LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — Tim Bomgren and Stafford Slick are both fathers of three, so “our jokes,” Bomgren said, “are better than yours.”
So, too, somehow, will their beach volleyball.
Bomgren’s ability to play beach volleyball at the highest level without many — if any — reps during the off-season, and many of the in-season, months is well-documented by this point. Slick, who retired in 2020, 10 years after making his first AVP main draw, has had enough repetitions by this juncture in his 37 years that, while he may not be in the same shape as, say, the Stafford Slick of 2017, when he won his first AVP, suffice it to say that he’ll be just fine.
“We’ll probably split-block to unleash the sand panther in Slick,” Bomgren said, cracking the first of what should be many jokes this weekend in Laguna Beach. “On a serious note, I’m excited, as we’re a natural fit, left and right side, blocker and defender.”
The fun and talented pairing of Slick and Bomgren, who have never played together before, despite both hailing from Minnesota, is a perfect proxy for the majority of the field of this weekend’s Laguna Open, a $25,000 event that is viewed as almost a high-level exhibition, a reprieve from the full schedule from both the AVP and Volleyball World this season. Five AVP champions are signed up on the men’s side — Paul Lotman, Andy Benesh, Slick, David Lee, Taylor Crabb — yet none are playing with their usual partners. Lotman is seeded first with Troy Field; Benesh fourth with Silila Tucker; Slick fifth with Bomgren; Lee seventh with Seain Cook; Crabb 10th with 16-year-old Ford Harman. Crabb’s usual partner, Taylor Sander, is teaming up with his brother, Brenden, the man behind the camera of so much of their online content this AVP season, in which Crabb and Sander have made three AVP finals.
“It’s the most stacked CBVA of all time but you’ll see players team up that wouldn’t normally play together,” Benesh said. “It’s more of an event that you want to be a part of to enjoy the Laguna Beach volleyball community and wind down after the long AVP season.”
The serious tournaments will resume soon enough, with the AVP Phoenix Championships looming in two weeks, and a full international slate in October and November. That fall Volleyball World schedule has also turned Laguna into a makeshift partnership testing or reuniting as well. Evan Cory and Logan Webber, partners during the 2021 season, split to learn from a pair of veterans in 2022: Cory with Bill Kolinske, Webber with John Hyden. Their apprenticeships now finished, they’re back together, seeded third in Laguna as they seek both a high level tournament and in-game reps before hitting the road this fall.
“Evan is just really mad that I won it last year without him, so he really wanted to win it this year,” said Webber, jokingly, who did, indeed, win in 2021 with Seain Cook. “It’s also an incredibly fun tournament in one of the coolest beaches in California. Really was a highlight of last season for me. Really going to be fun to just go out and play without a ton at stake for the first time in a while.”
“I’m super excited for this tournament,” Cory added. “First, not being from California, this is one of the tournaments that everyone talks about that you need to play in your life so I’m excited for that. Second, when you look at the list of teams, it’s a great chance to get some really high level reps in competition that’s only an hour from home. For us, that’s huge, as we haven’t had the chance to compete at all with each other this year. Lastly, it’s just a great chance to go and ball out with one of my best friends and have a lot of fun.”
The women’s side, combining with the men for just the second time in 67 years, features much of the same: Loads of talent, a smattering of serious partnerships, a few whimsical ones. A pair of talented defenders, Savvy Simo and Geena Urango, who have never before played together, top the seeding. Directly behind Simo and Urango is Sarah Pavan and Mackenzie Ponnet, who played together in Manhattan Beach and finished ninth. Another Canadian, Brandie Wilkerson, the silver medalist at the World Championships alongside Sophie Bukovec, is competing with good friend Victoria Corcoran, whose usual partner, twin sister Veronica, has missed this season with a shoulder injury.
“Laguna is such a legendary tournament, just like the Manhattan Beach Open,” said Simo, who played the final five events of the AVP season alongside Emily Day. “There’s some insane competition but with slightly less pressure than playing in a Gold Series event. it’s another local event to go to to get high level reps, compete against the best, and have the best time doing it.”
The women feature more legitimate partnerships who have played a number of events together. Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft are seeded third, Molly Turner and Carly Skjodt fifth, Delaney Mewhirter and Kelly Reeves sixth, Jessica Gaffney and Megan Rice eighth, and Katie Spieler and Carly Wopat twelfth. A few other first-time partnerships round out a thick field in the main draw: Teegan Van Gunst and Kim Hildreth, Chelsea Rice and Macy Jerger, Megan Gebhard and Nicci Reinking, and Abby Van Winkle and Amy Ozee.
The Laguna Open begins with Friday’s qualifier, after which the main draw, featuring a $25,000 purse, will be played on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s clear that people know that the Laguna Open is a high level tournament but also super fun,” Delaney Mewhirter said. “You can see that from the teams who are signing up. There are teams coming together for the sole purpose of having a great time.”