Bauer-Horton find “extra gear” for two big upsets at AVP Atlanta Gold Series

Just take a look at all of those Olympians, posing in front of the Olympic rings, looking all Olympic-like, with their sponsored shirts and hats and casual demeanor that says “Yes, we’ve done these shoots before, plenty of them, thanks.” Eleven players in this week’s AVP Atlanta Gold Series ventured into downtown Atlanta to pose in front of the rings, with 18 total Olympic appearances between them, a sum that does not include Larissa Maestrini’s three Olympics and 2016 bronze medal.

And then you have Brook Bauer and Katie Horton.

Seeded thirteenth in this week’s event, Bauer and Horton have experienced the Olympics only on television. Their only official win over an individual who had once competed in an Olympic Games came in a Futures event last June, when they upset China’s Xinxin Wang.

Something this week is apparently different for Bauer and Horton, a team who for two years now has been on the border of becoming an elite team or remaining a good team that occasionally plays elite. Friday in Atlanta, they were elite, knocking off Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon (21-18, 21-14), before upsetting the AVP Hermosa Beach champions, Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn (16-21, 21-16, 15-8).

“We know that every team we face here is going to be elite. They’re going to make great plays and they’ll push us to find an extra gear,” Bauer said. “We embraced that really well, let the game develop, made adjustments along the way, and played with joy and intensity.”

They’ve done this before, Bauer and Horton, engineering upset wins in the first two rounds of AVP Hermosa Beach last month, over the 8 and the 1 seed, to earn a place in the quarterfinals with two cracks at the semifinals. Twice they were swept in Hermosa Beach, finishing with an admirable fifth, their fourth such finish this year.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” Bauer said of being back in the quarterfinals of the winner’s bracket. “We are excited and hungry to push for more.”

Katie Horton and Brook Bauer celebrate at AVP Atlanta/Mpu Dinani photo

That push will begin with a date against the top seed, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, who won a pair of close sweeps on Friday. On the other side of the bracket is a quarterfinal that comes as little surprise. Second-seeded Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth also won both of their matches in sweeps, while Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson, fresh off a gold medal at the Montreal Elite16, picked up two wins as well, though their first, against Jen Keddy and Katie Dickens, did require a third set.

It makes Bauer and Horton the lone Cinderella in the first Gold Series event of the year. The men’s side was mostly a chalk walk, the only minor upset in the winner’s bracket coming from fifth-seeded Chase Budinger and Miles Evans beating Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander (21-19, 17-21, 15-12), unless you count Alison Cerutti and Billy Allen, the 11, sweeping sixth-seeded Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend, an upset only on paper. While the five beating the four isn’t much of an upset, the win for Budinger was significant. Entering that match, Evans had never beat Crabb, and Budinger had lost nine straight.

The streak is, alas, over for both, as they continue to play some of their best volleyball of their nascent partnership after a ninth in Montreal.

Chase Budinger hits around Taylor Crabb at AVP Atlanta/Mpu Dinani photo

Meanwhile, the streak, or stressful tendency, of Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk to put themselves down three or four points and then mount a comeback remains alive and well. Twice, they found themselves in a hole, first against John Hyden and Bill Kolinske, then against Alison and Allen. Somehow, some way, they just sort of continue to figure it out, beating Hyden and Kolinske, 25-23, 23-21, despite trailing the vast majority of both sets. That only preceded another magic act in the next round, dropping the first set, 17-21, and digging themselves a 9-12 hole in the second.

Again, they fended off set and match points, finding a way to win the second, 27-25, and the third, 15-13 (they did not spot Allen and Cerutti a lead in the third). It sets up a semifinal in which Bourne and Schalk will play their former partners, Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, for the first time on the AVP. Their only meeting since splitting came in the first round of the Ostrava Elite16 qualifier, where Brunner and Crabb won 21-15, 21-16.

As they did in Hermosa Beach, where they won their first AVP title as a team, Brunner and Crabb wasted little time on Friday, winning both of their matches with sweeps. Even their energy efficiency, however, could not be compared to top-seeded Andy Benesh and Miles Partain, who won their two matches with an average set score of 21-13.75 and will play Budinger and Evans at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

All stadium court matches of AVP Atlanta are streamed on ESPN+, while courts one and two are on Bally Live.

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