New champions are assured this week at the AVP Huntington Beach Open, even if there are repeat winners.
Defending champion Casey Patterson is teaming with Theo Brunner in a new partnership. Jake Gibb, who won the tournament last year alongside Patterson, now plays with Taylor Crabb, whom he helped vanquish in the final round in 2016.
On the women's side, defending champion April Ross is teaming with Whitney Pavlik in the wake of former teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings' contract holdout with the AVP. Ross and Walsh Jennings dominated the domestic tour for years and won the bronze medal last summer at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Now Ross is something of an underdog on a team seeded second, behind the top-seeded tandem of Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar.
Qualifying for the Huntington Beach Open starts Thursday, with the opening rounds on Friday, elimination rounds on Saturday and the semifinals and finals on Sunday. General admission is free and a limited number of premium seats are available at www.avp.com/tickets.
AVP owner Donald Sun recently said his organization was prepared to withstand the absence of Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who has missed previous tour events because of injuries, childbirth or conflicts with the international tour that figures into Olympic qualifying.
"It didn't seem to affect attendance, TV ratings or viewership online," Sun told the Associated Press. "The AVP is not just one person or one athlete; if it was, it would be a very challenging business model."
There are a handful of intriguing story lines on the men's side, where Gibb and Crabb are the top-seeded duo and Patterson the hometown hero. Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who reached the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics, are back after being forced to withdraw last year when Lucena suffered a shoulder injury. Crabb could face his brother and former partner Trevor, who now teams with Sean Rosenthal.
The Huntington Beach Open is the first of eight stops on the AVP tour, which runs from April through September. The tour will return to Hermosa Beach in July for the first time since 2010 and make its usual stop in Manhattan Beach in August before concluding with the AVP Championships in Chicago in September.