HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — The most difficult moment of Sean Rosenthal’s storied beach volleyball career did not actually, according to him, occur on a beach volleyball court. Wasn’t in Beijing or London. Didn’t happen in any of his 16 finals on the World Tour, or his 37 on the AVP. Wasn’t in any tight three-setter, or when he had to challenge blockers the likes of Phil Dalhausser or Ricardo Santos or Alison Cerutti or any of the other dozen or so future or current hall of famers against whom he sided out.

AVP Hawaii 2019 Thursday men-Sean Rosenthal
Sean Rosenthal/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

That came last Friday night, when Rosenthal had to speak to a crowd of a few hundred in Hermosa Beach, as he was inducted into the CBVA Hall of Fame. Typically a reticent individual off the sand, and a heart-stopping entertainer on it, Rosenthal isn’t one to wax poetic, particularly about himself. But it was just one evening, one in which he had the help of his former partner, Jake Gibb, who introduced Rosenthal, one of the few players in the Hall of Fame’s history to be inducted on his first ballot.

He was inducted alongside Annett Davis, who won a National Championship for UCLA indoors and in 2000, alongside current UCLA beach assistant Jenny Johnson Jordan, became the first African American pair to represent the United States in an Olympic Games.

While Jon Lee, the third inductee, does not have Olympic experience as a player, he was honored as a contributor to the sport. A longtime writer for Volleyball Magazine — when it was still a physical magazine and not the digital only version you’re reading here — Lee still coaches clinics in Santa Barbara.

Chaim Schalk-Theo Brunner-AVP Hermosa
Chaim Schalk (left) and Theo Brunner (right) celebrate a win at AVP Hermosa (Photo/Mpu Dinani)

NORCECA Continentals set for December 9-11

The North America, Central America, Caribbean (NORCECA) Continental Championships that few know even exist, much less happen on an annual basis, are, alas, scheduled and have a set field. The event will be held in the Dominican Republic on December 9-11, one weekend after the AVP’s season-ending Pro Series in Central Florida. Because this is NORCECA, however, one of the most turbulent, volatile organizations in a turbulent, volatile sport, USA Volleyball was given such late notice that there was no traditional qualifier held to determine which team — yes, just one team — would represent the United States. As such, the team with the highest entry point total on the Beach Pro Tour earned their right to compete in the Continental Championships, which actually have enormous Beach Pro Tour implications.

Despite the relative lack of depth in the field, the event is the equivalent in points to that of a Challenger, and it comes without the downside of a poor finish pushing out an event. NORCECAs don’t act like Beach Pro Tour events; they’re “bottom holders” as top Canadian defender Sam Schachter described them in Mexico earlier this year, meaning they can only help you. A good finish counts, a bad finish doesn’t matter — it’s only on the ledger if it boosts your points. Which makes this a huge opportunity for Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, already the top American men’s team, and Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon, who will play the lightest international field of the year, with no potential downside, and the possible points boon of a Challenger equivalent.

The remaining field has not yet been published by NORCECA, although Schachter and Dan Dearing, the No. 1 Canadian pair, has confirmed they will be competing.

Samba, Tijan back on top of Asia, “like we never left”

Last year’s Asian Championships featured one of the more seismic upsets of the beach volleyball year, when Australians Chris McHugh and his new partner, Paul Burnett, stunned the Olympic bronze medalists, Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan of Qatar. It was, if you will, the upset not heard ’round the world.

On Friday in the United States — Saturday in Iran, host of the 2022 Asian Championships — there would be no upset. Ahmed and Tijan, who are currently ranked No. 4 in the world, reclaimed their spot atop the Asian continent, beating McHugh and Burnett in the finals.

“Best way to finish our season,” Samba wrote on Instagram. “Back to the top of Asia like we never left.”

Kelly Cheng-Sara Hughes
Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes win the AVP Huntington Beach//Mark Rigney photo

It’s pronounced Tor-Key, not Tor-Kay

Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have wasted approximately zero time in getting competitive reps together for the first time since 2017. Last weekend at the Huntington Beach Tour Series, they torched five opponents by an average of 21-12.6 per set en route to the easiest AVP win of either of their careers. On Thursday in Torquay, Australia, they’ll make their international debut as the No. 1 seed in the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenger event. They are joined in the main draw by third-seeded Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft.

The only American men’s team making the trip for the Challenger is Tim Brewster and Kyle Friend, who are coming off back-to-back-to-back NORCECA gold medals and a fifth in the Huntington Beach Tour Series. They are currently seeded fourth in the qualifier and will have a bye into the final rounds.

As always, you can watch all the action at Volleyball TV.

Adrian Carambula-Tokyo Olympics
Italy’s Adrian Carambula launches a skyball/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

“Get your popcorn ready”

The United States isn’t the only federation going through some partnership upheaval prior to the onset of Paris qualification. Italy, too, has almost completely flipped itself upside down. The only partnership from the 2022 season that will last more than a year is Sam Cottafava and Paolo Nicolai, as it well should: The two are ranked No. 6 in the world and have an Elite 16 gold medal to their names. As for everyone else?

As Adrian Carambula put it: “Get your popcorn ready.”

Carambula, the skyballing, trash-talking, swaggering defender has returned to his old partner in Alex Ranghieri, with whom he played from 2015 through the Rio Olympic Games, where they finished ninth, and a forgettable 2017 season. After splitting, Carambula had a brief partnership with Gabriele Pasquale in 2018, though they wouldn’t make it out of a single qualifier in seven times trying. He then picked up Enrico Rossi and sprinted back up the ranks, qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

Rossi, however, has bolted for Daniele Lupo, whose brief partnership with Ranghieri failed to live up to the hype. Ranghieri has been a bit of a journeyman since splitting with Carambula, playing a year with Marco Caminati, taking most of 2020 off of competing, before picking up rookie Marco Viscovich, with whom he had moderate success. He and Lupo, the most decorated defender in Italian beach volleyball history, played seven events in 2022 but failed to medal. In their final tournament, the Gstaad Elite 16, they didn’t break pool.

In Torquay, Carambula and Ranghieri are the two seed, while Lupo and Rossi are the four.

The popcorn at this household is popped, ready, and tossed in Old Bay.

Evan Cory
Evan Cory acknowledges a Logan Webber block/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Save some popcorn for AVP in Central Florida

The entry list for the AVP Pro Series in Central Florida has been one of constant tumult and change. Taylor Crabb was initially signed up with Troy Field, but then swapped out Field for Phil Dalhausser, the partnership that everyone has been dying to see since Crabb first appeared on the AVP. Tri Bourne is on a reunion tour with John Hyden, who might be playing the last AVP of his 21-year career, though with Hyden, you just never know. He might have another 21 in him. Logan Webber, honoring a season-long commitment to play all of the Tour Series events with Seain Cook — and, therefore, some of the Pro Series events for which they qualified — dumped his new longterm partner, Evan Cory, for the season-ending event. This left Cory with Paul Lotman…until Lotman bailed on Cory to play the Elite 16 in Torquay, Australia, with Miles Evans the same weekend. What will be done with Evans’ spot, which he held with Andy Benesh, is yet to be seen.

Cory, however, was left without a partner, until last Friday, when he scooped up Marty Lorenz, the journeyman blocker who played five events this season, switching from Caleb Kwekel to Dylan Maarek to Adam Roberts. Lorenz, for his part, is a relatively quiet individual on the court, but Cory has developed a reputation as one of the sport’s more voluble trash talkers, as has their coach, Brad Connors. In a story for AVPAmerica earlier this year, I dubbed Connors the Mouth of the South, which should make this team one of the more entertaining watches. If the AVP isn’t streaming their court, be sure to tune into Cory’s Facebook, with the volume up, for some of the better — if not inappropriate — quips you’ll hear.

Note: By the time you’re reading this, the entry list could have changed even further. So, for your own benefit, here’s the link to the entry list, and you can keep up for yourself, because we sure can’t. 

Cici Agraz and Tani Stephens: Not loud, but notable nonetheless

The women’s field in Central Florida, too, has seen its fair share of changes. Most recently: Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon called it a year, pulling out of both the Torquay Elite 16 and Central Florida. This made room for yet another team from the Huntington Beach Tour Series: Cici Agraz and Tani Stephens, who finished 13th in Huntington Beach.

Central Florida will mark their second Pro or Gold Series main draw of the season, the first coming in Manhattan Beach, where they took 25th.

Isabel Salgado, matriarch of Brazil’s iconic family, passes away

Isabel Salgado, the matriarch of the famous Salgado family, passed away on November 16. The mother of Pedro, Maria Clara, and Carol Salgado, Isabel died of acute respiratory distress syndrome in Sao Paolo. She was 62.

Isabel led the Brazilian national team at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, then again in Los Angeles in 1984. In the 1980s, she became the first Brazilian to play professionally in Europe. She was honored at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a torch bearer.

Her trailblazing legacy will live on in perpetuity. All three of her children continue to have an enormous impact on the game, particularly Pedro and Carol, both of whom medaled at the recent Uberlandia Elite 16 (Pedro claimed silver with Arthur Mariano, Carol finished with bronze with Barbara Seixas and is currently ranked No. 2 in the world).

“Isabel was very important for all Brazilian players,” Brazilian Olympian and current player Maria Antonelli wrote. “Her legacy will be forever in our sport. Big mom, big player, and big woman. Nobody can forget her history and how important she was.”

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