Home Sports Canadians Humana-Paredes, Wilkerson win Olympic preview at Huntington Beach Open

Canadians Humana-Paredes, Wilkerson win Olympic preview at Huntington Beach Open

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HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIFORNIA May 19, 2024- Brandie Wilkerson, left, and Melissa Humana-Paredes celebrate after winning the AVP Pro Series championship in Huntington Beach on Sunday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Brandie Wilkerson, left, and Melissa Humana-Paredes celebrate after winning the AVP championship in Huntington Beach on Sunday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

At first, Melissa Humana-Paredes couldn’t uncork the celebratory bottle of champagne. She is now learning to aim her shot.

After a thrilling three-set victory in the final of the AVP Huntington Beach Open on Sunday, the Canadian defender sprayed champagne directly into the eyes of her partner Brandie Wilkerson, momentarily stopping the euphoric celebration as Wilkerson asked for a bottle of water to rinse her eyes. . and she wiped her face with a towel. Blinking away the pain, Wilkerson had no problem smiling with a Huntington Beach Open trophy surfboard in her hand.

“Champagne and I just don’t get along,” said Humana-Paredes, who previously needed help uncorking a bottle at a Viral video from 2023. “We are improving. I need to practice more.”

The weekend’s Huntington Beach Open was a warm-up in more ways than one, providing crucial preparation for Olympic hopefuls and setting the tone for a new format of AVP competition.

In Sunday’s final, Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes defeated top-ranked Americans Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss 23-21, 18-21, 15-13 in a potential Olympic qualifier.

The women’s field included three of the five best couples in the world who have secured their place at the Paris Games. On the men’s side, Taylor Sander and Taylor Crabb dominated without any of the top Olympic contenders. As U.S. Olympic hopefuls Miles Partain and Andy Benesh, Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, and Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner prepare for an Olympic qualifying event in Portugal, Sander and Crabb topped the field. The longtime partners did not lose a single set in Huntington Beach and won 21-15, 21-15 in the final over fifth seeds Seain Cook and Cody Caldwell.

“It doesn’t matter if those teams aren’t here,” Sander said. “Any tournament we go to, we want to win it and we want to improve. We did it and I’m proud of it.”

The winning pairs in Huntington Beach solidified their spots in the inaugural AVP League, a new competition format that will feature 16 pairs (eight women’s and eight men’s teams) in a regular season that begins in September, followed by a playoff tournament and a championship game in November. . The Huntington Beach Open was the first event of a truncated AVP season around the Olympics. With the two events, beach volleyball seeks great prominence in a busy sports panorama.

“I think it’s perfect that the League starts right after the Olympics,” said Crabb, who stopped playing international tournaments with Sander. “Here now it is a matter of life and death for us.”

Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes also defeated the other U.S. Olympic team of Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng in straight sets in Sunday’s semifinal. The pairs are tied for fourth in the FIVB rankings and have cemented their spots in Paris alongside Kloth and Nuss, who are ranked second in the world.

Brandi Wilkerson, left, blocks a shot by Taryn Kloth

Brandi Wilkerson, left, blocks a shot by Taryn Kloth during the AVP championship game in Huntington Beach on Sunday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

After giving up an early 6-2 lead in the third set of the final, Wilkerson and Humana-Paredes finished the match with four straight points, including an ace by Humana-Paredes that set up the championship point, to give them momentum and confidence. to the team. heading to his first Olympic Games.

“Everything we do will be preparation for the Olympics, but especially with these girls here,” Wilkerson said. “We hope to play against them in the Olympics, so I think we’re all fighting for that.”

The Canadians made it through the group of contenders after losing to Kloth and Nuss in three sets in the quarterfinals on Saturday. They played three matches on Sunday compared to the top-ranked Americans, who reached the final with extra rest after their semifinal match ended early because Julia Scoles and Betsi Flint bowed out trailing 9-2 in the first set.

Scoles, six months removed from two knee surgeries to correct a patella tendon that was detaching from the bone, was forced to withdraw from competition. The Huntington Beach Open was her first tournament since she received clearance two and a half weeks ago. While she played five games in the first two days with Flint, Scoles injured an abdominal muscle. With injuries piling up on USC’s two-time national champion, she was forced to retire. But she still had a busy schedule that day.

Their wedding was scheduled for five in the afternoon on Sunday.

“Today’s plan was called ‘Operation Late for My Own Wedding,’” joked Scoles, who rushed to a small ceremony with his immediate family Sunday night and is planning a larger celebration later.

Despite the early loss, Scoles and Flint still secured a valuable semifinal finish that could help them qualify for the AVP League, which considers each pair’s first two finishes in three Heritage events (Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach and Chicago) during the classification process.

The Taylors, 32, have decided to forego international tournaments in favor of major national events. Looking at the packed grandstand, the entire VIP section and the Huntington Beach Pier with three rows of fans lined up, Sander couldn’t think of a reason to leave.

“Not with the AVP League, honey,” Crabb said with a wide smile. “It’s about the AVP League.”

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This story originally appeared on Los Angeles Times.

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