Who’s better – Misty May-Treanor or Kerri Walsh?

I know, everyone asks the dynamic duo this and they both say it’s a stupid question. But there’s a reason people want to know what they think. Maybe the press is trying to drive a wedge or create some conflict between the two. (The Kobe/Shaq relationship made for some very interesting drama, didn’t it?) Or maybe people are genuinely curious to know how each player views herself in the realm of beach volleyball.

After pondering this question for a few days now, I think I have come up with an answer. Misty May-Treanor is the better player, but Kerri Walsh would be more difficult to replace, and therefore is more valuable.

May-Treanor does it all. She’s arguably the best defensive player in beach volleyball, she’s an excellent passer and setter, and she’s a very good hitter. (She actually started as an outside hitter at Long Beach State before the coaching staff converted her to a setter. While in college, her team won the NCAA title and she was the NCAA Player of the Year twice.) There are no easily discernable weaknesses in her game.

In short, she’s beach volleyball’s best all-around player.

Kerri Walsh stands 6’3”, and for a woman of that height, she has superior quickness and speed. She’s a force at the net, and a semi-recent shoulder injury forced her to develop a finesse game, which makes her nearly unstoppable as a hitter. She’s a capable passer and setter, though since she spends so much time at the net, her partner does most of the digging.

In short, with her size and athleticism, she’s a truly unique player. She’s irreplaceable, really. Where else are you going to find a player her height that can run and jump like she can?

So that’s my answer. It all depends on your definition of the word “better.” Does it mean the game’s best all-around player? Then May-Treanor is better. Does it mean the game’s most valuable/irreplaceable player? Then Walsh is your girl.

Karch Kiraly said it best – with a win in the gold medal match tonight, May-Treanor and Walsh will go down as the best (men’s or women’s) beach volleyball team ever. Whomever you favor, it’s abundantly clear that in the case of this pairing, the sum is greater than its parts.

And that’s a scary, scary thought.

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