MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — The Manhattan Beach Open in many ways is a de facto USA championship.
Its South Bay presence assures it will have a deep and plentiful field of qualifiers. It has a truly national presence, since the winners of eight zonal AVPNext competitions receive wild cards. And with the USA’s dismal FIVB performance in 2018, just one American team, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, skipped the event because they were playing in the FIVB World Tour finals.
In other words, the AVP and the City of Manhattan Beach, which owns the tournament, had nearly a full talent pool.
The AVP created the national competition by conducting eight zonal championships under the AVPNext umbrella. Each zone’s top finishers were awarded wild cards into the AVP Manhattan Beach main draw. And each qualifier was guaranteed $550, with the opportunity to win more, as well as an AVP-provided travel stipend of $400.
The Pacific zone women’s champions, Katie Jameson and Tracy Jones, are more well known by their maiden names, the Lindquist sisters. They have competed domestically since 2000, and in a sport where partners makes changes all the time, have only played with each other during their 18-year career.
They finished third, twice in 2008 and once in 2009. But Friday was the end of the line. They retired after their 25th place finish, losing three-set matches to Karissa Cook and Katie Spieler (26-24, 16-21, 11-15) and Meghan Mannari and Taylor Nyquist (21-11, 18-21, 12-15).
“We say, ‘Let’s go play in the qualifiers and have fun.’ But it’s just time though, you know? The players are getting harder, and we’re getting older,” Jameson said with a laugh, “and we’re tired, so that’s OK.
“And the college girls a few years ago didn’t seem much of a threat. And now, the college girls, they’re coming from schools I’ve never heard of, but they’re good.”
The pair’s career earnings are $156,038.50 each, per BVB.info.com. Their unconventional no-block defense relies upon their exceptional defensive skills and family chemistry. Of late, the Huntington Beach residents have chosen to play only the local Huntington Beach/Hermosa/Manhattan events.
“It’s exciting to be here,” Jameson said, “I’m going to miss being a part of it. I think the only reason we do the local tournaments is because you can’t find this anywhere else.”
“And I think we’ll miss the people,” Jones adds. “We still come down, and we know a lot of people, There’s still a lot of people out here that played when we played. Some just to hang out. We don’t see the volleyball world at all when we’re at home (in Huntington Beach). I guess we could come when we’re not playing.”
Adam Minch and Chris Luers, the Atlantic zone men’s champions, are somewhat of an odd couple. Luers, who lives in Lebanon, Ohio with his wife and four children, recently turned 44. He has toiled in qualifier obscurity since 2005. It took him 19 tries to reach his first main draw in Brooklyn with Danny Cook in 2009. Pro beach volleyball is his dream.
“Since then, I’ve spent 10 years travelling, and really enjoy it. I’m very blessed to have a great wife that allows me to chase my dream, obviously this is not a very smart financial decision.”
Minch, a 34-year-old resident of Beaver Creek, Ohio, played basketball all his life. His father and uncles played volleyball, so he gave it a try and won his very first open tournament in Cincinnati. The 6-4 lefty blocker has excellent eye-hand coordination for a guy that is known for taking years off.
“I’ll take a couple of years off, and Chris will call me out of the blue, and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a try, and we’ll do pretty well.’ It works out for us.”
Although Minch and Luers live in Ohio, because of the high number of tournaments in the area, they are in the Atlantic region. That means that in order to meet the minimum of eight tournaments to qualify as zone champions, they have to make drives of 8-plus hours to upstate New York or Syracuse, New York, and Virginia Beach, a 9-plus hour drive.
“We were here just to have fun,” Minch said. “We have a chance, just like anybody else, but the chance is slim.”
“My plan was just to have fun. They’re just so good at this level. I feel like we played a good match defensively, but we had one block and two or three digs the entire match. They are just so good, the way they change their speeds and their angles, it’s a level that we don’t get to play against. Rarely do you get to say that you played a good defensive game, and I got three digs. He got one block. You get to that level, they’re just so hard to get out of system.”
Minch and Luers went 0-2 on the weekend, dropping their opener on stadium court against Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb (11-21, 15-21). Their second loss was to fellow zonal qualifier Adam Gustafson and Kyle Radde (16-21, 14-21).
Hawai’i zone women’s champions Nikki Taylor and Kristina Kam also finished 25th after consecutive losses to Nicole Branagh and Caitlin Ledoux (12-21, 7-21) and Aurora Davis and Bree Scarbrough (10-21, 17-21). The pair won three of the four zonal events at Queens Beach to reach the MBO main draw.
Taylor was a 2017 VolleyballMag.com beach honorable-mention All-American and two-time AVCA indoor All-American (2015-2016). More recently, she played a half season indoors with Lardini Filottrano in the Italian A1 league.
“The pro volleyball lifestyle isn’t something I wanted. It kind of goes against the type of person that I am, so I decided to stay home, get a job, and coach and be with my family,” Taylor said.
Kam was born and raised on Oahu, and also played at UH. She loved playing under legendary coach Dave Shoji, but had injuries and adversity indoors. She played UH beach one season from 2012-2013, and played and fell in love with beach.
“We definitely don’t get to see this level of competition out there,” Kam said. “They play a very fast game, it was nice to get introduced to that. They’re amazing athletes. To be able to experience that, it’s a great opportunity.”
“It’s not a caliber that we get in Hawai’i,” Taylor agreed, “Not to say that the competition isn’t good in Hawai’i, because it is, but it’s just not at the same magnitude. Their offensive is so reliable, they don’t make a lot of mistakes, they nail their shots every single time, and to see such a fast paced offense and defense like that is super fun to see and really fun to play against.
We’re coming into it with a really good perspective. We earned the opportunity to be here and we want to spend time with each other and have fun here, and that’s the mindset that we have coming in, and that helps us in our games. We just decided that we wanted to come, saved up as much as we could, and pretty much went out of pocket.”
The Midwest zonal champions, Adam Gustafson and Kyle Radde, finished 17th. They began with a loss to Jeremy Casebeer and Reid Priddy (20-22, 16-21) and then defeated Luers and Minch (21-16, 21-14).Their final loss was a three-set match against Piotr Marciniak and Eric Zaun (19-21, 21-18, 13-15).
The event was the first main draw for both. Gustafson played men’s D1 indoor at NJIT, while Radde played club at Michigan State. The 6-8 blocker Radde also dabbled in pro indoor volleyball in Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and France.
The Midwest region offered 16 AVPNext sanctioned events, but Gustafson and Radde were only able to participate in eight, taking six firsts, one second, and one third to win the zonal title. They had to win the final event in Holland, Michigan, in order to win the series, and did.
“This is my first AVP main draw in California,” Radde said. “It’s an honor to be here. There are some great athletes here, I’m just taking it all in. Beach reps are only five months a year, unless we’re traveling two hours to an indoor place. We started out keeping it on both, to see who made more mistakes, we got little runs on both of them for a little bit, and tried to stay consistent with our sideout.
“The first game we were up 20-19, and they got the next three to beat us, it just shows that they’re human, we can compete, anything can happen. And they cover so many freaking blocks. I had, like 20 blocks, and they covered them all.”
The 28-year-old Gustafson made his first main draw after only eight events.
“It’s unbelievable, for sure. This has been my goal, to say that I can compete with professionals. At this level, picking on one guy is really hard. You have to start aggressive. The first game we did so well because of our aggressive serving. When they’re in system, they’re really hard to stop.
“I’ve dreamed of taking the time off to come out here and play, and that could still potentially happen, I’m 28 years old. Never say never. That’s my dream, I feel like we stack up pretty well. There’s no question in my mind that if we wanted to continue to do this, we could.
“I’ll tell you right now, when I came out here, I crashed with a buddy for two nights, I got here early to avoid jet lag. It was really nice to do that, but in really it’s probably a break-even. We get to compete and play with the pros, and get a professional level experience and hang out in the players tent.”