Pardon the delay, but the last 24 hours have been spent plotting my return to the game and how I can convince good friend Jonas Reckermann to play with me during off-FIVB weekends in 2012. What?! I can't play with a German World Champion on a U.S. National Tour, you say. Or can I?
Casey Jennings and Brazilian Pedro Salgado have now set the precedent. Or perhaps USA Volleyball set the precedent, and Salgado and "The Kid" merely abided by the new rules accordingly? Either way, international pairings of the game's greatest superstars has now apparently been legalized, like medical cannabis in the mid-‘90s. It's time to draw up the tandems we've all dreamt about as fans.
Phil Dalhausser and Emanuel Rego, anyone? Xu Linyin and Adrian Gavira? Jake Gibb and Reinder Nummerdor? Alison Cerutti and that 19-year-old French kid who can jump over the net? Or the aforementioned Reckermann and, say, Sean Rosenthal? Imagine professional beach volleyball not bound by the confines that is Olympic qualification? Or, in other words, the AVP of the ‘80s and ‘90s? I'm getting scared just thinking about it.
So, how did we get here? How did things suddenly open up when international beach volleyball has been so restrictive over the past 10 years? How did Jennings partner up with the beast that is 25-year-old Pedro Salgado in the Hermosa Beach Open? Surprisingly, the process wasn't that complicated.
"We've known each other for five years; we're like brothers," Jennings said. "I asked Dave Williams [Beach Director - USAV] if he could play and initially he said no [due to FIVB restrictions]. But once the Trials were cancelled [no longer producing a link to the Olympic Games], things opened up and I did whatever I could to help get him up here for Hermosa."
Salgado acquired a visa to enter and compete in the U.S., Williams approved his registration for Hermosa, and Jennings laid out shorts for each match leading to the finals from apparel sponsor Oakley (per his interview on The Net Live radio show Monday morning).
Result: Jennings' first victory since The Hague in September of 2010, and Pedro's first win since Shanghai in May of 2010.
Victims: Gibb and Rosenthal.
Score: 21-18, 21-17.
Gibb's response to facing players not typically found outside the FIVB on domestic sand: "I like playing against the best in the world. That's why I play on the [FIVB] World Tour and have always loved when international teams came to play on the AVP. However, we now find ourselves in a delicate time for the future of U.S. beach volleyball. There's currently not enough money for young players to want to stick with beach volleyball full time, so you start to lose players because they can't make a living. For example, Billy Strickland and Aaron Wachtfogel could have easily been developed into our Olympic representatives for 2016. Having a guy with as much talent as Pedro [Salgado] come and take a big chunk of that small pie does not help that pursuit at this time. Once we have a thriving domestic tour again, similar to the old AVP, then by all means, please bring the best foreign players in."
Williams' response at USAV: "It is our intention to create the most competitive environment for our athletes in order to develop the next generation of players.... I disagree that foreigners weaken our national tour. The 'right' foreign players increase the competitive environment. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars sending a limited amount of athletes to Europe to play against the best in the world. Any chance to have them show up in the USA is an opportunity that we cannot afford to ignore. I am not trying to disadvantage any U.S. player, we are trying to give them opportunities to play a variety of other players."
Will we see Pedro again in 2012? According to Jennings, the possibility is definitely there. "We've already discussed it. If the timing works and the opportunity presents itself such as it did in Hermosa, we're going to pursue it for sure," Casey stated emphatically.
How do additional Americans feel about the prospect of playing the likes of Pedro on a more regular basis? "It is my understanding that the majority of players and staff would like to see the Cuervo/USA tour move forward in accordance with the FIVB mandate of a maximum of two international teams per tournament," said Hermosa quarterfinalist John Mayer.
But even if USAV does follow FIVB mandate in 2012 (something not done in Hermosa), that doesn't rule out Salgado receiving one of those two international wildcards on a regular basis next season. Especially if he can no longer play on the FIVB due to an ongoing investigation with the International Doping Commission following a failed drug test earlier this year. Although Salgado successfully appealed the temporary suspension handed down in June, he's not out of the weeds just yet. And until he is, there's always going to be asterisks next to everything he wins. But he's "handling the process like an absolute man; with maturity beyond his years," said Jennings. And Jennings is confident Pedro's name will be cleared once all of the facts regarding the potentially improperly administered testing process are released.
Two things are for certain, regardless of politics and public opinion, Pedro is a baller and Jennings is more than capable of still winning at the highest level. The two proved that over and over again throughout the weekend against America's best competition on sand where the sport was spawn. An honor Pedro didn't take lightly (according to his interview also on The Net Live).
But back to my email to Jonas. And my plan to dazzle him with a few German pleasantries I learned at the Hofbrau House during Oktoberfest 2010...