By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
For the fifth consecutive year, the white sand of Long Beach, Calif., was the site of the World Series of Beach Volleyball. That hugely popular five-day FIVB beach tournament concluded on July 16, 2017, as two American volleyball teams faced off against top international competition for a total prize purse of $300,000.
The fun in the sand also included live music performances by top recording artists; an AAU junior national championship beach volleyball tournament; an NVL beach volleyball tournament; and coed 4-man, men’s and women’s 6-man tournaments as well. All featured prizes, costumes, competition and hours of fun for players of all levels.
The main event was the FIVB Long Beach Presidents Volleyball Cup. The tournament featured eight of the best American men’s and women’s teams and eight of the top international teams. The players competed in pool play and single-elimination playoffs until one American and one international team remained. The final matches featured the top American team against the top international team with the winners earning $50,000.
The women’s competition featured some emotional battles among the American competitors. The most highly anticipated match took place early on Thursday. Kerri Walsh Jennings, the four-time Olympian and three-time Gold medalist recently split from her partner April Ross; they faced each other as opponents in the first match of pool play, each playing with new partners. Ross and her partner Lauren Fendrick beat Walsh Jennings and her partner Nicole Branagh, with scores of 22-20, 21-18.
It was the start of a frustrating event for Walsh Jennings and Branagh as they were unable to win a match during pool play and were eliminated. Ross and Fendrick took the momentum of their early win and proceeded to advance to the championship match. They eliminated fellow Americans Sweat/Summer Ross 24-22, 21-13 in the quarterfinals and recent NCAA champions Hughes/Claes 19-21, 21-19, 15-11 in the hard-fought semifinal. Hughes/Claes finished strong in the third place match by defeating recent Olympic Gold medalists Ludwig/Walkenhorst 21-17, 21-14.
On the international side, Brazil’s Talita and Larissa went undefeated and dominated the competition. They made it to the final match on Saturday with wins over Germany’s Laboureur/Sude in the quarterfinals and Ludwig/Walkenhorst in the semifinals. The championship match was one-sided as the Brazilians displayed their incredible ball control, court vision and athleticism. They defeated Ross and Fendrick 21-15, 21-17 for the championship.
In the men’s competition, the team of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena were hoping to continue their hot streak – they had just won last week’s FIVB event in Gstaad, Switzerland. The top-ranked American men swept through the WSOBV event without losing a match. They made it to Sunday’s finals with a 21-18, 17-21, 15-11 win over fellow Americans Taylor Crabbe/Jack Gibb in the quarterfinals and a 21-11, 21-19 win over Americans Theo Brunner/Casey Patterson in the semifinal.
The men’s championship match featured a battle against Canada’s Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter. Dalhausser and Lucena won handily 21-18, 21-15. The Canadians reached the finals with wins over Spain’s Herrera/Gavira in the quarterfinals and Poland’s Kantor/Losiak in the semifinals. The level of play throughout the competition was extremely high and the Canadians displayed incredible athleticism. However, the Americans came out on top with the outstanding blocking of Dalhausser and the brilliant defense, as well as explosive transition offense, from Lucena.
The next tour stop for professional beach volleyball in the United States is the AVP Hermosa Beach Open on July 20-23, 2017. The action in Hermosa Beach will be fierce and there is a good possibility for new teams to capture the title. Several of the top American teams, including Dalhausser/Lucena and Ross/Fendrick, as well as all the top international teams will be competing in Olsztyn, Poland at the FIVB event taking place the same weekend.