By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
The most prestigious event in the USA for beach volleyball took place last weekend in front of a large and spirited crowd. On Sunday, July 17, 2016, a new wave of champions was crowned at the 57th annual event, with each athlete earning a place on the prestigious Manhattan Beach pier Walk of Fame. Emily Day and Brittney Hochevar won in the women’s division. Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson took the men’s division. Each team split the $20,000 first place prize.
It was the seventh of eight tournaments on the 2016 AVP tour and the final chance to see the USA’s Olympic athletes compete before they go for the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in August. The top American women’s team, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, chose not to play in Manhattan Beach so they could train and prepare for the upcoming Olympics. Since the duo is undefeated on the AVP tour this season, it created a great opportunity for the other teams to earn the coveted championship.
Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, the other USA women’s team that has earned an Olympic berth, were eliminated in a hard fought semifinal match, 21-15, 16-21, 15-11, by number-one seeds Lane Carico and Summer Ross. That set up the final against sixth-seeded Day and Hochevar, who defeated second seeds Kim DiCello/Kendra VanZwieten 21-16, 21-19 in the other semifinal.
The women’s final was a battle of emotions and excellent play. For Day and Hochevar, it was just their second AVP event together this season and fifth overall tournament as a duo. Day partnered with Summer Ross through the 2013 and 2014 seasons, so facing her in the finals of the heralded event was a challenge. For Carico, it was emotional for several reasons. She had played the 2014 season with Hochevar, whom she now faced as an opponent. Carico also is the hometown favorite, having grown up in Manhattan Beach.
The women’s final was a close competition from the first point to the last. Both teams played well and there were several spectacular rallies. It came down to a third deciding set that went into overtime. Day and Hochevar finally prevailed 21-16, 19-21, 19-17 for their first AVP title together. Hochevar is only the fourth player ever — since the AVP began — to record her first career victory in the Manhattan Beach Open.
In the men’s division, both teams that earned Olympic berths were competing and both made it to the semifinal round. Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena are the top American team headed to Rio and were the second seeds in Manhattan Beach. Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb are the other Olympic team and were seeded first, based on their record in recent AVP events. The teams faced each other Sunday morning on the stadium court in front of a large crowd for a highly anticipated semifinal, but the battle ended prematurely.
The first set was locked at 10-10 when Dalhausser felt something wrong in his left calf. The team called a time out, then took a five-minute medical time out and ultimately decided to forfeit the match. Hopefully the calf injury is not too serious and Dalhausser will heal quickly so the team is at full strength when competing for Olympic Gold next month. Gibb and Patterson advanced to the final via the forfeit.
The other semifinal was played on Court 1 just outside of the stadium. It was a tight contest between the third and fourth seeds. Tri Bourne and John Hyden faced fourth seeds Taylor and Trevor Crabb. The Crabb brothers are the young guns on tour, while Hyden is the oldest player still active, at age 43. The teams displayed a contrast in styles. Bourne and Hyden use their size and savvy while the Crabbs are effective with their quickness and never-say-die attitude. It came down to a third set and a handful of late errors by the Crabbs that decided the match for Bourne/Hyden, 23-21, 19-21, 15-10.
The men’s final was a battle of big hits, blocks and spectacular defense. Bourne and Gibb did most of the blocking for their respective teams while Hyden and Patterson made great digs on defense. Each set was close until the final points and either team easily could have won. Gibb and Patterson ultimately collected the trophy and first-place prize money, winning 17-21, 21-18, 16-14.
Gibb and Patterson scored their 13th AVP title together and third of 2016. The Olympians became the first men’s back-to-back winners on the AVP tour this year having also won the AVP San Francisco Open last month. For Gibb, it was his third win at the Manhattan Beach Open, accomplished with three different partners. It also marks the first time Patterson will have his name enshrined on the historic Manhattan Beach Pier.
After the Olympic beach volleyball competition in Rio de Janeiro (August 6-11), the AVP will host its final event of the 2016 season, the AVP Championships in Chicago on September 1-4, at Oak Street Beach on famed Lake Shore Drive. Tickets are available on the AVP web site and NBC will televise the finals.