Randy Angel

Competition heats up on AAU beach volleyball tour

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Grace Campbell, left, and Mia Merino have won two consecutive AAU beach volleyball tournaments in the girls 18U division. Photo courtesy of Kevin Campbell

Grace Campbell, left, and Mia Merino have won two consecutive AAU beach volleyball tournaments in the girls 18U division. Photo courtesy of Kevin Campbell

With the success of – and availability of scholarships in – women’s sand volleyball on the collegiate level, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) continues to see a dramatic rise in both participation and talent level making it much more difficult for South Bay players, who once dominated local tournaments, to bring home the gold.

“We have seen increases in AAU beach volleyball nationwide in areas where there was little activity before,” said Gino Grajeda, President and Tour Director of the Southern Pacific Volleyball Committee. “In Southern California, the participating numbers of girls has also increased evident by the rise in beach clubs, tournaments and interest in the IBVL (Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League).”

Manhattan Beach’s Grace Campbell, who has won championships in the girls 18U division in two consecutive local tournaments, said winning gold medals now mean much more to her.

“The competition on the AAU Tour is tremendous,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of local girls and the matches are very competitive with most. Now we are getting more teams from out of state who provide good competition. Seeing new talent really keeps up on our toes.”

Campbell, a standout player for Marymount High School’s indoor and beach volleyball teams and teammate Mia Merino, of Tustin, won their second straight Tachikara Classic championship on June 14 defeating the San Diego duo of Samantha Manley and Savannah Rennie in the girls 18U championship match in Hermosa Beach. Campbell and Merino won the 16U title in 2013.

At the Southern Pacific District Beach Championships held in Hermosa Beach on May 31, Campbell and Merino brought home the gold with a win over silver-medalists Katrina Kernochan (Hermosa Beach) and Kristen Kiehnle (Newport Beach). Manhattan Beach’s Augy Silver and Jennifer Krems (Pacific Palisades) won bronze.

Campbell and Merino began their partnership last year when the two were paired in the USA Volleyball High Performance program. They also train with Elite Beach Volleyball under the tutelage of beach volleyball legends Eric Fonoimoana, Holly McPeak and Barbra Fontana.

“We’re really good at communicating,” Campbell said. “We have different personalities. Mia’s more outgoing and I’m more laid back. She really pushes me.”

The 6-foot-2 Campbell said training at Elite has improved her overall game.

“The coaching is phenomenal, not just for the skill level but for the mindset,” Campbell explained. “My volleyball IQ has improved so much. I’m more of an offensive player but for a tall girl, I’m scrappy. I pick up a lot of balls my opponents don’t expect me to.”

Campbell isn’t the only local player to enjoy success on the AAU Tour.

Also medaling at the Tachikara Classic were Presley Forbes (Manhattan Beach)/Marisa Ramsey (Laguna Niguel), who captured the girls 16U crown, and the team of Aaron Phan (Manhattan Beach)/Sebastian Rodriguez (Hermosa Beach) who won silver in the boys 14U division.

Competing in the Southern Pacific District Beach Championship, Maddie Micheletti (Manhattan Beach)/Sammy Slater (Ventura) won gold in the girls 16U division and in the girls 14U competition; Gina Cortesi (Torrance)/Molly Feldmeth (South Pasadena) took top honors while Lindsey Kelly (Manhattan Beach)/Zoe Almanza (West Hollywood) won bronze.

Four players from Manhattan Beach medaled in the girls 12U division with Ava Gallien/Leah Kelly winning gold and Talia Genova/Kate Reilly taking home bronze medals.

Manhattan Beach teams of Garrett Cane/Thomas Kretschrner (silver) and Luke Snyder/Jack Warner (bronze) medaled in the boys 14U division.

Players from the Beach Cities swept the competition in the boys 12U division with Kyle Johnson (Manhattan Beach)/Sebastian Rodriguez (Hermosa Beach) winning gold; Mark Marolda (Hermosa Beach)/Luke Turner (Hermosa Beach) taking home silver; and Zachary Berty (Manhattan Beach/Jason Walmer (Manhattan Beach) winning bronze.

With players out of school for the summer, the popular AAU Summer Series will be held on five consecutive Tuesdays at Marine Avenue in Manhattan Beach beginning July 1. Age groups for each tournament are available at aaubeach.org.

On Saturday and Sunday, July 12-13 the 21st AAU Junior National Beach Volleyball Championships will be held in Hermosa Beach. Competition includes boys and girls 18/16//14/12/10 divisions.

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