This past weekend, we celebrated 59 years of beach volleyball at the 2018 AVP Gold Series // Manhattan Beach Open, Presented by Acer. Also known as “the Granddaddy of all beach volleyball tournaments”, the MBO holds one of the biggest stages of the entire tour with an increased purse prize of $250,000 and your name forever engraved on the iconic Manhattan Beach Pier along with the Greats of the sport. With an expanded 32-team draw and huge Qualifying rounds, this stop shaped up to be one of the most vicious tournaments we’ve seen this season.
Thursday started off with the Qualifiers competing across 10 courts and the long-awaited 2017 Pier Ceremony. Last year’s MBO champions Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena, Emily Day, and Brittany Hochevar had their names enshrined in history along the Beach Volleyball Walk of Fame. Family and friends attended the red carpet ceremony as Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth, AVP tournament Director Jeff Conover, AVP announcer Mark Schuermann, and beach volleyball legend Mike Dodd gave kind remarks and words to the 2017 MBO champs. After the plaque was presented and the champions inducted, the weekend event proceeded to see who will be crowned as the 2018 champs.
Entering in Friday’s Main Draw event were some new faces and fresh teams. One of them being the return of Tri Bourne. Tri was forced to withdraw from beach volleyball competition last year due to an autoimmune disease diagnosis similar to that of Venus Williams (dermatomyositis), but made a triumphant return this year with his new partner and childhood friend, Trevor Crabb, as the No. 11 ranked team. Alongside other top-ranked teams featuring past AVP champions and Olympians, the two Hawaiians secured a win on Stadium Court Friday morning before being sent to the Contender’s Bracket by Jeremy Casebeer and Reid Priddy in their second match. From then on, they battled their way through the Contender’s with straight wins to find momentum and their cadence to advance to Saturday’s competition. The always fun to watch, No. 8 ranked team of former NBA player Chase Budinger and Sean Rosenthal were out in full effect with loud cheers, heckling and chants from the Rosie’s Raiders. The enthusiasm of their entourage continued to energize Budinger/Rosenthal when they defeated No. 23 pair, Bruno Amorim and Skylar del Sol in a tough three-match battle (18-21, 21-17, 15-10). “It’s been such a great environment. Sean and I have so many friends and family here and every one of our games is just packed,” said Budinger, who played seven seasons in the NBA before making his transition to beach volleyball full time this year. “These are the types of games that you live for and that’s why the Manhattan Beach Open is one of the best places to play.”
On the women’s side, the No. 1 ranked team and last year’s MBO champion Brittany Hochevar and her new partner Kelly Claes made strides along the Winner’s Bracket. On the opposing side of the bracket, former partner and. No. 2 ranked Emily Day and partner Betsi Flint flexed their way through Friday and won all three of their matches to advance through the Main Draw.
Saturday’s tournament opened with anticipation from fans that have waited all year for the MBO weekend to arrive. Manhattan Beach locals and volleyball fans filled the stands early in the morning to watch the Chase Budinger vs. Duncan Budinger match. It was the first time the two brothers faced off on the tour and it was a heated three-set match from start to finish. After 35 serves in the freeze, Chase and Rosie finally locked up the win against No. 18 Duncan Budinger and Daniel Dalanhese (16-21, 21-18, 17-15). The day continued with all players showcasing their best skills at the prestigious tournament. The highly anticipated men’s matchup between the No 1. team Dalhausser/Lucena against No. 5 duo Casey Patterson & Stafford Slick had crowds packing the stands. Slick matched Dalhausser block for block while Patterson met Lucena dig for dig. The reigning men’s champs, Dalhausser/Lucena, had to come back in the second set to push a third in order to stay alive. Regaining focus, Dalhausser/Lucena shut down a fierce Patterson to advance to the semifinals (19-21, 21-19, 15-12). No. 3 team Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb saw their victorious upset when they ousted No. 2 team Theo Brunner and John Hyden from the Winner’s Bracket in a visibly passionate three-set battle (21-13, 18-21, 15-6).
The same intensity transferred over to the women’s side as the “A-Team’ and No. 3 ranked Alix Klineman and April Ross faced off against No. 2 Day/Flint in a fan-favorite match on Stadium Court. The match, however, did not last too long when Klineman found her rhythm early to win two straight sets (21-11, 21-16). Top-seeded Hochevar/Claes proved their spot when they met No. 5 team Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman in two heated sets. Defending champ Hochevar deftly closed out Larsen/Stockman from pushing to a third set with a final score of (21-13, 26-24). However, Larsen/Stockman didn’t go down without a fight as they battled through the trail-end of Saturday to claim the last semifinals spot for Championship Sunday.
The crowds arrived early to Stadium Court for Championship Sunday as the skies shone bright and the excitement at a high. Last year’s matchups were epic in its own right and this year would prove no different. The women’s semifinals started with possibly the most anticipated match of the tournament when the MBO champs from last year met on the opposite sides of the net for the first time. It was Hochevar/Claes against Day/Flint. In what proved to be a high-tension matchup, Hochevar/Claes took the first set with the help of multiple powerful blocks from Claes. Day/Flint took the charge for the second set before the score reached 13-8 and the momentum changed to favor Hochevar/Claes once again. Hochevar/Claes eventually saw their light and took the second in an emotional win (21-19, 21-19). For the men’s semifinals, No. 6 Casebeer/Priddy fought their way through the Contender’s Bracket all throughout the day before to face No. 3 Crabb/Gibb. A pumped and vocal Gibb stayed focused on Casebeer’s blocks, looking for an early closeout in two sets. Crabb assisted with a key set point, wrapping it up in two (21-16, 21-16). The second semifinals for the matchup with No. 1 Dalhausser/Lucena against No. 2 Brunner/Hyden was called off due to Brunner’s unfortunate calf injury.
With the finals set and brewing around the corner, fans got situated and comfortable in their spots to witness the top-level performances in the finals. Starting it off, Dalhausser/Lucena and Crabb/Gibb faced off once again in the finals for the third time this season — each team winning once against each other. Their finals rivalry fueled the ground-breaking match in what turned out to be one of the most exciting matches played on Stadium Court for the 2018 season. The repeated “monster blocks” by Gibb stopped Lucena’s rallys leading to an easy first set win for Crabb/Gibb. As the second set advanced, Dalhausser/Lucena seemed to wake up and for the first time in the match, gained a lead and pushed to three sets. Dalhausser/Lucena went on to win in the third set after a scoring freeze and two championship points (12-21, 20-22, 15-13.) “I just remember Taylor just digging into everything at the beginning. Hats off to Jake and Taylor. This win feels pretty awesome, I can’t believe it. I am so thankful,” said Lucena. This victory made this the seventh MBO win for Dalhausser and the third for Lucena. Dalhausser reflected on the win, “We dealt with a lot. It was kind of our theme of the weekend. We’d get down early in matches and then come back. It [winning] never gets old. It feels sweet.”
Closing out the finals, the women’s pair of No. 3 Klineman/Ross met No. 1 Hochevar/Claes. Hochevar was vying for her third straight MBO title while April Ross was fighting for her third Walk of Fame plaque. The first set had both teams meeting point for point, with Klineman/Ross eeking out a successful rally to close out the initial set. Staking her claim as the reigning champion, Hochevar repeated digs and pushed it to three sets. Holding the entire crowd on their feet, both teams played a physically demanding third set with consistent, relentless play. After 30 frozen championship points, April sealed the deal and closed it out at 27-25, 17-21, 17-15, earning her third plaque and Klineman’s first. “This is so incredible. We’ve been working so hard. I never thought I’d win this in my hometown,” said Manhattan Beach native Klineman. Reflecting on playing through thirty serves, April stated, “It’s so gnarly. It’s like playing another full set. You really have to be patient and persevere. Brittany and Kelly played an amazing game. I’m thankful we came out on top”.
With another momentous and eventful tournament in the books, the 2018 Pro Tour season is winding down as we head to Chicago for the AVP Gold Series // Championships. Will you be there August 30th – September 2nd when we close out this legendary season?