Miles Evans, Chase Budinger peaking at perfect time in Montreal Elite16

It is with perfect, nearly Hollywood, timing, that Miles Evans and Chase Budinger are playing the best beach volleyball of their nascent partnership. To some, this weekend’s Volleyball World Elite16 event in Montreal, Canada, is just that: A high level tournament in the middle of a lengthy season spanning from February-December and criss-crossing the globe. For Evans and Budinger, and a number of other teams in the field, it’s the last gasp at qualifying for the World Championships, which will be held this fall in Mexico.

Had they lost either of their qualifying matches on Wednesday, their World Championships hopes would have been dashed. Had they failed to break pool in the main draw, their World Championships hopes would have been dashed. Neither of these feats are easy. Yet Wednesday came and went, and Evans and Budinger played perhaps their best of the season.

On Thursday, they took it a step further, notching pool-play wins over Esteban and Marco Grimalt (21-12, 23-25, 15-10) and France’s Youssef Krou and Arnaud Gauthier-Rat (15-21, 21-18, 15-10). The pair of wins guarantees them, at the minimum, a ninth-place finish and 600 team points, their second best finish of the season, behind only their silver medal at the Saquarema Challenge this past April.

“Happy to be taking advantage of our last opportunity to potentially qualify for World Champs,” Evans said Thursday. “It’s nice to be able to show the level we can compete at in this tournament.”

The window for World Championships qualification closes after the Hamburg Elite16 in August, an event that conflicts with the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, and one that Evans and Budinger likely won’t have the entry points to even get into the qualifier. Which makes this their last push for enough points to make the cut.

They have one pool-play match remaining, against Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, who were also 2-0 on the day. A win will earn Budinger and Evans a first-round bye in the playoffs and a minimum of a fifth-place finish, which would be good for 760 points as a team. The Norwegians have been stumped twice in a row by an American duo, losing to Miles Partain and Andy Benesh twice in the Gstaad Elite16. Budinger has never played Norway, and Evans only has once, in the p1440 San Jose event with Bill Kolinske, where Norway won 21-14, 21-15.

“Feels great to put together two straight days of high level volley,” Budinger said. “Hopefully we can continue this trend through the rest of the tourney.”

High level volley was also played by their countrymen, Benesh and Partain. They made quick work of their only match of the day, a 21-16, 21-12 win over Yorick de Groot and Matthew Immers that featured eight blocks from Benesh. On Friday, Benesh and Partain play another Dutch pair in Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen at 10:30 a.m. Pacific, and conclude pool at 3 p.m. against Australia’s Izac Carracher and Mark Nicolaidis.

The women were easy enough to follow, as 75 percent of them are in the same pool. Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth one-upped Benesh and Partain for the quickest win of the day, sweeping Sarah Pavan and Molly McBain, 21-13, 21-12 in a night match on center court. Nearby court two featured a most regular all-American battle between Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, and Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil. Six times now have those two teams played one another in 2023. With Flint and Scoles’ 14-21, 21-13, 15-10 win, the ledger is now 4-2 in the favor of Scoles and Flint.

At noon Friday, Nuss and Kloth will play Sponcil and Cannon; half an hour later, Scoles and Flint will meet Pavan and McBain. In the afternoon, those matchups flip, with Nuss and Kloth finishing pool against Scoles and Flint, and Sponcil and Cannon concluding with Pavan and McBain.

The strangest twist of the day was reserved for the lone American team in Pool B, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes. The two seed entering the tournament, Cheng and Hughes lost both matches in straight sets on Thursday, falling to China’s Chen Xue and Xinyi Xia (19-21, 15-21), and Brazil’s Barbara and Carol (19-21, 16-21). The silver lining for Cheng and Hughes is that the fourth member of their pool, Talita Antunes and Thamela Coradelli, also lost both of their matches on Thursday, which puts both teams at a win-and-in situation on Friday.

Kristen Nuss digs  at the Montreal Elite16/Volleyball World photo

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