Manhattan Beach Open just hits differently, doesn’t it?
Our biggest MBO stadium in the modern era packed to the gills with knowledgeable fans from dawn to dusk. Mega-hit movie Top Gun gracing our view with skywriting (plus Mark Schuermann in a flight suit, am I right?). Back-to-back Champs creeping into legend territory and first-time winners claiming last-second victory under the direction of a historical reffing team.
Too much happened to go into it all. I’d love to detail the incredible Qualifier to 7th-place runs by three teams: Molly Turner/Torrey Van Winden, Kim Hildreth/Kaya Marciniak, and Raffe Paulis/Brian Miller. But we’d be here all day.
I could talk about almost any of the 122 matches played over three days. Or Thursday’s 13 courts of Qualifier action. Nearly every game had something jaw-dropping. The competition was sustainably fierce, with upsets, three-set barnburners, and matches that weren’t over til they were over.
Of course, the Women’s Final is the most notable in that category. Sarah Hughes and Kelley Kolinkse were on a mission to win, as they were one of the last top-seeded teams to fall short of an AVP victory this year. They had a bit of a Semifinal slump, if you can call third place slump-worthy.
Hughes/Kolinske made the Semis three tournaments in a row, but they couldn’t quite surmount a win. Miles Partain and Paul Lotman broke their Semifinal curse just two weeks before in Atlanta. Hughes/Kolinske must have seen that and thought… that looks nice. Let’s do that. They did so right in time.
Hughes/Kolisnke won their first three matches in two sets a piece and were looking solid. That is until they met Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint in the final round of the Winner’s Bracket. They scored an uncharacteristically few points, losing 16-21, 13-21. So after Hughes/Kolinske rallied and beat their next two foes in straight sets to make the Finals, there was more than just the former partner chip on their shoulder.
All Four female finalists had won an AVP before. In fact, they all won with each other, but in different ways. The Kolinske/Flint duo won their first AVP in 2015, becoming the youngest team to ever win at a combined 46 years and change. Two years later, Hughes/Cheng won their first tournament together, swiping the youngest team ever from Kolinske/Flint. They were just over 44 years combined and fresh college graduates.
So the teams had a lot of history. They were used to making history. And no matter what, they’d make history again at the end of their 2022 MBO Final. Pier history, that is. Adding to the monumental nature of the day, the Women’s Final was the first in history to be reffed by an all-female reffing squad. The stakes were sky high.
After winning the first and losing badly in the second, Hughes/Kolinske found themselves down 10-13 in the third set. Then this happened:
Kolinske sides out
Hughes/Kolinske win a 12-touch rally
Kolinske gets an ace, tying the score 13-13
Kolinske gets a stuff block, taking the lead for the first time since 3-2
Flint hits the ball out
Sara Hughes gets a lot of adoration for her insane digs, excellent court vision, and winners’ mentality. Hughes is a big reason why their team is so good. But look at Kelley Kolisnke’s ice water for blood at the end of that match.
First, she had to side out under immense pressure after doing so almost all tournament; as a blocker, that’s exhausting. She did so in one fluid motion.
She then was tasked with four serves, each one needing to be in the court but never an easy side-out opportunity, which would give her opponent Championship point. In the 12-touch rally, Kolinske’s pull was a brilliant last-minute decision that panned out. Then a trickle ace (panic!). Then the demoralizing stuff block against her former partner.
That block is when victory felt really real, when Kolinske stole the lead and proved that siding out wasn’t all her opponents had to do. You never want a match to end in an error, but this one didn’t, really. It ended with that ace/block knockout combo.
After the cinematic finish, the Men took the stage. Chaim Schalk/Theo Brunner proved the most consistent team on Tour, with four Finals appearances in a row. Trevor Crabb/Tri Bourne reigned as defending Champs. Both teams were undefeated in Manhattan; both were playing excellent ball. And these Finalists had some unfinished business of their own.
As two of the only returning 2021 partnerships, these team’s bad blood goes way back. In fact, one year ago, Schalk and Brunner had all but booked their ticket to the MBO Finals, cruising into a two-set victory with a 16-12 lead over Bourne/Crabb in the second. I detailed that comeback match last year; safe to say Brunner/Schalk haven’t let the loss go.
This year, Brunner/Scalk beat Bourne/Crabb on the way to their Hermosa win. Then a couple of weeks later, Bourne/Crabb sought revenge in the Ft. Lauderdale Final and won 23-21, 21-14. It was time for Brunner/Schalk to get the W. No one told Bourne/Crabb that.
They had the edge from the first point of that MBO Final. They both played lights out; everything seemed to go their way. Trevor was doing his classic love-to-hate-him villain schtick. Tri was egging him on with killer play and enthusiastic claps. They were deadly. Bourne/Crabb took the Final 21-17, 21-14.
Brunner/Schalk rarely lose big time. But when they do, it’s usually to Bourne/Crabb. Sometimes, a team is just going to win no matter what. That’s what it looked like for this back-to-back Championship team.
To add to the history made last weekend, this is Trevor Crabb’s third MBO win. And, as he clarified in his winning interview, the third in a row. Only a handful of people can claim three pier plaques. Trevor’s first came in 2019 with last-minute teammate Reid Priddy. That victory was Trevor’s first AVP win and broke the Never Trevor curse. Since then, he’s put up an impressive win rate. Trevor, alongside Bourne, has won 4 AVPs, including 2 MBOs, in just 11 tournaments.
Forever Trevor, indeed.