Chase Budinger (USA)

In the end, it was the scramblers who prevailed. It was the coast-to-coast team of Kim Hildreth, a Floridian professional, and Megan Kraft, a Californian college sophomore. It was the team of Chase Budinger and Troy Field, who featured one player, Field, who was switching positions, while the other, Budinger, flipped sides. And it was the strange lefty-lefty combo of Tim Brewster and Travis Mewhirter, who had only just decided who was playing left and who would be on the standard left-handed position on the right.

All three of those teams competed in Tuesday’s United States country quota against teams who were either well-established as teams or, at the very least, established in who was playing what position and what side. And it was the scramblers who punched their ticket to the final four-star FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event ever, in Itapema, Brazil.

Hildreth and Kraft defeated Delaney Mewhirter and Zana Muno, 21-16, 23-21. They did so despite Hildreth being based in St. Petersburg, Fla., while Kraft is living on campus at the University of Southern California, training for the 2020 NCAA Champions.

“A little bit of extra scheduling because Megan is still in school and has USC practices and because I live in Florida,” said Hildreth, who has played four FIVBs in 2021 with a high of fifth. “But sometimes you just click when you play with someone and our rhythm was great from the start, which made it easy.”

Budinger and Field, too, had no easy time of scheduling prep for the country quota, which they won over Adam Roberts and Logan Webber, 21-17, 21-19. A week ago, Budinger was on his honeymoon, and Field was coaching a clinic in Mallorca, Spain. When they were both back in Hermosa Beach, they were right back on a flight, to Austin, Texas, to play in a four-man tournament put on by SharpeVision and the McKibbin brothers, Riley and Maddison. Yet, at the very least, they had one previous tournament under their belt, the Rwanda two-star in July, where they finished second.

“Didn’t feel like a new partner I was playing with because we did have that tournament in Rwanda,” said Budinger, who put together a magnificent season on the AVP, winning in Atlanta and Chicago with Casey Patterson. “In this last AVP, of three tournaments, I did a lot of back sets which made it more comfortable for me to switch sides and side out from the right. Just need to keep improving and finding new ways to be dynamic.”

Mewhirter and Brewster, too, have a handful of tournaments together, despite both being left-handed. They took a fifth at the Tel Aviv one-star in November of 2019, and fell in the final round of the Nijmegen one-star this past September. In both tournaments, Mewhirter played on the left. One day prior to the country quota, they switched sides, putting Brewster on the left and Mewhirter on the right. It worked well enough, as the two beat Billy Allen and Andy Benesh, who had a tremendous AVP season, 23-21, 21-18.

“Every time I play with someone who likes to play right, I always stay right,” said Brewster, who is competing in his first four-star.

No matter what the situation, be it switching sides, switching positions, switching coasts, it was the scramblers who prevailed. The scramblers who will be bound for Itapema, Brazil, joining Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, Emily Day and Betsi Flint, Sara Hughes and Terese Cannon, and Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn.