FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Do you think they knew each other well, the four finalists of AVP Fort Lauderdale?
Less than three months ago, Scoles, Harward and Graudina won an NCAA Championship together when they beat Florida State in the championship match. The court 1 duo for that team? Harward and Graudina, who won the final 30 matches of their season together.
When the matches were over, practices finished, studying complete, where would Graudina, Harward, and Scoles retreat? Their house. Where they all lived. Together.
Yes, this beach volleyball world is a small, beautiful and sometimes comically tight-knit one. Only one weekend ago, in Atlantic City, a pair of roommates — David Lee and Chase Frishman — played against one another in the finals of a Tour Series event. On Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Harward and Scoles, roommates and close friends, did the same.
It was Harward and Graudina who prevailed, beating Urango and Scoles, 19-21, 21-15, 15-6, finishing off a perfect week in Fort Lauderdale, winning all five matches, extending their winning streak as a team to 35 straight.
“I love this tournament,” said Graudina, who was playing in just the second AVP tournament of her career. “This is the best one I’ve ever been to. It’s such a party. I’m not kidding, this is truly the case. I’m just doing my thing and I know she’s incredible.”
Indeed, Harward is a sensational talent, a 24-year-old from Phoenix who is, like many of her NCAA peers, making a breakthrough on the AVP Tour this season. The sand that was melting the bottoms of flip flops? The 100-plus-degree heat index? The dehydration that caused many to cramp and others to get sick, sometimes in the middle of matches? None of it seemed to bother Harward in the least, as she made an average of 6.50 digs per set, hit just shy of .400, and tied for third — alongside Graudina — with nine aces for the tournament.
“When this one’s over,” USC coach and AVP color commentator Dain Blanton said, “nobody is going to say ‘I wish I gave more effort.’ ”
There was no gas left in the metaphorical tanks. Urango left one rally in the third set so covered in sand she lived up to every syllable of her nickname: Sandy Churango. Scoles was, quite literally, sick at the technical timeout of the second set of the finals yet powered on, bombing jump serves, staying aggressive on options.
Graudina and Harward, though they may have won all of their matches, had no easy road. Their trip to the finals required them to knock off the top seeds — AVP Hermosa Beach champions Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon — fourth seeds — Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth — three — Kelley Kolinske and Sara Hughes — before meeting the eleventh-seeded Scoles and Urango in the finals.
Of the seven matches Urango and Scoles played on the weekend, six went the full three sets, all of which occurred consecutively. They lost in the second round to Hughes and Kolinske, 7-15, in the third before rattling off four straight wins in the deciding set: 15-9 over Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn, 15-12 over Molly turner and Jess Gaffney, 15-4 over Kloth and Nuss, and 15-9 over Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint.
After winning the first set of the finals against Graudina and Harward, the compound interest of the extra jumps, steps, dives, swings and distance covered in a sweltering Florida sun reared its head. Scoles’ jump serves, which had piled up 20 aces prior to the finals, double that of the next closest athlete, lost their pop. Urango’s swings, which had been going for kills the entire weekend, were getting scooped by Harward (everything, for that matter, was being scooped by Harward). The battle of attrition was swinging the direction of Graudina and Harward, culminating in a 7-0 run in the third set that opened up a 13-4 lead and made Graudina’s and Harward’s first career AVP victories merely a matter of time.
“I’m just filled with so much gratitude to play with Tina,” Harward said. “Anyone can see it. She’s incredible. Just the opportunity to be out here let alone the win. I’m just grateful.”
Graudina will be making her way back to Latvia, where she’ll be rejoining her usual partner, Anastasija Kravcenoka, with whom she finished fourth in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and is currently ranked ninth in the world. They’ll be prepping for the Volleyball World Elite 16 event in Hamburg, Germany.
Harward, Scoles and Urango, meanwhile, will be doing what the vast majority of those in Fort Lauderdale are: Traveling up the coast for next weekend’s Gold Series stop in Atlanta. Scoles and Urango enter as the No. 11 seed, while Harward, partnered with Lauren Fendrick for Atlanta, will be the 7.