Leonard Armato and Kerri Walsh Jennings, in preperation for the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball. Photo by Pete Henze
Despite the usual decline in interest in a year following the Olympic Games, the sport of beach volleyball continued to grow during 2013.
The largest question mark among beach volleyball enthusiasts concerned three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings. When would the Golden Girl make her return to the court and who would replace longtime partner Misty May Treanor, who announced her retirement at the end of the 2012 Olympic Games in London?
With the help of two Manhattan Beach residents, interest in beach volleyball was revitalized during the summer months.
Leonard Armato, who lives on The Strand in Manhattan Beach, just north of the pier Volleyball Walk of Fame, is a former AAA beach volleyball player and was CEO of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) from 2002-2009.
He became inspired to create the ASCIS World Series of Beach Volleyball (WSOBV) after seeing beach volleyball’s star rising at the London Olympics, while fading away in the U.S., where the sport was founded.
Armato met with the CEO of NBC Sports about how to reinvigorate the sport in the U.S. He then spoke with FIVB president Ary Graca about the FIVB holding an event in the U.S.
Graca gave his blessing and the event became the first Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) sanctioned Grand Slam tournament in the United States since 2003, running from July 22-28 in Long Beach. The highlight of the week-long event featured the inaugural ASICS World Series Cup, which featured the top U.S. men’s and women’s teams competing against the best teams from elsewhere in the world, similar to golf’s Ryder Cup.
The event included AAU youth tournaments, the collegiate sand volleyball championships, amateur 4-man and 6-man tournaments and the top professional players in the world.
NBC Sports Group, the FIVB, USA Volleyball and Armato’s Management Plus Enterprises anted up $500,000 in prize money. In addition to title sponsor Asics, Bud Light, Paul Mitchell, Sabra, Barefoot Wine, Nestea and Mikasa also signed on as sponsors.
More than 20 hours of programming was provided by NBC, NBC Sports Network and Universal Sports, including telecasts of the men’s and women’s Grand Slam finals and ASICS World Series Cup Finals.
Prior to the event, Armato boasted that the World Series of Beach Volleyball “…will be the most extraordinary beach volleyball event in the history of the planet. It will ignite the entire volleyball community. Nothing like this has ever been done. It combines beach volleyball and beach lifestyles.”
Representing the United States in the WSOBV was too much to pass up for Walsh Jennings, who made an early return to the sand court.
She and husband Casey Jennings – also a professional volleyball standout – had their third child and first daughter, Scout Margery, in April. The couple has two boys, Joey, 4, and Sundance, 3 and live in Manhattan Beach.
Walsh Jennings originally planned to resume play on the AVP tour in August, but accelerated her training for the WSOBV.
“I am excited that the FIVB is returning to the U.S. after a 10-year absence,” Walsh Jennings said after announcing her comeback. “To represent my country for global bragging rights in the inaugural World Series Cup and having the chance to capture the title, adding to my three Olympic medals, will be amazing.”
Walsh Jennings teamed with Whitney Pavlik, who dominated domestic tournaments in 2012 with partner Jenny Kropp, to compete in the World Series Cup.
The title did go to the Americans, but not the team of Walsh Jennings and Pavlik, who fell to 2012 Olympic silver medalists Jennifer Kessy and April Ross 18-21, 21-17, 16-14 in the semifinals.
Ross and Kessy advanced to beat top-ranked Brazilians Talita Antunes and Taiana Lima 15-21, 21-18, 17-15 in the World Series Cup final.
Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson completed the U.S. sweep, beating Latvia’s Alesandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins 22-20, 20-11 in the men’s final.
In the FIVB tournament, USA’s fourth-seeded men’s team of Sean Rosenthal/Phil Dalhausser powered past Spain’s 14th-seeded Pablo Herrera/Adrian Gavira in two sets 2-0 (21-15, 21-18) in a 45-minute finale.
Led by three-time Olympian and Manhattan Beach native Holly McPeak, Team America captured the Women’s 6-man competition. Joining McPeak were teammates Lane Carico, Katie Carter, Annett Davis, Emily Day, Christal Engle, Jenny Johnson Jordan, Rachel Wacholder Scott and Traci Weamer.
Mira Costa team members celebrating their Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League championship are: (top row, left to right) Coach Eric Fonoimoana, Keala Rusher, Skylar Caputo, Katrina Kernochan, Emma Smith, Coach Michelle Lonergan, (bottom Row) Brooke Feld and Lan Nguyen. Photo courtesy of Gino Grajeda
In August, the Manhattan Beach Open celebrated its 53rd year with a feel of nostalgia when thousands of fans sat on beach chairs and blankets or perched on the pier to watch 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 (Manhattan Beach) and Matt Fuerbringer (Hermosa Beach) upset the top-seeded team of Sean Rosenthal (Hermosa Beach) 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 as his wife Kerri had won the women’s title just a little over an hour earlier with 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 marked the second time the Jennings had won at the same tournament at the same time as husband and wife.
Fuerbringer, 39, 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.
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.
After fulfilling her obligations with Kessy, Ross became the new partner of Walsh Jennings and the duo’s chemistry was strong from the onset.
After ninth-place finish in Gstaad, Switzerland, the newly-formed team won three of five tournaments, including the Santa Barbara Open and FIVB events in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Xiamin, China.
The win over Brazilians Taiana Lima and Talita Da Rocha Antunes in China gave Walsh Jennings the record for beach volleyball tournament victories by a woman, surpassing May Treanor’s previous record of 112 championships.
In November, Walsh Jennings and Ross defeated China in the second annual Hilton Honors Beach Volleyball Challenge at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
The resurgence of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) provided more money for its domestic tour, but also created controversy by wanting the top players to play exclusively in its tournaments.
Members of Redondo Union’s championship beach volleyball team included (back row, left to right) Louis Richard, Wes Graves, Devon Burki, Erik Beranek, Tanner Smith, Logan Glave, Tyler Bird and Logan Gehman, (front row (Asst. Coach Barry Hanna, Coach Dale Smith and Coach Corey Glave. (Not shown: Vinny Pizzuti)
The National Volleyball League (NVL), headed by Hermosa Beach’s Albert Hannemann, was snubbed when the AVP held its Salt Lake City tournament on the same weekend in August as the NVL’s West Coast Championships in Hermosa Beach, which had been scheduled months earlier.
With the top-name players competing in Utah, the Hermosa Beach Open offered a purse of $50,000. The San Diego-based team of Mike Morrison and Derek Olson captured the men’s title while Christie Jenkins and Iwona Lodzik (Torrance) won the women’s championship.
The NVL continued to provide avenues of competition for professionals and a developmental tour for up-and-coming players.
At the grassroots level, athletes from the Beach Cities continued to dominate tournaments held by the California Beach Volleyball Association (CBVA) and Athletic Amateur Union (AAU).
With the beginning of NCAA Sand (Beach) Volleyball in 2012, the advent high school beach volleyball in Southern California as an interscholastic sport began to grow. A beach volleyball academy run by Eric Fonoimoana and fellow volleyball Olympian Holly McPeak has helped 14 high school players earn division I school scholarships for this coming fall.
The AAU Southern Pacific Committee founded the Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League which began with eight girls high school teams in 2012.
This year, the IBVL expanded the league to include 30 schools from Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties from both the CIF-Southern Section and CIF-Los Angeles City Section member schools.
Second-seeded Mira Costa avenged last year’s loss in the inaugural IBVL championship defeating top-seeded and defending champion Valencia 2-1 at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. The Mustangs finished the season with a 13-0 record.
Redondo Union enjoyed a successful season in its first of competition in the IBVL. The eighth-seeded Sea Hawks swept Village Christian 3-0 in the wild-card round and defeated No. 7 Marymount 3-0 in the quarterfinals. Redondo reached the semifinals before falling to Valencia 2-1.
One week after the team championships, a one-day Pairs Championship was held with Mira Costa’s Skylar Caputo and Lan Nguyen being crowned champions.
The league expanded again in the fall with the introduction of the boys’ IBVL season with 18 teams representing 13 schools.
In a battle of unbeaten teams, Redondo Union swept Dana Hills 3-0 to capture the inaugural boys championship. Winners of the Coastal Division, the Sea Hawks finished the two-month season with a 9-0 meet record while losing only one match out of 28 played among the league’s 18 teams.