Sponcil-Cannon take the “spicy” road into the semifinals of AVP Atlanta

To take a look at the women’s semifinals of this weekend’s AVP Atlanta Gold Series is to take a look at, on the surface, what appears to be a complete and total chalk walk. All four of the top seeds — Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson, Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon — have made it through to Sunday’s semis.

But the first blush of the bracket is, as many initial impressions are, quite misleading. While Cheng and Hughes, and Nuss and Kloth, have wasted not a single set in reaching the semifinals with three straight sweeps each, such is not the case for Sponcil and Cannon.

Oh, no.

There are long roads. And then there is the road taken by Sponcil and Cannon.

They were very nearly out of the tournament on Friday — Friday! Such a result has happened just once in Sponcil’s AVP career, in Manhattan Beach of 2018 with Lauren Fendrick. A first-round loss to thirteenth-seeded Brook Bauer and Katie Horton (18-21, 14-21) sentenced them to the unenviable grind of the contender’s bracket, in the hottest, most humid tournament of the year, no less. To make it to the weekend would require a three-set win over Larissa Maestrini and Lili Maestrini (21-16, 15-21, 15-9).

It easily could have come unraveled from there.

Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil celebrate at AVP Atlanta/Dana Drambarean photo

The past two months has not been the smoothest stretch for Sponcil and Cannon. After a silver medal at the Ostrava Elite16 in early June, they had won just two of nine matches since. Meanwhile, they’ve been passed in the Olympic and entry point rankings by Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles. Given that stretch and the rocky start to the tournament, Atlanta very well could have extended the rut.

But then Saturday arrived, and the new day brought a renewed version of Sponcil and Cannon, the one with two Beach Pro Tour medals and a pair of AVP semifinals this season. Three straight teams bowed out at the hands of Sponcil and Cannon, all by some version of the same score: Deahna Kraft and Zana Muno (21-18, 21-15), Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman (21-15, 21-18), and Bauer and Horton (21-15, 21-18). By the end of Saturday, Cannon was leading the tournament in hitting percentage (.546) and Sponcil was right behind her at No. 2 (.532).

“You can quote me saying Atlanta is hot,” Cannon said, laughing.

If anyone should know, it’s Sponcil. She’s navigated this exact type of lengthy ordeal before in Atlanta. In 2021, Sponcil and Kelly Cheng were upset by rookies Megan Kraft and Savvy Simo, who had come out of the qualifier. That loss preceded five consecutive sweeps to bring them back to the finals against another pair of rookies in Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth.

They won’t meet Nuss and Kloth in the finals this time around. They’ll see them at 9:30, eastern, in Sunday morning’s semifinals. The winner will take on the victor of Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson, and Cheng and Hughes.

“It was a spicy one today,” Cannon said, “but we’re just putting one foot in front of the other and taking it one match at a time, drinking our weight in Liquid IVs.”

Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil celebrate at AVP Atlanta/Dana Drambarean photo

While the road taken by Cannon and Sponcil is a nice storyline, and no doubt a much-needed morale and momentum boost, it isn’t exactly recommended — remember, “Atlanta is hot.” Or spicy. Toasty. Whatever synonym you’d like to use, it’s that.

Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, after losing in the second round to Chase Budinger and Miles Evans, attempted to embark on a similarly sweat-soaked run on Saturday. Nearly did it, too, sweeping Denver’s Lars and Gage Basey (21-19, 21-15), and Evan Cory and Troy Field (21-17, 21-15). That set up a quarterfinal bout with Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner, who fell earlier in the day to Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk in the first battle of the exes on the AVP.

Down 10-13 in the third set, Crabb and Sander tied it at 13-13, even had a match point at 15-14. Alas, it was Trevor Crabb and Brunner who prevailed (21-18, 17-21, 17-15), extending their AVP record to 4-0 against Crabb and Sander on the year. Their win puts them in their third straight AVP semifinal, against top-seeded Miles Partain and Andy Benesh.

They had a brief stumble, Partain and Benesh, dropping the first set to Budinger and Evans. But they’re no strangers to three-setters, and they’ve become comfortable in the final sets, winning 15 of 22 since partnering last fall, including the 15-10 third-set win over Budinger and Evans.

That put Budinger and Evans in a must-win match against Phil Dalhausser and Avery Drost, who were playing their third match of the day. Hopefully, they were following Cannon’s recommendations of drinking their weight in Liquid IV, because their nightcap match went the full three sets, with Budinger and Evans winning (18-21, 21-14, 15-8).

Their win earned them their first matchup against Bourne and Schalk, at 10:35, eastern.

All matches from AVP Atlanta on Sunday will be streamed on ESPN+ or Bally Live. 

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