Monday, May 29

The Return of the King in Miami Beach

For 4,5 years Taylor Crabb has been able to call himself King of the USA, for he has won both previously held King of the Court events on US-soil. In 2018 him and Jake Gibb were crowned in Waikiki, Hawaii and Huntington Beach, California. Though those were test-events of the then brand-new beach volleyball format, Crabb feels he will step onto the South Beach sand as the reigning King. It’s up to the others to come and get him! We had a chat with Taylor, he can’t wait to play in Miami Beach.

In this TikTok-age we all know the “Surprise, surprise (…), the king is back” audio excerpt from winning MMA-fighter Conor McGregor, an apt reference. But for Taylor Crabb the Lord of the Rings-trilogy might be more of a just analogy. Because in 2018 he started the quest for the crowns with a Fellowship of travelers in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where the first-ever King of the Court tournament was held. They set out on a path of uncertainty, not knowing where it would all lead. They also battled in Antwerp, Belgium before taking the game to the USA.

The journey brought Taylor to his hometown in Hawaii. That’s where the second part of the trilogy starts: The Two Crowns. In an epic final they beat Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sørum on account of reaching the longest stay first. The second crown was won in Huntington Beach, where they beat Spain’s Herrera/Gavira and the Swiss/Dutch combo of Beeler/Meeuwsen in the final round. Now it’s time for the (for now) final chapter in this trilogy. Taylor Crabb stars in the epic conclusion in Miami Beach: The Return of the King.

The Fellowship of the Crown
Utrecht, September 7th, 2018. Fifteen couples assemble for a four-stop world tour to introduce King of the Court to the world. In the first event in Utrecht, they just miss out on the final, finishing in seventh place. In Antwerp the day-after they make it to the final, but are the first to be eliminated, ending in fifth.

The journey made a lasting impression on Taylor. “I tell people this all the time. It’s probably my favorite volleyball tour ever. The way Wilco and everyone at King of the Court treated us and took care of us. But not just them, all the players were there in good spirits. Everyone was happy and when it came time to play everyone competed hard. That’s what you want. You want to be friends; you want to hang out off the court and then on the court you want to compete and try to win some money.”

The Two Crowns
In Hawaii, Taylor had the advantage of playing at his hometown of Waikiki, the place where he grew up. It meant the world to him. “There’s nothing like playing a tournament in your home city. Having friends and family there to watch.”

Thinking back to 2018 Taylor is reminded of what King of the Court in known for. “Some of the most amazing plays I’ve seen came from King of the Court. We can all think of one of them, when Alexander Horst was at the back wall and he bicycle-kicked it over. Pretty special. With King of the Court, the style, there are exciting rallies left and right. It’s amazing to see. For me, anytime I go up against the best players in the world it elevates my game. I get excited when I see another great defender on the court. Guto for instance. Rallies will go on for five, six, seven times over the net. At the end you’re just gassed, you can’t even breathe, but the next serve is coming right away. So, you got to be ready. It’s different than a normal game, I love every aspect of it.”

New partner
2018 was the last time Taylor played in a King of the Court tournament. In the meantime, he formed a legendary couple with Jake Gibb till the end of the 2021 season, when Gibb retired. On the backend of 2021 he started the 2022 season in Itapema, Brazil with former indoor player Taylor Sander as his new blocker. He looks back at their first season as a pair.

“I thought it was great for us. He’s new to the beach. We knew there was going to be a big learning curve. You’ll have some great moments, and it will show how much of a new team you are sometimes. But if you look at the big picture, when I think about how much better we have gotten over that year, I thought it was a great year and we’re only better this year.”

The adaptation from an indoor player for Team USA to a beach volleyball blocker is tough, but according to his experienced partner he has exceeded expectations. They won two AVP’s and showed great potential. “I don’t think you really see this normally with someone who comes from indoor onto the beach. How well he has done, especially domestically. We want to peak at the right moments. And now that it’s an Olympic qualifying year, we want to show that and gradually keep getting better, rather than plateau. We’re going to play as many tournaments as we can. King of the Courts, AVPs and be as best prepared for the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour events as we can.”

The Return of the King
The Taylors’ first tournament in 2023 will be Vodafone Queen & King of the Court Miami Beach. The King has returned to his throne, but will he retain his crown? They will do everything to be crowned on March 12th. But he has seen some changes in the last 4,5 years though.

“I think volleyball in general is changing over the years. A lot of it is coming because of the Swedish kids (David Åhman and Jonatan Hellvig), they’re showing a lot of on-two balls, jump sets, a lot of teams are doing it now. That’s a testament to how good defenses have got. Block-and-defense, some of these guys are too good. You got to give yourself the advantage somehow, that’s what King of the Court is. All you’re doing is siding out when you’re on the King’s side. You have got to figure out ways to stay over there.”

The Taylors will begin their hunt for the crown on Friday March 10, at 8.30 PM local time. They’re faced with 2021 Kings of Doha Ahmed Tijan and Cherif Younousse, Chile’s Esteban and Marco Grimalt and Canada’s Sam Schachter and Dan Dearing. One team will join from qualification. Taylor is as confident as a King: “We will advance from that pool”.