the Year, alongside Trevor Crabb. “When we center everything around being the best team and teammates possible, then everything else falls into place.”

In a season with more new winners on the women’s side — Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil, Tina Graudina and Hailey Harward, Julia Scoles and Geena Urango, Carly Kan and Jen Keddy — than any in recent memory, and the men losing nearly half a dozen of the most dominant players of this generation to retirement, either full or pseudo — Nick Lucena, John Hyden, Casey Patterson, Sean Rosenthal — everything, it seems, is alas beginning to fall into place.

Bourne and Trevor Crabb, three-time winners on the AVP this season, were named the Team of the Year for the first time, as were their female counterparts, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth. It’s no surprise that it’s the first time for the latter: 2022 was just their second season on tour, a year in which they won both the first and the last event, and threw in Chicago for good measure.

Taylor Sander and Scoles were named the Rookies of the Year — and both have a legitimate shot at qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Sander’s partner, Taylor Crabb, was again named the Best Defensive Player, the fourth such time he’s won the award — at just 30 years old. Sponcil won her first Best Defensive Player (she was also the VolleyballMag Best Defensive Player), while her partner, Terese Cannon, was named Most Improved. That award for the men? Miles Partain, who turned 21 on Sunday, was voted by his peers as both Most Improved and Best Offensive Player, an award he shared with Cheng.

“Option Gang,” she jokingly called the two, as she options more than any female in the world, while Partain hits on two more than any male on the AVP.

All told, every woman — save for Betsi Flint, who was named Best Server, alongside Sander — who won an AVP award did so for the first time in their respective category. Same goes for Bourne, Partain (twice) and Sander. Even Brandie Wilkerson, who was named the Best Blocker on the FIVB in 2018, won her first such award on the AVP. The same, however, cannot be said for her partner in that category. Theo Brunner was named the AVP’s Best Blocker for the third time, nine years after winning his first.

In a year with new faces, new partners, new winners, new owners, and new events, the awards, given to new players, was a fitting end to a year rife with change.

A new era of talent is officially here.

List of AVP Awards

MVP: Tri Bourne, Kelly Cheng (VolleyballMag: Miles Partain, Kelly Cheng)

Team of the Year: Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth (VolleyballMag: Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth)

Best Offensive Player: Miles Partain, Kelly Cheng (VolleyballMag: Phil Dalhausser, Kelly Cheng)

Best Blocker: Theo Brunner, Brandie Wilkerson (VolleyballMag: Theo Brunner, Brandie Wilkerson)

Best Defensive Player: Taylor Crabb, Sarah Sponcil (VolleyballMag: Miles Partain, Sarah Sponcil)

Rookie of the Year: Taylor Sander, Julia Scoles (VolleyballMag: Taylor Sander, Julia Scoles)

Best Server: Taylor Sander, Betsi Flint (VolleyballMag: N/A)

Most Improved: Miles Partain, Terese Cannon (VolleyballMag: Andy Benesh, Terese Cannon)

Kelly Cheng-AVP Awards
Kelly Cheng/Mark Rigney photo

Graudina named Jurmala Athlete of the Year

Tina Graudina, the Latvian who helped lead USC to back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2021 and 2022, was named the Jurmala Athlete of the Year earlier this week. The award comes on the heels of a season in which she won an NCAA Championship, an AVP Pro Series in Fort Lauderdale, the European Championship, and a pair of silver medals on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour. Graudina and her partner, Anastasija Samoilova, were also named the Jurmala Team of the Year.