Beach Bytes: Hughes-Fendrick making late Olympic push, Casebeer partners with Rosenthal

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Beach Bytes volleyball 1/9/2020-Lauren Fendrick
Lauren Fendrick signals no touch on the play/Allen Szto photography

New pro beach partnerships: Sara Hughes and Lauren Fendrick and Jeremy Casebeer and Sean Rosenthal.

And maybe Casebeer knew he and Rosenthal would play together again one day. Maybe he didn’t. What he did know, however, was that there remained unfinished business. The four AVPs they played together in 2016 were, at most, a tease of what they could have been.

“We made a final our first tournament which was epic,” said Casebeer, who was referencing AVP New York in 2016, where they finished second, losing to Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in the finals. “We had a couple other good finishes.”

But they were in different phases of life. Different goals. Different plans. Casebeer was back and forth to Brazil. Rosenthal was still considering traveling on the World Tour, and their results overseas had been underwhelming. So they split, temporarily, as Rosenthal turned to Trevor Crabb — and eventually Chase Budinger, Ricardo Santos, David Lee and Brian Cook — and Casebeer went to John Mayer, Reid Priddy and Chaim Schalk.

Now, though, after a fair amount of movement on the men’s side, they’re back. And this time it seems it’s the right fit, with the same mindset and goals being shared.

“I felt like we had more potential in us, so when Chaim decided to go with Chase I decided to give him a call,” Casebeer said. “And we’re gonna run it back.”

Neither Rosenthal, 39, or Casebeer, 31, have expressed any desire to play overseas. Casebeer was recently hired by UCLA as the volunteer assistant coach and is taking classes to earn a certificate in sustainability. As beach volleyball goes, their focus is on the AVP.

That may not be the focus of another partnership shift on the women’s end. Hughes and Fendrick have partnered for the 2020 season, with designs of making a late push for the Tokyo Olympics.

“Right now, for Lauren and I, we are putting our heads down and working as hard as possible to make a run for 2020,” Hughes said. “We’re very focused on our team and our goals. I’m very excited to be on the court with a former Olympian with all of her experience and how dedicated she is to constantly getting better and wanting to be one of the best teams in the world.”

Hughes, 24, played the previous two seasons with Summer Ross and, when healthy, they were one of the most promising teams in the United States and, by extension, the world. They finished the 2018 season as the highest-ranked American team on the World Tour, winning bronze in Espinho, Portugal and gold in Moscow, Russia. But a back injury to Ross limited their schedule, and Hughes played the remainder of the AVP season with Canadian Brandie Wilkerson and competed in the FIVB Chetumal four-star with fellow USC Trojan Terese Cannon.

The 37-year-old Fendrick, meanwhile, a 2016 Olympian, has not competed since p1440’s first event, in September of 2018 in San Jose.

After placing seventh with Nicole Branagh, Fendrick and husband Andrew Fuller, the Stanford beach coach, announced that they would be having their first child. Willa Jaye Fendrick Fuller was born on June 3, and after taking some maternity leave, Mom is now back on the World Tour, where she last played with Sarah Sponcil in Moscow.

There is time for Hughes and Fendrick to compete in the 12 events required to qualify for the Olympics, though their climb is an uphill one. There are more than 12 three-, four-, and five-star events in the remaining qualification period, which closes at the Rome five-star.

“Sights are set full focus on 2020,” Hughes wrote on Instagram. “Bring it on.”

The pre-season partner shuffle has been going on for more than a month now. On the men’s side, the new major developments include: Chase Budinger and Chaim Schalk, Casey Patterson and Troy Field, Tim Bomgren and Theo Brunner.

The women’s side has remained mostly quiet, though Corinne Quiggle and Falyn Fonoimoana are going to extend their end-of-season partnership into 2020. After competing all season with Amanda Dowdy, Quiggle played the final two NORCECAs of the year with Fonoimoana, and they didn’t drop a single match, losing only two sets in both tournaments and their respective qualifiers. Fonoimoana had played with a number of partners in 2019, including Nicolette Martin, Pri Piantadosi-Lima, and Alexa Strange.

Sarah Hughes hustles for the high line/Mark Rigney photography

SOB Volleyball Vacations — The span from November to January typically represents off season for the pros, a chance to take a break, recharge, and recalibrate.  Some pros avoid the beach or hit the gym for some cross training, some head to Rio or Australia and compete in new environs, some hit the slopes or coach, and some give a little back to the sport on an SOB Volleyball Vacation.

SOB’s two Puerto Vallarta Trips last month hosted a dozen AVP Pros teaching clinics, where more than 200 beach volleyball junkies were coached at the Hard Rock Puerto Vallarta. Longtime SOB pros Billy Allen and Janelle Allen were joined by a cast of professionals that included Troy Field, Brent Doble, Kelley Larsen, Emily Stockman, Ty Tramblie, Geena Urango, Jeremy Casebeer, Kendra VanZwieten, and first timers Irene Pollock and Chaim Schalk.

The next stop — sold out to more than 200 players and 11 professionals — is in Ixtapa, Mexico, on January 18-25. The final volleyball vacation will be hosted March 7-14 trip in Cabo San Lucas.

For additional information and results, you can go to www.sobvolleyballvactions.com and check out photos from previous events at SOBVolleyballPhotos.

Volleyball Vacations stopped in Ixtapa, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Russ Dix. 

Beach season begins in Iran — The 2020 beach volleyball season began this week not at The Hague, where it has typically opened the year, but in Qeshm Islands, Iran, for a one-star and the inaugural Dargahan Cup. Three Iranian teams have made the semifinals, and the other remaining team is the eight-seed from Qatar, Saifeddine Elmajid and Benlouaer Ziad.

January beach calendar — There’s just one tournament and yours truly is in it.

It’s the FIVB Cook Islands one-star January 14-17 off the coast of New Zealand. I’ll be with Adam Roberts; the other Americans competing are Earl Schultz and Chris Austin.

Gibb USAV POY — Brace yourselves for the “Jake Gibb is like a fine wine…” jokes. Earlier this week, the 43-year-old won his fourth USA Volleyball Player of the Year award, his second straight.

“What an insane honor to be named USA Beach Player of the Year!” Gibb wrote on Instagram. “This doesn’t happen without Taylor [Crabb] as my partner. What an amazing talent and even better dude.”

Gibb and Crabb won their first international medal in the final event of the 2019 season, claiming gold in the Chetumal four-star, which jumped them to the top of the American Olympic race. On the AVP, they were far and away the best team, winning four of six events and taking second and third in the two they didn’t win.

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