Mike Lambert played with Eric Fonoimoana for the first time this season and the two made it through the first day of the Santa Barbara Invitational undefeated Saturday at West Beach, but the favorite for the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals most-valuable-player award said there was no doubt that he would be back together with Karch Kiraly next season.
"It's a no-brainer," Lambert said.
Lambert, the tour leader in blocks with 407 before Saturday, has fielded several phone calls inquiring about his plans for next season. But Lambert has no intention to play with anyone other than Kiraly, the AVP leader in career victories, even though Kiraly recently had season-ending shoulder surgery and turns 44 next month.
Together, Kiraly and Lambert won three times this season and finished second three other times. One of their victories and two of their runner-up finishes came after Kiraly dislocated his shoulder in July.
"How can you say no to a partnership that brought you such a great season?" Lambert said. "And it could have been even better. If Karch was healthy, we would have won even more."
Kiraly had surgery a month ago. He wanted to have the operation and skip the season-ending Santa Barbara tournament to ensure the four- to seven-month rehabilitation process would be complete in time for the April opening of next season.
The 147-time AVP winner has said he would retire when he feels he can no longer compete. Playing with Lambert keeps him competitive, he said.
"He's a partner in demand right now, so I'm lucky to have the opportunity to play with him," Kiraly said.
Lambert showed why he is in such demand with a series of dominating performances Saturday. He and Fonoimoana advanced to today's semifinals by winning all three of their matches in two games.
Top-seeded Todd Rogers and Sean Scott were the other men's team that made it through the first day unbeaten.
In the women's bracket, Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May and bronze medalists Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs are on a collision course for the final. Both teams went 3-0 Saturday and will play semifinal matches today.