Professional beach volleyball players will turn their attention next week to the 57th annual AVP Manhattan Beach Open for what has been called ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’ by participants and traditionalists over the years before a few of the elite players head to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“Manhattan Beach is a special place for beach volleyball fans, and there couldn’t be a better spot for the last pre-Olympic event,” said Donald Sun, managing partner of the AVP. “It is a home base for many of our athletes, and we expect the kind of spirited, exciting play we’ve seen all year from qualifying all the way through the finals.”
Manhattan Beach will be center stage once again beginning Thursday, July 14, for those who aspire to get their names on the pier next to the elite of the elites like Karch Kiraly or Kerri Walsh Jennings.
For locals especially, it has a special place in their hearts.
“When I was a kid, I remember watching Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd versus Randy Stoklos and Sinjin Smith in the finals battling each other like gladiators in front of thousands of fans,” said Eric Fonoimoana, who went to Mira Costa High School and eventually won this tournament and added an Olympic gold medal as well. “I wanted a piece of how it felt to entertain fans and win tournaments.”
It meant more to him to win there.
“Manhattan is special because of the history of the tournament. I grew up in Manhattan Beach so I wanted to win it even more.”
Casey Jennings eventually moved to Manhattan Beach and now calls it home.
“Manhattan Beach is the most exciting tournament of the year domestically for us and has been since volleyball was born. It’s a chance for newcomers and the veterans to have a shot or another shot at crowning our name on the pier,” Jennings said.
The sand allows for plenty of action and rallys, he said.
“The most knowledgeable fans and one of the world’s most beautiful beaches,” Jennings said. “It’s all wrapped into one awesome event. I’m proud to be a part of it year in and year out. I love this tournament. We are all excited to compete in the Wimbledon of beach volleyball.”
Defending champions from a year ago are Phil Dalhausser of Manhattan Beach and his partner Nick Lucena of Santa Barbara, who are going to be one of two men’s teams to represent the United States in beach volleyball at the Rio de Janiero Olympics.
Dalhausser will go for back-to-back titles with Lucena, but third in a row (he also won in 2014 with Sean Rosenthal) and sixth overall. His five wins is tied for second all-time. Another win in Manhattan Beach and he would trail only the great Karch Kiraly.
Dalhausser said he’s looking forward to Rio, but Manhattan Beach comes first.
“It feels great to be defending champ of the MBO, but I want more plaques!” Dalhausser said.
The Crabb brothers from Redondo Beach, who have found success on this year’s tour, said the’re looking forward to playing in the prestigous championship.
“We’ve been playing well this year mainly from having more experience against top teams and playing in more international events,” Trevor Crabb said. “Manhattan Beach is by far the most prestigious event in the United States and it’s so important because of its base in Southern California.”
He feels more positive about his chances this year.
“We had a great run last year and are really looking forward on improving it this year. We know it’s going to be a grind because there are more teams and more matches played. Excited is the best feeling to describe it,” Trevor said.
The pair lost to the eventual champions in the semifinals last year.
“We can’t wait for the Manhattan Beach Open—I think I speak for everyone when I say that we are excited for it,” Taylor Crabb said. “It’s the most prestige of any tournament and a chance to engrave your name on the pier next to legends which is definitely one of my career goals. It’s been a great season so far.”
He added, “We have been so close to winning a couple times and nothing would be better than to get our first win on the AVP at the Manhattan Beach Open.”
There will be no women’s championship repeat for April Ross and Jennifer Fopma as they’ve split and gone their separate ways. Ross has partnered up with Walsh Jennings in the upcoming Olympics in Rio. Though the Ross and Walsh Jennings have dominated the AVP tour since partnering up, they’re not expected to compete in the Manhattan Beach Open.
Ross and Fopma beat Nicole Branagh and Jenny Kropp 21-15, 26-24 in last year’s final for the women.
Lane Carico of Manhattan Beach hopes she will be holding the championship plaque after winning her first AVP title earlier this year in Seattle with Summer Ross. She made it to the semifinals last year and finished second in New York City, the last AVP stop.
“I’m super excited to play the Manhattan Beach Open this year,” Carico said. “I believe my team has the ability to win it. This time around, after my team recently won an AVP, the competitive beast inside me that wants to be the best and win at the highest level is wide awake and hungry.”
Kropp of Redondo Beach, who played in last year’s final, and Emily Day of Hermosa Beach, who made it to the semifinals, are two other locals to follow.