HERMOSA BEACH — David Lee has an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic bronze medal. But before this week, he had never won a match in the main draw on the AVP beach volleyball tour, let alone make the semifinals.
Alongside beach volleyball great Sean Rosenthal, he’s done just that at the 2019 AVP Hermosa Beach Open, winning three straight matches, including a dominating 21-14, 21-13 victory over No. 5 seeded Ed Ratledge and Rafu Rodriguez in the quarters.
“(Winning Hermosa) would be pretty special for me,” the former indoor national team middle blocker said in a post-game interview with Amazon Prime.
“Never being in a main draw before, getting picked up by one of the best beach volleyball players out there and winning one, it would be a Cinderella story, and that’s what I hope happens.”
Facing Lee and Rosenthal in the men’s semifinals are Ryan Doherty and Miles Evans, the No. 10 seed playing together for the first time who made the crossover with an upset of the No. 1 seeded Tim Bomgren and Troy Field.
The opposite semifinal features Ratledge and Rodriguez, who downed Allen and Slick in three sets in the final contenders bracket match, versus Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger.
The women’s semifinals feature not one, but three women who advanced to Sunday in their first AVP main draw — Crissy Jones and her partner Zana Muno and Kathryn Hogan, who is playing with Megan Rice.
Of the four women’s semifinalist teams, three came through the qualifier: Jones and Muno, Hogan and Rice, and Sheila Shaw and Mackenzie Ponnet. No. 1 seed Emily Day and Betsi Flint round out the field.
Jones and Muno got there the hard way, slogging through five contenders-round matches after losing in the first round to Delaney Knudsen and Katie Spieler. Versus teenagers Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft in the crossover match, they faced a match point for their opponents at 14-12 in the third, but fought back in the freeze, including two big stuff blocks for the former University of Washington indoor star Jones.
“In Seattle, we were winning 14-11 and lost in the freeze, and so … we were like, this is our chance. We finally get to use the freeze to our advantage and we’re going to do it,” Muno told Amazon Prime.
“We just talked about staying confident and I think that was huge for us here too,” Jones said. “We can play really hard and we can play for a long time and be good for a long time, so I think for us it was just patience and confidence and just playing hard all the way through.”
Muno and Jones face Day and Flint, who have played just four matches in Hermosa to Muno and Jones’ 10, in Sunday’s semis. Hogan and Rice (nine matches in three days) take on Ponnet and Shaw (eight matches in three days).
Shaw, 35, played her first AVP qualifier in 2007, making this her ninth season competing on the tour (remember there were a few years in there the tour didn’t happen), and no matter what happens Sunday, she’s guaranteed her best finish to date. And she’s doing it with a broken finger.
“This tournament has been really challenging on many different levels,” Shaw said. “First off, I’m getting served every ball. Second off I have a broken finger and I’m trying to not make that an issue, mind over matter kind of thing.
“I’m not stopping,” she added. “Going full speed ahead and not going to change anything about the way I’m playing. I’m trying to play straight up as much as possible without letting that interfere and getting mental about it.”
Ponnet, a 2016 grad of the Grand Canyon beach volleyball program, will also leave Hermosa with her best finish ever.
“The whole mindset of the whole tournament is roll with the punches,” the 26-year-old said. “We’re taking every point, every play at a time and really finding the joy in playing the game for every point. … Making it to championship sunday is what you dream of when you grow up and I think it’s just, it’s fun.
“This whole tournament has been a grind. It’s been some of the hardest volleyball I’ve ever played, but it’s also been some of the most fun volleyball I’ve ever played so I’m excited to take that into tomorrow.”