KAUA’I, HAWAI’I — The Dinosaur volleyball tournament on Kalapaki Beach is a special event, where the two players on a team must have a combined age of 80 or older for men and 70 for women.
Teams are awarded a point for every four years that their combined ages exceed their opponents, to a maximum of five points. So anything can happen.
Last weekend was the 26th annual Dinosaur and there were new winners. In the men’s final, Mike Bruning and Tal Shavit edged Eric Fonoimoana and Clint Coe 17-16, while Crystal Meadows and Leilani Ramsey won the women’s title by upsetting three-time defending champions Aurora Pa’aluhi and Tina Damasco 15-12, 11-8 in a double-final.
The Dinosaur, named for its old-school rules designed for old-school players, is a two-man beach tournament: Big court, no antennas, side-out scoring, no let serves, Spalding balls.
“By far the strongest field we’ve ever had,” tournament director David Chaikin said. “I don’t know how many current and former AVP pro players we have, but it seems like there’s almost one on every team.
“It’s obviously a difficult time right now, so I’m surprised we got the turnout we did. I’m hoping for the best in this world, and hope that the tournament can continue on.”
San Diego’s Bruning and Shavit went undefeated throughout the three-day event, winning dramatically on the bad side over 2000 Olympic gold medalist Fonoimoana and Coe.
The gusty winds and setting sun made the bad side especially challenging. When Bruning and Shavit switched over to the bad side at 15-15, it looked like Fonoimoana and Coe would be able to close the game and force a double final.
Shavit and Bruning were able to neutralize their opponent’s jump serves until Shavit was able to one-over a Coe spike to finish the match.
“I’m thinking that we’re going to the bad side, and we’re going to have to focus on our side out,” Shavit said. “It was a very one-sided tournament with the sun and the wind, and Clint was crushing serves. The key to the game was winning on the bad side.”
Bruning got most of the serves down the stretch.
“I just had to get under the serve, get it up, don’t give them any points,” Bruning said. “We held strong on the bad side, and that was the key.”
The Dino win was Bruning’s first after twice finishing second while Shavit previously finished third, fourth and fifth. The team came together almost by accident, as Bruning was originally slated to play with Danny Neiman, and Shavit with Randy Meador, but Neiman opted to play with Lentin, and Meador wasn’t certain that he was available.
In the women’s draw, defending three-time champions Pa’aluhi and Damasco ran through the winners bracket undefeated, setting up the finals, a rematch of the winners-bracket semifinal.
This time, Meadows’ consistency and Ramsey’s power overcame the defending champions 15-12, 11-8 for their first championship. Meadows and Ramsey, who are good friends, were unable to play together until this year under the tournament’s age minimums, Ramsey said.
“Last year, she told me, ‘Next year, you’re finally old enough,’ so I had to come. Crystal played really well. She passed really well, had all the shots, set really well, it was easy to win with her.”
Ramsey lives on nearby O’ahu, while Meadows is from Southern California. Meadows entertained the crowd, frequently dancing in between points, staying loose.
“Dancing really helps,” Meadows said. “We were just trying to play our game. We’re defensive players, so we try and keep it scrappy, more quicker sets, and play good defense without being too concerned about blocking, just keeping the pressure on them.”
Meadows’ and Ramsey’s strategy was to keep the ball deep, maintaining pressure on their opponents.
“We decided to work on deeper shots,” Ramsey said, “and serving deeper to get them off the net, because Aurora was banging everything and Tina set her really well. We wanted to take their game further away from the net so at least they had to work harder to get the ball down. That’s a big key in being successful at the Dinosaur.”
In the new 100s division, Alika Williams and Wayne Kekina won the men’s single-elimination tournament, with Bea Graves and Bree Hannah winning the women’s.
Kekina, by far the oldest player in the tourney at 78, last played in the Dino in 2000, where he and Williams finished second. This year they fell one match short of reaching Sunday, finishing in 13th place.
Kekina, along with partner Chris Crabb, is the reigning gold medalist in the 2017 World Games 70s division in New Zealand, and plans to defend his title in the May 2021 World Games in Kansai, Japan.
Williams, a former AVP pro with a fifth place AVP Manhattan Beach Open finish in 2002, covered the bulk of the court at a spry 44 years of age.
“It’s pretty exciting to play the Dino,” Kekina said, “because in the last tournament that we played in 2000, we got second, it’s really satisfying to come out and get a win in the 100’s.
In the women’s 100s, the oldest woman in the draw, 64-year-old Bea Graves, had a blast in her first Dino. Graves, who has played for 54 years, is now a Dino fan.
“Today’s win was awesome. It feels really, really good to win. Forever, I’ve been the oldest girl that plays anywhere,” Graves said.
“But since I’ve been playing masters and Dino’s, I’m meeting all these other women now in their 60s that are still playing volleyball, it’s awesome.”
Note: full gallery of photos will be posted Friday.