This year there was no doubt who the winning team was in the 21st annual BarryBob Invitational in Manhattan Beach finishing with a perfect record and unchallenged for the most part.

The Huntington Beach father-son team of Tony and Rocky Ciarelli, Nick Schneider of Manhattan Beach and Michelle “Figgy” Iafigliola of Hermosa Beach were triumphant in a convincing 15-5 victory in the championship.

“Couldn’t have asked for a better final playing against a great guy and great competitor like Matt Wade (of Manhattan Beach),” said Tony Ciarelli. “Can’t wait to play again next year!”

The spiking of Tony Ciarelli, who played collegiately at USC and was NCAA Player of the Year his senior season, was too much for most of the teams as they played from in front nearly every match. Schneider was on his game getting him the ball.

“Nick set an unbelievable tournament,” Tony Ciarelli said. “Can’t think of a single time the set wasn’t exactly where it needed to be. Winning it with Nick also means a lot because he helped my wife and I find and buy our first home which closes escrow this coming week. Makes the whole thing more meaningful.”

There is even more meaning for Tony and his father Rocky, who are just the second father-son duo to win the BarryBob Invitational. Gene Anselmo of Manhattan Beach won it with his son Matt in 2014.

“I have played in the tournament twice and this is the first time I have won,” Rocky Ciarell said. “It’s special because I have known Kevin (Cleary) and Tim (Walmer) for over 30 years. To be invited to the tournament and get a chance to play with my son is a special moment in my life.”

“Winning it with my dad-I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Tony Ciarelli said. “I’ve been playing volleyball essentially since the day I was born. My mom (who is a 1993 Manhattan Beach Open champion) and dad taught me everything I know about the game. I couldn’t have accomplished everything I have without them.”

His mom and his wife were there to support their team. Finally, playing against Wade in the final, who is a close friend, made it memorable.

“My dad and his dad have been best friends for decades and I’ve known Matt since I was born,” Tony Ciarelli said. “I’ve always looked up to him especially when I was a kid and he was a legend in the South Bay and won an NCAA championship at UCLA.”

Schneider's first win

Schneider played on the Mira Costa 1996 boys’ volleyball team that went 23-0 and is considered one of the best teams ever at the school. He was a setter and captain on that team.

“We were up against a team that was very deep,” Schneider said of Wade’s team. “It was a see-saw battle there for a while and then we ended up pulling through led by the father-son duo of Tony and Rocky Ciarelli and they were unbelievable.”

Schneider has played in the BarryBob Invitational nearly every year. He has missed only one or two of them. He has never made it to the final and now in his first final won it all and gets his name on the trophy—he is a BarryBob champion.

“It’s just something when you play in it every year and you hope to one day win this thing and we finally did,” Schneider said.

He has got close with Luke Walton, who played again, in the past reaching the semifinals before Walton cramped up and they lost.

“The truth is Tony Ciarelli was just the best player I think in the tournament,” Schneider said. “He was just unstoppable. Getting to see him win with his dad on the court was truly special. His dad is one of the most legendary volleyball coaches of all time.”

His wife Chelsea and daughters Stella, 6, and Piper, 4, were rooting him on.

“This is up there with the Seawright Tournament (he won),” he said. 

On the losing team was Wade, Jeanne Vetter, Billy del Riego and Ken Stein.  

“Listen, they were incredible,” Vetter said. “I got to tell you Nick Schneider was setting gold. The sets hit themselves.”

She played in her first final after about 10 tries.

“It felt great but when you are going for first, second isn’t so great,” Vetter said. “Losing to this squad was impressive, it was amazing.”

Family beginnings

This tournament for one is all about family.

It started as a result of the friendship between Barry Walmer and Bob Cleary that developed in the sport of beach volleyball and eventually led to the tournament in their memory.

“It was another terrific day of family friends, great weather and fun volleyball,” said Tim Walmer. 

In the semifinals, the champions defeated a team led by Mike Rupp in decisive fashion, 11-1. Rupp had cramps and with it any chance of beating the eventual champions.

In the other semifinal, Wade and his team beat a team led by Weston Carico to advance to the final. They had a tough match in the quarterfinals though escaping with a two-point win over a team led by Aaron Wachtfogel and his mother Kerry.

The champions cruised in their quarterfinal winning 11-1.

“It was exciting to be playing with the Ciarelli’s again,” Iafigliola said. “I played with them a few years ago, but we had a different fourth teammate. We had a lot of fun and did well so I was excited to play with them again.”

She also saw a smooth chemistry between Tony Ciarelli and Schneider.

“His butter hands proved to be just that—he and Tony were connecting on indoor-like quick sets all day. Our team got better as the day went on, which was really fun.”

That made it easy for her.

“Tony made defense easy with his blocking. Nick made passing and defense easy with his setting. Tony and Nick made my job easy because of their connection-almost all decent passes resulted in kills!”

And Rocky was a coach on the sand, she said.

“Rocky Ciarelli was using his coach mindset to keep the other team off-balance with tough serves and countless aces. When Nick would dig the ball, Tony set his dad mostly and the crafty veteran proved he’s “still got it.”

“Tony and Nick had a great connection as hitter and setter and Figgy did a great job of passing the ball,” said Rocky Ciarelli, who has been the boys’ volleyball head coach at Newport Harbor the past five years.

They had one tough match in pool play, but the rest were one-sided.

“During pool play we were down 10-6 to Eric Fonoimoana and came back to win 12-10,” Iafigliola said. “That was a fun game. Our whole team got fired up and took our focus up another level to make that happen. Luckily with sideout scoring you have those comeback opportunities. It ain't over until it’s over.”

They will get a chance to defend their title if they all return and after the exceptional play and fun the team had it sounds like that will probably happen.

Junior players

The defending champions from last year led by Avery Drost were not able to defend their title. Drost did not play so a new team was going to win it this year. Drost, who is from Redondo Beach, won it last year in his first try with with Jon Mesko of Hermosa Beach, Tim Walmer and Kevin Barry of Manhattan Beach.

Jason Walmer was the youngest player in this year’s BarryBob at 14. He made it all the way to the semifinals with Mike Rupp in his first try before losing to the eventual champions.

“I made it to the semifinals in my very first BarryBob,” Walmer said of what he will remember from this year. “It is really like amazing that I played in the adult BarryBob with all the great players.”

Walmer, who is the son of Tim Walmer, is going to be a freshman at Mira Costa this year and last year played in the Jr BarryBob with his team losing in the finals. This year his team was on its way to the championship until their top player was limited in the semifinals and they lost.

“Mike Rupp was hammering balls before cramping up,” Walmer said.

He enjoyed playing with the much more experienced players.

“I like playing with older people because it gets me better to improve,” Walmer said.

Matt Leinert, former USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, played in the tournament for a second time and his team did well making it into the playoffs before losing.

“I had a great time at the BarryBob this year,” Tony Ciarelli said. “I can’t thank Tim and Kevin enough for putting on another great event.”

“It was a great tournament,” Kevin Cleary said. “No new faces-same group of guys.”

There was one change.

“Unfortunately, because of space limitations we were not able to have the Jr BarryBob, which has become a really cool part of the BarryBob,” Tim Walmer said. “Hopefully the kiddos will back next year.”

Contact Lisa Jacobs lisa.jacobs@TBRnews.com or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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