MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Eight qualifiers made it through on both the men’s and women’s sides Thursday of the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, including a number of surprising pairs.
For example, Jacob Landel and Lev Priima were the 36th-seeded qualifiers, and they got into the main draw. The downside is they get top-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in Friday’s men’s winners bracket.
Matt Prosser, who returned to volleyball following a diagnosis of testicular cancer last year, made it through four matches Thursday with Eric Beranek, and will get second-seeded John Hyden and Theo Brunner. Indoor gold-medalist David Lee and Paul Araiza qualified and will meet third-seeded Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb.
The top-seeded qualifiers on both sides made it through, Raffe Paulis and Jeff Samuels for the men — who will play the McKibbin brothers — and Delaney Knudsen and Jessica Sykora for the women. They’ll take on Briana Hinga and Brittany Tiegs.
Others of note into the main draw include four former NVL standouts Jeff Samuels, who won with Raffe Paulis; Kim Hildreth, who partnered with Sarah Schermerhorn; Skylar del Sol, who won with teammate Bruno Amorim; and Priscilla Piantadosi-Lima, who won through with Falyn Fonoimoana.
When the last ball of the qualifier hit the sand at 7:10 p.m. Thursday, Prosser had qualified. It completed his journey of recovery after having his testicle removed April 5, 2017.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words,” Prosser said. “If I tried to verbalize it, I don’t even know. It’s been a journey. It definitely puts a cap on my journey. I was concerned about how I’d feel after my third match.
“I almost felt like I could have a lot of emotions even before this match started. I’ll probably have some more later. That’s about as much as I could say right now about it.
“It feels great, that’s the only way to say it. It just feels great.”
Prosser’s wife, Kristin, herself a former pro beach volleyball player, was thrilled that he had qualified. “It couldn’t feel better. It couldn’t feel more emotional. It’s been a long journey, to see him back to 100 percent is, I don’t really have words for it. It is remarkable. It’s beautiful, and it’s something I knew was possible, I’m in awe of his strength. It’s crazy.”
Manhattan Beach was especially significant for Long Beach state alum Prosser, who made his last main draw in 2016 with Gregg Weaver, finishing 17th. Prosser and Beranek have played four events previously, Hermosa 2017 (33rd), Manhattan 2017 (41st), and Austin 2018 (21st).
Prosser had planned to run with Beranek the entire season until work commitments as a medical sales rep at Stryker corporation interfered and he was forced to miss Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and Hermosa. The 6-foot-7 39-year-old had almost no points after a two-year absence from the main draw, and had to play four matches and a total of 10 sets Thursday.
Prosser and his his wife Kristin dealt with their nerves differently. Matt chose to take it point-by point.
“It’s different because of the freeze scoring. I like it, it’s awesome, there’s that wild card, you still have to earn your real point to win it. It never gets old, you try not to look at the scoreboard too much, when you’re in that kind of a situation, you just keep doing what you’re doing.”
By contrast, Kristin handled the situation through heckling.
“I’m a heckler, everybody knows that. I kind of veiled the nerves by yelling at the ref. I was just so hopeful. My emotions start with the heckle instead of the nervous excitement. As soon as I knew it was over, I literally couldn’t hold back the tears. Kind of ugly tears, you know, but it was great.”
Prosser said he held up well.
“The body feels great now because we just won. Ask me again in three hours or in the morning,” he said with a laugh. “It’ll be a different story. Winning cures all pain.”
Prosser and Beranek had a little less than 13 hours to prepare for Crabb and Gibb.
“A lot of rest, a lot of food. A lot of electrolytes, no beer,” he said. “Maybe one beer.”
Lee, another Long Beach State alum, found himself in the main draw after a 21-18, 21-18 win over Ric and Shane Cervantes.
The 36-year-old Lee retired from the USA indoor national team after competing in three Olympics (2008, 2012, 2016).
“I didn’t think that I had four more years of indoor left in me. But as a middle, once you start to lose a little bit of speed, a little bit of vert, you can’t really hang at that level,” Lee said. “I decided to bow out on a good note, I had the opportunity to play in three Olympics. Now I’m going to take a look at this lifestyle, and see how it goes.”
Lee has played five events this year, skipping only New York. Manhattan is his third with Araiza.
“During the transition, I was kind of half in, half out. I kind of got my feet wet in Austin, I basically drowned in my first one. It was an ugly showing, to say the least. I thought that might have been my last tournament. I partnered up with Paul Araiza, a guy who has played for a while. He’s good, he’s from San Diego, and we decided to make a run.
“I’m going to stick with him as long as he’ll have me, and hope to keep qualifying. There’s only one more event. It’s kind of sad that it took this long to qualify, but the transition’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s completely different. I was never a ball control player as a middle, the passing, the setting, it’s a whole different story. The blocking, the hitting, that’s a little bit easier because I feel like I’m a little bit more physical than most of the guys, at least at the qualifier level, so I can get away with just being a big guy.
“I guarantee that won’t be the case tomorrow, when I see a big block I can’t just swing hard angle every single time. I’m enjoying it, and it’s more about enjoying volleyball and not taking it seriously, and that’s a nice change of pace for me.
Of course, the $275 Lee earned Thursday doesn’t compare to the lucrative indoor contracts available overseas. He doesn’t currently have an indoor contract, preferring not to live overseas for an eight-month season, with his sights set on a four-month half season. Last year he won a championship with UPCN in Argentina.
That makes beach more of a hobby for Lee.
“I was kind of apprehensive to see where I wanted to go, to see how much I wanted to invest, because the payoff isn’t really that good, it’s more about just doing it. Right now I’m still trying to play indoor professionally, but to do this, and be somewhat successful, I’m happy. These guys are my friends, I played with them every weekend, so it’s more of a fun scene, but also very competitive, and I’m very happy just to make it in once my first year.”
Top-seeded Paulis found life as the top qualifier seed challenging.
“It was f*ing hard. Sorry about the swearing, but I’m excited. Jeff was ridiculous,” Paulis said.
“Being the number one seed is tough. Because everybody wants to fight you, you’re the one seed, and everybody’s good in Manhattan Beach, it’s not like being the one seed in San Francisco, where there’s like, ten teams, there’s 90 or 100 teams, it’s not easy no matter what your seed is in this tournament.”
Hildreth, who won the NVL’s final event in Long Beach, qualified with Sarah Schermerhorn, surviving a three-set scare by Avery Bush and Camie Manwill 14-21, 21-13, 15-12.
“I think we started out really strong, ” Schermerhorn said. “Kim and I just came into this just wanting to stay positive and have fun. That’s kind of what the sport’s all about, so our goal today was to play like we’ve been training, use the systems that we’ve been practicing, and just stay positive.”
The Florida-based team adapted well to the deep Manhattan Beach sand. “In Florida this time of year, it rains a lot, so some courts get really hard and flat, the ones we train on have a really good drainage system, so it’s a little deeper, it’s not quite like here. But that definitely helps us through the transition, and then playing a couple of days before the tournament definitely helps as well.”
Sixth-seeded USC product Alexa Strange and Hawai’i alum Emily Hartong are two-for-two together in Hermosa (13th) and Manhattan. They defeated Cecilia Agraz and Jade Hayes 21-15, 21-17 to advance to Friday play.
“It’s probably one of the hottest days of the week,” Strange said, “I would say in the 90s, so it’s all about eating and endurance. We played three to get in, and it was a dogfight. We left it all out on the court.”
“The good thing about getting a main draw team is that there’s lots of film. So as soon as we know who we’re playing we can watch, and anticipate our opponent, and come up with some kind of strategy, where in the qualifiers, there’s always a little bit of mystery. There’s a little bit of the element of surprise.”
Friday’s matchups and a photo gallery: