Miles Partain, Andy Benesh win second straight AVP in Atlanta

Many things remained the same in Atlanta from 2022 to 2023. It was hot — “spicy,” in the words of Terese Cannon. It rained. A lot. To the point that, a year ago, several matches were shortened to a single set to 28. Such was not the case this year. Mother Nature held off long enough that every match went the official distance, and the final, between Miles Partain and Andy Benesh, and Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, went far longer than that. Although the reported time for that final is a brisk 41 minutes, the official running time is somewhere in the realm of six hours.

Once again, the mercurial East Coast summer weather reared its head, though in neither instance did it seem to impact Partain in the least. Last year at this time, he was a 20-year-old defender whom most everyone recognized as an enormous talent, though one who might reach his full potential several years down the road. When he and Paul Lotman stumped Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner in the 2022 finals, it was viewed as a sizable upset.

Therein lies the chief difference between 2022 and 2023: Miles Partain is nobody’s underdog. Not anymore. Not with three medals on the Beach Pro Tour and arguably the most improved player in the world blocking for him at the net. Anything less than a victory in Atlanta, even with it featuring the first fully-loaded field of the season, would have been seen by many as something of a surprise.

There would be no surprise. Not this year. Partain and Benesh played five matches in Atlanta, winning four of those in sweeps, including the final, a bizarre, 21-13, 21-13 pounding over Budinger and Evans that was delayed and delayed and delayed again. A match that began with several thousand in attendance and televised nationally on ESPN2 became an oddly intimate affair, with maybe a few dozen left in the stands, and FaceTime, not ESPN, proving to be the streaming service of choice if you happened to know someone remaining.

Miles Partain and Andy Benesh celebrate winning AVP Atlanta/Mpu Dinani photo

It’s a shame, too, that few will get to see the film of Partain and Benesh’s final, for it was one of their more brilliant performances of the season in a match with that much at stake. They hit .590 as a team, while Partain dug 10 balls to Evans’ four, and Benesh blocked six to Budinger’s three. They served two more aces, hit five less errors and, all in all, looked virtually unbeatable, which is exactly what they were all weekend.

Only Budinger and Evans came close to solving the increasingly unsolvable puzzle that is Benesh and Partain. In a quarterfinal match on Saturday, they took the first set over the top seeds though ultimately dropped the next two, 21-18, 15-10. Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb gave it an admirable effort in the semifinals, taking the second set into overtime though they, too, couldn’t sustain it long enough to push the match to three, falling 21-14, 22-20.

Not that Budinger and Evans or Brunner and Crabb or any of Partain and Benesh’s other recent victims should feel too badly about it. Only three teams in the past two months — Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner, Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, Nils Ehlers and Clemens Wickler — have been able to top Partain and Benesh. Those three are medal contenders come Paris 2024.

Chase Budinger hits around Andy Benesh/Mpu Dinani photo

Atlanta was just another stop on the tour de force. Benesh tied with Budinger and Tri Bourne for total blocks (20) and he and Bourne led in blocks per set (1.8). Behind him, Partain led the field in digs per set (5.36). As a team, they led the field in aces (12).

Defensively speaking, it doesn’t get more dominant than that.

But it was, it should be noted, a tremendous run to the finals from Budinger and Evans, who finally exorcised their Taylor Crabb demons in the ninth-place rounds, knocked out Phil Dalhausser, and upset Bourne and Chaim Schalk in an exhausting, gritty semifinal (22-20, 13-21, 23-21) in which they fended off a pair of match points. Budinger turned in perhaps his finest tournament of the year, finishing third in hitting percentage (.604), first in blocks (20), and first in aces (10). The spread, option-heavy offense they’ve been tinkering with helped ease the workload of Evans, who attacked 165 balls, trailing only Taylor Crabb’s 167.

While the final is something they’ll want to erase, the tournament certainly is not. Atlanta is more than double their biggest payday of the year, bringing home $11,000 each, and the 1,222 points will boost their seeding in Manhattan Beach and Chicago. Beyond the tangibles, there is the intangible of them playing their best volleyball these past two weeks, in Montreal for an Elite16 and Atlanta, an enormous positive heading into the most important stretch of the season.

The undisputed front-runner on the AVP, and the USA, however, belongs to Partain and Benesh, winners of two straight AVPs — they won the Huntington Beach Pro Series and skipped Hermosa to play in Gstaad — and three consecutive Beach Pro Tour medals.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Benesh said of the weather delays, “but Miles is super cool, calm and collected, and that made it easier than you would think. We’re thankful to everyone that stuck around to watch us.”

Andy Benesh blocks Miles Evans at AVP Atlanta/Mpu Dinani photo

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