Celebrating its 53rd year of beach volleyball, the Manhattan Beach Open had a feel of nostalgia during the weekend when thousands of fans sat on beach chairs and blankets or perched on the pier watched the nation’s top players in the sport compete for a record $200,000 in prize money.
The highlight – and surprise – of the tournament came in the final match of the three-day tournament when fifth-seeded Casey Jennings and Matt Fuerbringer upset the top-seeded team of Sean Rosenthal and Phil Dalhausser 21-18, 21-23, 15-12 to claim their first plaques as winners of the prestigious event.
The win was especially thrilling for Jennings, whose wife and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings had won the women’s title just a little over an hour earlier with partner Whitney Pavlik.
While it was the first Manhattan Beach Open win for 38-year-old Casey, it was the sixth win for Kerri at the tournament known as the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball.”
An emotional Jennings said, “I walk along the pier with my family and my kids ask, ‘where’s mommy’s (plaque)’ and they see ‘oh, right there and right there.’ Then they ask me, ‘where’s yours, daddy?’ and I go to the empty ones all the time and say, ‘right there.’ And now, I’m there.”
The wins on Sunday marked the second time the Jennings, who reside in Manhattan Beach, had won at the same tournament at the same time as husband and wife. Although the couple both won the Hermosa Beach Open in 2005, they were not married until December of that year. They each won championships in Seaside Heights, N.J. in 2006 making them the first husband and wife to win titles on the same weekend since Mike and Patty Dodd did it four times in 1989.
“In 1989, Patty won 13 Opens with Jackie Silva,” Mike recalled. “I was just happy to keep up with her on a couple of week-ends. Yesterday was a very special day for the Jennings, one I’m sure they will cherish forever.”
The championship was the 11th for Casey, who trails his wife by only 100 titles. Kerri is one title away from tying longtime partner and record holder Misty May Treanor at 112.
Fuerbringer, 39, of Hermosa Beach came out of retirement for one last chance at winning the Manhattan Beach Open.
“It was Casey’s awesome idea and head coach John Speraw gave me the green light to play so we decided to run it back,” Fuerbringer said. “We wanted to leave it all on the court and enjoy playing volleyball together again. It’s like a dream and an honor to be a part of history.
“As The Hov (volleyball legend and five-time Manhattan Beach champ Tim Hovland) would say, ‘You just need one Manhattan Beach – that’s all that matters. It’s a real accomplishment knowing that this is the last tournament for me ever and we were able to get out there and just play against the best team in the world, and at the grand slam, the world series, the bottom of the ninth – we got it.”
Rosenthal (Hermosa Beach) and Dalhausser were coming off a championship performance the prior week at Salt lake City but had to battle their way out of the Contender’s Bracket.
“There is nothing like playing in front of my hometown crowd,” Rosenthal said. “The Manhattan Beach Open is a really special tournament and something that I look forward to every year, but I am really digging the old school vibe and community feel on the sand this year. Watching the fans and passers-by spill over the pier railings looks just like the old photos I’ve seen from the days of Sinjin, Hov and Dodd, and so many others who I looked up to growing up.”
Tying for third place were the teams of Jake Gibb/Casey Patterson and Ryan Doherty/Todd Rogers. Fifth place honors went to Tri Bourne/John Hyden and Theodore Brunner/Nick Lucena. Also turning in impressive performances were 10th-seeded Braidy Halverson (Redondo Beach)/Billy Allen and 16th-seeded Aaron Wachtfogel (Hermosa Beach)/Matt Prosser who tied for 7th place.
For Pavlik, it was her third consecutive Manhattan Beach Open crown as she and Walsh Jennings defeated third-seeded Brooke Sweat (Hermosa Beach) and Jen Fopma 22-20, 21-17. Seeded second, Pavlik and Walsh Jennings were forced to fight their way out of the Contender’s Bracket after losing to Sweat and Fopma 21-15, 21-13 in the fourth round
“I’m speechless,” Pavlik said. “It’s amazing to be on the pier for the third time. I wanted it so bad and to be up there forever with Kerri is just amazing.”
Walsh-Jennings accepted her plaque with newborn daughter Scout in her arms.
“This is the birthplace of beach volleyball so this win means everything to me,” Walsh Jennings said. “I’m coming back from having this little one and I am so proud and excited that my husband won too. Jen and Brooke are a great team. They beat (top seeds) April (Ross) and Jen (Kessy) so we knew we had to just get out there and take care of us, and we did.
“The Manhattan Beach Open is the oldest running tournament. It has the bigger draw, we have all the great names in beach volleyball competing here and you get your name immortalized on the pier if you win. This is my first experience with the old school vibe and I like it. There is so much love in the South Bay and I love the community feel – I feel like I know every person here.”
The Hermosa Beach team of Lauren Fendrick and Brittany Hochevar tied for third place with top-seeded Jennifer Kessy/April Ross. Playing in her first season as a pro, Manhattan Beach’s Lane Carico teamed with Heather Hughes earning the 11th seed. The duo tied for 5th place with Tealle Hunkus (El Segundo) and Christal Engle.
Finishing in 7th place were the teams of Kristen Batt/Raquel Ferreira and Briane Hinge/Katrin Winkler.
Prior to the championship matches, the Legends 4s tournament presented by Whole Foods was held featuring previous greats Sinjin Smith, Tim Hovland along with Mira Costa High School alumni Eric Fonoimoana and Mike Dodd.
Dodd, who graduated from Mira Costa in 1975, teamed with Hovland, Nick Lucena and Tri Bourne to defeat Smith, Fonoimoana, Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson in a single game to 21.
“It was just like old times.” Dodd said. “I coach and travel with the team all over the world, but being in Manhattan Beach means being with family. The game was fun but reminiscing about old times and coming out here to win with Nick and Tri were the highlights. Smith dug a bunch of balls and passed flawlessly despite the friendly verbal abuse Hov and I bombarded him with.”
Nine local athletes made it out of the qualifying rounds and into the Main Draw, highlighted by the performance of former Redondo Union High School All-CIF player Lara Dykstra and her partner Alexa Strange.
Dykstra, of Hermosa Beach, and Strange entered the competition as 16th seeds in the Qualifiers bracket. They eliminated the top seeded team of Angela Peterson/Traci Walsh 23-21, 21-12 to earn the final spot in the Main Draw.
Former Mira Costa High School standout Jace Pardon (Manhattan Beach) and Aurora Davis upset fifth-seeded Amanda Dowdy/Jessica Stubinski in three games to earn the 30th seed in the Main Draw.
Also advancing to the Main Draw were Sydney Donahue (Manhattan Beach)/Dana Fiume, Michelle Iafigliola (Hermosa Beach)/Katrina Zawojski and Amy Hvitfeldtsen (Hermosa Beach)/Ella Vakhidova.
Local men advancing from the Qualifiers were Cullen Irons (Manhattan Beach)/Christopher Austin, Adam Cabbage (Torrance)/Robert Page, John Moran (Redondo Beach)/Gregg Weaver and Kevin Gregan (Manhattan Beach)/Matt Davis.
The third stop of the AVP tour will be held this weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio. The tour’s top eight teams per gender will qualify for the DO AC Beach Volleyball Invitational in Atlantic City from Sept. 6-8 where players will compete for a piece of the $100,000 prize purse on the brand new volleyball courts at the world-famous Boardwalk. For more information, including complete results from the Manhattan Beach Open, visit. avp.com.