Really, who cares about seeding when you can claim hometown sand?
Amanda Dowdy was born in Leander. Her family owned a plumbing company in rural Williamson County, she was a three-sport star at Lexington High School and signed to play volleyball for Texas Tech.
She and her playing partner Irene Pollock (who grew up in Fort Worth and played for TCU) are de facto hosts for this week’s AVP Austin Open. For the second straight year, Krieg Fields, which normally hosts softball games, will morph into one massive sand dune as the country’s best beach volleyball players hit town.
Dowdy and Pollock are seeded fourth for the four-day tournament, the second stop on this year’s AVP tour.
“We are not the No. 1 seed,” Dowdy said this week. “But we’re the hometown team. We’re the team to beat.”
Dowdy and Pollock finished third in Austin last year, when the city was added back to the tour for the first time since 2005.
There could be an opening for Dowdy and Pollock, who reached the semifinals of an international event in Cuba last month. April Ross, who was part of last year’s victorious women’s team in Austin, is back. But she has a new partner, Alix Klineman. The former Stanford standout was AVP rookie of the year in 2017. Klineman and Ross, who teamed with Kerry Walsh for an Olympic bronze medal in 2016, are the top seeds in the women’s bracket.
The men’s team of Phil Dalhausser, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, and Nick Lucena are back to defend their title. Coincidentally, they won their first as a team in 2005 in Austin, the last time beach volleyball was in the city before it was picked up again in 2017.
A dozen teams are seeded in the both the men’s and women’s main draw. However, there are still eight spots available in the main bracket. That’s why there will be a flurry of qualifying Thursday at three venues around town. Through Wednesday, 60 men’s teams had registered for the four extra spots in the main field. There were 53 women’s squads.
That’s a bump from a year ago, when just under 100 teams tried to make it through qualifying into the main draw. Jeff Conover, the AVP’s director of competition, says Austin is “quickly climbing the ranks” to be one of the most popular spots on the national tour.
The top prize in Austin is $15,000. Just making it into the main draw is worth a minimum $1,000 paycheck. Plus the AVP, for the first time, is picking up the hotel costs for all the players, most of whom live in Southern California.
The Austin stop also will provide another first. The main court action will be live-streamed on Amazon Prime.
The 28-year-old Dowdy watched the 2005 Austin tournament in person to celebrate her 15th birthday. It was the first time she entertained the idea of playing volleyball on sand, she said.
Dowdy played basketball and volleyball and ran track in high school. So did Pollock. They were both recruited by major colleges to play basketball, but opted for volleyball. Dowdy was a four-year starter at Texas Tech and left the program as its career kills leader. Pollock was all-conference at TCU. Her sister also played for the Horned Frogs.
Dowdy joined a professional indoor league in Germany and also played in Puerto Rico. Pollock was a pro player in Switzerland and Poland.
Eventually, they found their way to the beach, which requires each player to have an all-around game. Their goal is to make the 2020 Olympic team.
But playing all over the world, maybe Austin will be the place for their first beach win.