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The Granddaddy of all pro beach volleyball tournaments kicked off last Thursday with a huge Qualifier and Pier Ceremony. This was the second tournament of the new 2017 Gold Series and the last of the four California-based tournaments. This year’s Manhattan Beach Open went old-school with a 32-team format, double that of all the previous events on the 2017 schedule. This was the biggest AVP field of the season with matches taking place over nine courts on Thursday. In addition to having sights set on earning a plaque for the winning team on the Pier, stakes were higher than ever with the Gold Series increase of $225,000 in total prize money and points.

At the Pier Ceremony, the 2016 Manhattan Beach Open champions Jake Gibb, Casey Patterson, Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar joined beach volleyball greats from the past 57 years with their induction into the Beach Volleyball Walk of Fame. In a red carpet ceremony that included opening remarks from AVP managing partner Donald Sun and Manhattan Beach Mayor David Lesser, each individual said a couple words at the podium before revealing their brand new plaques on the Pier.

The excitement of the iconic Manhattan Beach Open finally arrived and Friday brought early morning crowds who gathered to cheer on the most accomplished AVP and Olympic stars. Friday match highlights included the fan favorite men’s match of the day, the No. 4 pairing of Trevor Crabb/Sean Rosenthal vs. No. 5 Ryan Doherty/John Hyden with crowds spilling out over the outer courts. The win went to Crabb/Rosenthal, but not after some crushing swings from Doherty.

Perhaps the most energetic women’s match of the day was between No. 2 ranked Day/Hochevar and No. 10 team Cailtin Ledoux/Maria Salgado. Pushing it to three sets, Day/Hochevar stood strong against the steady Ledoux/Salgado and sealed their win after exhausting the fifth match point.

Saturday welcomed overflowing stands and packed outer courts along the Manhattan Beach Pier from the early morning to the evening. Dramatic nail-biting competition was met with the reunion of former partners-turned-competitors in the most intense match-ups, as each win meant being one step closer to having their names enshrined on the Pier. The support of multiple entourages including Chase Frishman’s pink tank top cladded crew, Em’s Entourage in a sea of blue and Rosie’s Raiders’ infamous heckling and air horns spread their contagious spirit throughout downtown Manhattan Beach in full force throughout the day.

In the most anticipated match of the day, a rematch of the Hermosa Open Finals featuring the No. 4 ranked team Trevor Crabb and two-time Manhattan Beach Open victor Sean ‘Rosie’ Rosenthal faced off against top seeded Taylor Crabb and three-time Manhattan Beach Open champion and former partner of seven years Jake Gibb. In a change of fate, Rosenthal and Crabb looked stronger than ever, and kicked off set two with a five-point lead and overtook their former partners in the second and third set. Devoted fans cheered on both teams for long rallies, hustles, and seemingly impossible saves.

Gibb and Crabb were later defeated by No. 6 ranked Theo Brunner and Gibb’s former partner Casey Patterson in Saturday’s last match.

No. 9 ranked team Reid Priddy and Ricardo Santos eliminated Doherty/Hyden in a hard fought three sets. Santos battled nagging cramps that plagued him in the last few minutes of the third set. Though he took a medical timeout with the score tied at 17-17, partner Priddy cheered him on to clinch the win, where he collapsed from exhaustion and pain after successfully executing the last kill against Doherty. In their last match of the day, Santos and Priddy came back looking even stronger to defeat 2017 Seattle Open champs Stafford Slick and Billy Allen in two sets.

In their Manhattan Beach Open debut, the biggest upset of the day on the women’s side went to rising young phenoms, USC alumnus and No. 23 Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, who defeated both No. 3 ranked Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen and No. 5 ranked Summer Ross and Brooke Sweat. Claes and Hughes are two-time NCAA Beach Volleyball Champions from USC where they were partners and have had a fair amount of success competing overseas. They lost in the first round of the Main Draw on Friday and battled through four hard-earned victories in order to advance to the semi-finals.

Saturday also consisted of fan-favorite April Ross and Lauren Fendrick defeating the tough opponents of Ross/Sweat, who went point-for-point in front of a maxed-out capacity crowd on Stadium Court. Ultimately, Sweat and Ross were no match for April Ross, the best server in the world. It was a game of tug-of-war and a high-energy, dramatic match complete with long rallies and a high display of athleticism from both sides.

Manhattan Beach natives Alix Klineman and Lane Carico looked strong all weekend, and made things difficult for top seeds Ross and Fendrick on Friday, taking the duo to three close sets. Though they survived three matches in the Contender’s brackets, the duo was eliminated by newly formed team of No. 15 Nicole Branagh and Brandie Wilkerson. Branagh and Wilkerson took Saturday by storm, winning all four of their matches to earn their place in the semi-final rounds.

The final day of the AVP Gold Series // Manhattan Beach Open kicked off early with unexpected semi-final results in the South Bay sand and ramped up all afternoon. Gold Series stakes were high as the remaining teams battled for the legendary Manhattan Beach Open title in front of a full stadium of passionate fans.
No. 3 Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena began their day against the No. 9 pair of Brunner/Patterson in the Semi-Finals. Brunner and Patterson came out of the gates with fierce blocks and attacked with kill after kill, claiming the first set, but ultimately, Dalhausser’s offense pushed the match to three and earned his team’s position in the Final.

The Men’s Final showcased Dalhausser/Lucena facing off against the recently unstoppable No. 4 Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb. Rosenthal/Crabb displayed a consistent hustle throughout the Finals, playing a very physical, powerful match. With a vocal crowd on their feet, Dalhausser’s intense blocking shut out any third-set rally attempts from Rosenthal. Dalhausser/Lucena sealed their victory, which marks their second Manhattan Beach Open team victory (first was in 2015) and Dalhausser’s sixth plaque on the Volleyball Walk of Fame.

On the women’s side, the morning started with a huge upset in the women’s Semi-Finals of top ranked AVP champs Ross and Fendrick falling to brand new partners and the No. 15 ranked pair of Branagh and Wilkerson. Forcing three sets to wow the crowd, a relaxed Branagh/Wilkerson took Ross/Fendrick, and they were unable to recover the lead. In Wilkerson’s first-ever Manhattan Beach Open, this tournament marked the first time she qualified into the Main Draw.

The Women’s Final featured Branagh/Wilkerson against the No. 2 team of 2016 Manhattan Beach Open winners Hochevar and Day. For practicing together only four times before the tournament, Branagh/Wilkerson put on an impressive performance; however, Hochevar/Day proved why they are the reigning champs and shut their opponents down in two solid sets.

The final stop this year is Chicago for the AVP Gold Series // Championships August 31st to September 3rd. See you there!