By Andy J. Gordon
The most prestigious event in the USA for beach volleyball took place this weekend in front of a loud and energetic crowd. On Sunday, August 16, 2015, two new champions were crowned at the 56th annual Manhattan Beach Open and they earned a place on the famous pier’s walk of fame. April Ross and Jennifer Fopma won the women’s division. Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena won in the men’s division. Each team split the $20,000 first place prize.
Although the winning teams were first-time champions at the Manhattan Beach Open, two of the players are repeat winners. On the men’s side, Phil Dalhausser won the 2014 event with Sean Rosenthal and he is now a five-time winner. In the women’s division, April Ross won the event in 2014 with Kerri Walsh Jennings.
The long history of the Manhattan Beach Open is filled with stories about the talented legends that dominated in the past. In honor of some of those great players, an exhibition match was played prior to the men’s final. Participants included Randy Stoklos, Sinjin Smith, Tim Hovland, Mike Dodd, Steve Obradavich and Jim Menges, all former Manhattan Beach Open champions. A few current tour players joined the legends for a spirited game of fours.
The knowledgeable crowd applauded the legends and laughed at some of the trash talk provided by Stoklos on the microphone. The clearly reluctant Stoklos also played part of the match and relived some old glory with a couple of stuff blocks. It was a fun way to remind everyone about the great history of the event and join together the past and present.
The men’s final match featured Dalhausser and Lucena as they beat the talented team of John Hyden and Tri Bourne. Dalhausser ended his long-term partnership with Sean Rosenthal earlier this month and prior to the AVP event in Seattle. Dalhausser began his AVP career with Lucena several years ago, but went on to Olympic glory with Todd Rogers and more recently had success with Rosenthal. Last week’s Seattle event was the first in a long time where Dalhausser and Lucena played together. They finished second in the Seattle event.
That success was just a warm up for their supremacy in Manhattan Beach. Dalhausser and Lucena did not lose a match or set throughout the weekend. They dominated the early rounds but had a real challenge in the final against Hyden and Bourne. The first set was a nail biter as neither team could get a comfortable lead. Toward the end of the set, each team took turns grabbing the momentum but in the end, Dalhausser’s big serving and blocking made the difference as his team won 21-19.
The second set saw Hyden and Bourne start strong. They went to the first change-over timeout leading 9-5. Dalhausser and Lucena cut down on their mistakes and took advantage of a Hyden hitting error to tie it at 14-14. Once again, Dalhausser’s dominance at the net made the difference as he closed out the match with two stuff blocks. The reunited team celebrated their victory and Lucena was especially thrilled as it was his first Manhattan Beach Open win.
There was drama on the women’s side as well. April Ross has had both domestic and international success with Kerri Walsh Jennings since the beginning of their partnership following the retirement of Misty May Treanor after winning Gold at the 2012 Olympics (Ross took the Silver medal with Jenn Kessy). Ross and Jennings dominated the 2014 AVP tour, winning every event. They also had success on the FIVB international tour.
Unfortunately, Jennings suffered a dislocated shoulder earlier this season and was unable to play the past few weeks. That forced Ross to find a replacement partner. Jennifer Fopma was her choice and had big shoes to fill. She has stepped up to the challenge. The new team won last week in Seattle and dominated play this week in Manhattan Beach. Like the men’s champions, Ross and Fopma did not lose a match or set on their way to the Manhattan Beach Open title.
The road to the women’s final match was significantly tougher for the team of Jenny Kropp and Nicole Branaugh. They lost their second round match on Friday and had to fight their way through the loser’s bracket. The additional matches they had to play may have sapped their energy leading into the final.
In the first set of the final match Ross and Fopma served exclusively to Kropp and the pressure was too much for her to handle. The tough serving and brilliant transition scoring led to a comfortable first set win, 21-15 for Ross and Fopma. In the second set Kropp cut down on her errors and Branaugh played big at the net. They started strong and did not let up. It was a back and forth battle that went into overtime. It finally ended with a Fopma kill and Ross ace. The final score was 26-24.
The 2015 Manhattan Beach Open lived up to expectations. The competition was fierce, the crowds were big and the weather was Southern California beautiful. The two winning teams along with a few of the other top American teams will be competing from August 19-23, 2015 in Long Beach, CA at the FIVB international competition called the World Series of Beach Volleyball. Admission is free and the party atmosphere will run from Wednesday through Sunday. Go see the best beach volleyball action in the world.
All Photos copyright Andy J. Gordon 2015©