MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Take a look at the stats of the 2022 AVP Manhattan Beach Open women’s final, the one between Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske, and Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint.
They’ll tell you everything and nothing about this sport.
View those numbers alone — blocks, errors, digs, aces, hitting percentage — and anyone who understands basic math would peg the same winner, every time: The match must have gone to Cheng and Flint. They led every single category. Hit three less errors, sided out at a clip eight percent higher, tallied three more blocks, four more digs, and five more points.
They led every single statistical category save for the one that mattered most: Sets won.
That number belongs to Hughes and Kolinske alone, as they displayed one of the grittiest, toughest performances on the AVP to date, coming back from being down 13-10 in the third set to win the biggest event on the beach volleyball calendar, 21-18, 11-21, 15-13.
“As a team we’ve been there before,” Kolinske said. “We’ve made some major comebacks in important games. We just know that no matter what the score is we always have a chance because we’re fighters. That was huge for us. It was an awesome comeback.”
Oh, they’re fighters, all right. How else to explain their ability to climb out of a second set that they lost by 10, hit in the negatives, and piled up nine errors — only to reverse course at the exact right moment, when it seemed almost inevitable that the Manhattan Beach Pier would soon bear the names of their opponents?
It’s a numbers-based sport, beach volleyball. All percentages and tendencies. And yet there is no wearable, no tracking device, no statistical category that can measure the heart and gumption shown by Kolinske and Hughes on Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dain Blanton said on the livestream.
Surprised? Not Hughes and Kolinske after scoring the last five points of the match.
“We knew we were due,” Kolinske said.
No team in the United States was more due than them.
Hughes and Kolinske had made the semifinals in their previous three AVP tournaments, falling narrowly in all three. In Sunday morning’s semifinal, they avenged a loss in the Hermosa Beach to Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil with a 21-19, 21-18 win in Manhattan. Cheng and Flint, already with the New Orleans title in hand and coming off a gold medal at the Volleyball World Hamburg Elite 16, awaited.
It made for a final replete with storylines and plots to follow: Not one but two former partners, now pitted against one another. Cheng and Hughes will likely forever be known as the greatest college beach team of all-time, winners of multiple national championships and 103 straight matches won at USC. Hughes, who had never met her former college teammate in a pro final, was 6-9 against her and had lost the last six matchups.
Flint and Kolinske, meanwhile, cut their teeth on the professional tour together, making their first main draws together, winning their first events together.
Now both teams are competing for the same AVP titles, same Olympic berths, same prize money. Now they comprise two of the top three ranked American teams on both the AVP and Volleyball World Beach Pro Tours. And now it is Kolinske and Hughes getting their first win as a team, three months after Cheng and Flint did the same, making it six consecutive AVP Gold and Pro Series tournaments with a different women’s victor.
“I don’t even know what’s happening right now to be honest but I’m so happy,” Hughes said. “I’m so happy for Kelley. We’ve worked so hard for this moment.”
The moment is theirs for eternity, as their names will be cemented into the Manhattan Beach Pier a year from now, alongside the other hallowed names of this sport. And when pedestrians strolling down the pier look at the names, they won’t know who blocked more balls or served more aces. They won’t know who hit a higher percentage or dug the other attacker better. All they’ll know is the only statistic that matters: Which team won.
They’ll know that the 2022 AVP Manhattan Beach Open was won by Kelley Kolinske and Sara Hughes.