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‘Team Taylor,’ Canadian Olympic duo capture beach volleyball titles at AVP Huntington Beach Open

Melissa Humana-Paredes hits past Taryn Kloth Sunday during the women's finals of the AVP Huntington Beach Open.
Melissa Humana-Paredes hits past the block of Taryn Kloth during the women’s finals of the AVP Huntington Beach Open on Sunday.
(Eric Licas)
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The new Assn. of Volleyball Professionals League debuts this fall, with eight men’s and women’s teams competing for eight different cities around the country.

The winners of the AVP Huntington Beach Open, along with two other Heritage Series events, were able to book their spots into the league.

Two Taylors were up to the challenge Sunday. Top-seeded Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander won the men’s championship, defeating former Newport Harbor High standout Cody Caldwell and Seain Cook, 21-15, 21-15, in the title match. Caldwell and Cook were the No. 5 seeds.

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The women’s final featured an Olympic preview, as Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson beat top-seeded Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss of the United States 23-21, 18-21, 15-13, avenging an earlier loss in the tournament.

Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander pose for photos after winning the AVP Huntington Beach Open on Sunday.
(Eric Licas)

Crabb and Sander did not drop a set in Surf City.

“I think it’s perfect that the AVP League is right after the Olympics,” Crabb told reporters after the victory. “It’s do or die out here for us right now. There are three tournaments, and we’re fortunate enough that we got to play this one and win it ... We were talking Friday about how nervous we were, because every tournament now means something. Everyone wants to make the League, and only eight teams are going to make it. So it’s great to get that under our belt, and now we get to have some fun.”

In making their first finals appearance, Caldwell and Cook upset Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk in the semifinals.

Brandie Wilkerson lunges to keep the ball in play during the AVP Huntington Beach Open on Sunday.
(Eric Licas)

On the women’s side, Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson dispatched No. 3-seeded Costa Mesa native Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng of Huntington Beach, 21-19, 21-16, in the semifinals. Hughes and Cheng were the defending tournament champions.

“Winning any tournament is great, but winning the first tournament of the AVP season is always amazing, especially when there’s a spot in the League on the line,” Humana-Paredes said.

Also notably at the tournament, former Newport Harbor High standout April Ross and partner Alix Klineman made their return to professional beach volleyball after nearly three years away as a team. Ross, now 41, is a three-time Olympian who captured gold with Klineman at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Sara Hughes reaches for a dig during the AVP Huntington Beach Open on Sunday.
(Eric Licas)

Both Ross and Klineman now have infant sons, Ross Riley and Theo.

The duo finished tied for seventh after they were knocked out by No. 6-seeded Terese Cannon and Megan Kraft, 21-19, 15-21, 15-10.

“Overall, I played better than I expected, but tournament play is different from training,” Ross said. “It hurts to lose that last one, but at the same time I’m proud of us and I’m proud of me.”

The AVP will return to Southern California for the Manhattan Beach Open, Aug. 16 through18. That’s the second Heritage Series event of the season, followed by the Chicago Open from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.

Newport Beach native Cody Caldwell prepares to hit against Taylor Sander on Sunday.
Newport Beach native Cody Caldwell prepares to hit against Taylor Sander during the men’s final of the AVP Huntington Beach Open on Sunday.
(Eric Licas)
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