MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Emily Day and Brittany Hochaver went back-to-back.
The defending women’s champions beat Nicole Branagh and Brandie Wilkerson in Sunday’s championship match 21-18, 21-18.
The men’s title went to Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who beat Sean Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb 23-25, 21-18, 15-10.
Earlier Sunday, Day and Hochevar got past Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes 21-14, 18-21, 16-14, while Branagh and Wilkerson grinded past April Ross and Lauren Fendrick 16-21, 21-19, 15-10 in a match that took an hour, 5 minutes.
In the men’s semifinals, Dalhausser and Lucena knocked out Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson 15-21, 21-16, 15-11, while Rosenthal and Crabb moved past senior statesmen Reid Priddy and Ricardo Santos 21-15, 22-20 in a contentious match both physically and verbally.
The gold series win was not only Day and Hochevar’s second consecutive Manhattan win, but the duo’s third California win this year. And sure, you can say that Huntington Beach and Hermosa Beach weren’t full field tournaments, with some of the top teams playing abroad, but not so in Manhattan, as this event featured all of the top American talent.
Opponents Branagh and Wilkerson, dubbed team Bran-Bran by AVP announcer Mark Schuermann, made a spectacular run through the competition in their first event together, only having the benefit of practicing together four times prior to competition. Both of their losses were to Day and Hochevar.
Their first meeting was in the second round, where Day and Hochevar’s superior teamwork carried the day rather easily 21-17, 21-9.
Branagh and Wilkerson responded by putting together a six-match win streak to bring them to the finals, improving each round. Their wins culminated in a semifinal three-set win against top-seeded Lauren Fendrick and April Ross 16-21, 21-19, 15-10.
Hochevar acknowledged the athleticism of the No. 15 seed.
“Nicole is Nicole. She’s an Olympian, she’s a winner, she’s a baller, she’s a warrior. Brandie is freaky athletic. I mean, you saw her. Her block jump gets her chest above the net. She’s left handed, she puts a spin on the ball where even if I’m there, I was having difficulty controlling it.
“They’re both ballers on the world stage, so we knew that ‘OK, they might be a new team,’ and they might have some communications issues, but other than that, if they just do them, they’re going to be a tough team to beat. I feel honored that they were such worthy opponents for the final. Seed had nothing to do with that at all.”
After the match, Hochevar had difficulty absorbing the fact that she and Day had won consecutive Manhattan Beach Opens.
“What does it mean to me?” I don’t know if I’ve digested it quite yet.
“It’s one thing to learn how to win, and another thing to consistently win. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to keep consistently winning. For us to win the three California stops, now in the same calendar year, and then to go back-to-back with Manhattan Beach, it’s kind of one of those things where our adjustments are micro-adjustments, and it’s a fun head space to play.”
Day’s keys to the match were all on her own side.
“The key for us, was that we had some strategy, but then most of it was our side. Pass, set, come in hard and aggressive, Brandie is a great blocker, Nicole is a great defender, but we needed to play with each other, and within ourselves, staying aggressive and enjoying ourselves out there.”
Day’s subsequent celebration itinerary included a visit to Shellback Tavern, the local watering hole above the pier.
“Shellback! Drinks on us!”
Most of the women’s tour has been in the shadows for the last decade, with all of the limelight going to stars Kerri Walsh Jennings, Misty May, and April Ross. With the three California wins, and the back-to-back Manhattan open wins, Hochevar and Day are beginning to step out of the shadows and create a bit of recognition on their own.
“I lived with Misty my senior year at Long Beach State,” Hochevar said, “when she first started on the world tour. Even though I had an indoor career to finish on the national team and what-not, I recently re-visited her game film.
“I’m watching game film of Misty, what made them such a dominant team at that time. And the moves that she makes, the composure that she keeps, I pulled her out of retirement for a hot second, but channeling a lot of what Misty did, and what she did for this sport, is important for me. She is near and dear to my heart.
“To step into the light, is a decision, it’s a choice, and it’s hard. It’s hard to step out and say, this is me. This is how I play, this is my style of game, this is who I want to be in the sport, and leaving your mark, and it’s a little bit of your legacy project.
“I would like my nieces to watch, and say, ‘Yeah, this is cool. This is what I want to do, I want to be a killer.’”
Men’s winners Dalhausser and Lucena didn’t have much to say as they raced to a 5:50 flight at LAX, headed for the World Tour finals in Hamburg, Germany, that starts Tuesday.
Dalhausser, who will have six plaques on the pier with this win, finally gets Tim Hovland off his back.
“It’s sweet (to win)every time.” Dalhausser said in the post-match interview with AVP announcer Mark Schuermann.
“I just want to let the Hov know, I have six now. (Hovland has five Manhattan wins according to popular site BVBinfo.com) “Hats off to Trevor and Rosie, they played great. It was a great tournament, see you next year.”
Lucena, who earned his second plaque this weekend, took a few seconds to acknowledge the win before heading to the airport.
“It’s unbelievable, this is the grand-daddy of the AVP, and to win it, you’re with all the legends, Dodd, Hovland, Stoklos, Smith, Menges, it’s awesome. I’m pretty happy.”