Mewhirter: Laguna Open that starts Saturday “always delivers”

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Everyone had a good time at last year's Laguna Open/Photo courtesy of Mike Brunsting

The $5,000 Men’s Laguna Open, which started in 1955, is Saturday and Sunday.

From the organizers’ Facebook page:

Come join us on historic Laguna Main Beach for the 62nd Annual Men’s $5000 Laguna Open pro beach volleyball tournament June 3-4, brought to you by the City of Laguna Beach and The California Beach Volleyball Association. The best players in the world have all come through Laguna, and this tournament is once again featuring some of the best young talent in the sport. This is the longest running “open” or highest level tournament in the world.

VBM’s Travis Mewhirter, who is playing in the tournament, breaks it down as only he can:

Perhaps it would be most appropriate to begin with the finals.

But that isn’t what I remember most about the 2016 Laguna Open. I doubt it’s what anybody remembers most about the 2016 Laguna Open. (If we’re all being honest, free chocolate milk from the angels at Yoo-hoo might actually be what I remember the most).

In much the same way that the Olympic Games delivered its most memorable matches in the quarterfinals — Dalhausser and Lucena vs. Alison and Bruno; the unforgettable marathon between Cuba and Russia — so, too, did Laguna.

Skyler McCoy and Jon Mesko played Chase Frishman and Mike Brunsting in one of those weirdly indelible matches where nothing was on the line. They were both in the winner’s bracket and yet everything, it seemed, was on the line. 

Laguna, of course, cooperated perfectly. The water had that milky turquoise look that’s mostly reserved for postcards and calendars. The sun decided to set rather magnificently. The crowd was enormous, as the match was one of the final matches to be played that day. And, given that it was Chase and Brunsting, the crowd was also decorated with Southern California’s finest hecklers, the peerless “Frishie’s Friends,” as they’ve come to be known.

They come armed with their stocked coolers and noise-making contraptions — most recently they invested in a perfectly named “butt snorkeler” which was quite the hit in Austin — and insults that dance between family friendly and put the ear muffs on the kids.

Even those who had nothing invested in match were treated to fine volleyball and spectacular sideline entertainment.

I don’t remember who won the first and second sets, but I do know that it went to three, and McCoy and Mesko jumped out to a 5-0 lead. In almost any beach volleyball match, this would be about time to call it a day. The fat lady’s singing.

But, of course, this was Chase and Mike, against whom I will never, ever, ever bet. Chase moves like a Lamborghini and hits as hard as anyone on the beach. Mike is a model of efficiency. 

They stormed right back, and I think they won 15-13, but the score doesn’t really matter. The match was just that good.

“That embodies beach volleyball for me: A boardwalk, all your friends, good heckling, professional environment, ocean, surfing, sun, girls, cocktails, good food,” Mesko told me a few months later. “Just that kind of environment, that’s what drew me into beach volleyball, that experience right there. I’ll think about that for the rest of my life.”

Can we be promised a match like that this year? It’s difficult to promise anything, but this much is certain: Laguna will deliver.

It always delivers.

The Favorites: Moscow Mules, defending champs, world travelers, 7-foot tea addicts

The field is better than last year. Hands down. No way around it. The 2016 Laguna Open coincided with AVP Seattle, which drew the majority of the top players. Historically, Laguna has been a popular landing spot of upper-to mid-tier main draw players, not a big enough deal to attract the international guys like Dalhausser, Lucena, Gibb, etc., but too fun for essentially anyone else on the West Coast to turn down.

With no AVP tournament to compete with, this year’s field is rather stacked. Sean Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb got booted in Wednesday’s country quota in Russia –- congratulations to Billy Allen and Stafford Slick for making it through the ensuing qualifier and into the main draw — and decided last minute to sign up.

It’s similar to what Chase and Brunsting did last year. They lost to Kevin McColloch and Roberto Rodriguez-Bertran in the Seattle qualifier, hopped on a flight home, showed up at Laguna and came away with a few grand. 

Not a bad decision.

Most rational human beings would slate Rosenthal — his “novice” CBVA rating is one of the funnier things you’ll see in beach volleyball — and Crabb as the runaway favorites to win.

But it’s also going to take some consistently high-level volleyball to do so.

Ed Ratledge and Eric Zaun are probably playing the best volleyball out of any other team in the tournament, and they haven’t been sucking down Moscow Mules all week or traveling across continents.

I mentioned that I would never bet against Chase and Mike, the defending champs, and I won’t here.

An influx of new – sort of, since most “new” teams have played together before -– teams will also be fun to watch.

There’s Miles Evans and Marty Lorenz, who have a fifth and two thirds on the AVP Tour between them. Miles doesn’t play many AVPs, but he’s a top-flight defender and Billy Kolinske’s current padawan. He won the annual tournament up in Seaside, Oregon last year with Marty, beating Derek Olson and Paul Araiza in a jam-packed final (if you want to see highlights, just scroll through Miles’s Instagram).

The Ty and Tyrone show –- Ty Tramblie and Ty Loomis –- is no longer, and Tramblie has teamed with Avery Drost. Avery is deceptively one of the most impressive all-around beach volleyball players in the country. He has taken a third place playing on the left side and the right, as a blocker and as a defender. I don’t know what he does best. I’m not sure if he does, either, but there is not a single element he does not do at the highest level.   

Avery had been set to play defense this season behind the enormous Robbie Page, but Page remains steadfast in his convictions that the AVP contract wasn’t in his best interest. This is, oddly, Robbie’s first tournament this season (he’s been keeping himself busy with his tea business), and he will have Raffe Paulis, who made the main draw in Austin, to play defense behind him.

This season has taken an interesting –- and fun –- turn for Jon Mesko. When Piotr Marciniak decided to drop the NVL and head for the AVP Tour, Mesko made the wise and prescient move to pick up Skylar DelSol, who is now likely the best player on the NVL. Together, they qualified for a few NORCECAs, and have since played in tournaments in La Paz and the Cayman Islands and have a very stressful upcoming trip to Jamaica. They’ve proven they can beat some of the best teams the U.S. –- and the rest of the world –- has to offer.

CBVA All-Stars: I’ve dubbed this section the “CBVA All-Stars” because the middle 10-15 teams are exactly that: Individuals who dominate the CBVA circuit but haven’t quite been able to consistently play at the next level.

Take Jorge Martinez, for example. This dude is a CBVA monster. He’s made the semis or finals in 13 of his last 15 CBVA tournaments (the only two occasions he has not made at least the semifinals are when he has partnered with yours truly, which was a really depressing fact for me to stumble upon). He’s playing with Spencer Sauter, a Penn State guy who hasn’t been in California long enough to qualify as a “CBVA All-Star” just yet but he’s well on his way. 

Kyle Stevenson is still attempting to establish himself as the Lars Fluggen of California, rocking a fedora during tournaments like the German Olympian. Stevenson and his lefty partner, Chris Long, are always contending in CBVAs, winning two in 2016.    

Of course, you have Santa Barbara’s finest in Ric Cervantes and Mike Stewart, the sixth- and fourth-ranked players on the CBVA, respectively. If they ever bothered to play tournaments outside of CBVAs they’d probably surprise some people. For now, they seem content running the CBVA, keeping the Santa Barbara scene alive.

Ben Vaught and Branden Clemens haven’t actually won a CBVA this year, but they also haven’t finished outside of the semifinals.

Jeff Samuels and Andrew Dentler should be excellent offensively while providing some comedic relief defensively. Neither has ever played defense, but they also took Marty Lorenz and Adam Roberts to three sets in a NORCECA qualifier, so hey, maybe the best defense is a good offense.

The 11th-hour addition of Mike Boag and Mark Burik should be an interesting one as well. Boag is a rocket scientist –- seriously, his major was astrophysics –- and Burik’s beach volleyball IQ reaches rocket science levels as well.

Gentle Giants and soon-to-be dads: The Gentle Giants –- Alejandro Parra and Paul Lotman –- couldn’t really qualify as CBVA All-Stars, since Lotman is still only rated A (technically, he can say he’s ranked higher than Sean Rosenthal, that novice sandbagger). His rating dragged them down to the middle-bottom of the bracket, which could provide for a first-round upset, and a long road through the contender’s bracket for a top-flight team.

When I moved out to California, Jake Dietrich was one of the first players that I met. I thought Jake Dietrich was God. Goodness gracious gosh almighty could that dude bounce a ball and set butter. I made it my mission to be able to, one day, play a tournament with Dietrich. And then, as soon as I finally get to around that level, he does all this adult stuff like get a job and get married and have a kid on the way. Family men. Can’t live with ‘em. But he has come out of his pseudo-retirement for this one, playing with Eric Beranek, who, judging from his Instagram stories, practices at least 15 times per week.

Another soon-to-be father is Jason Medero, who is likely playing in his final CBVA. With the kid on the way, he and his wife are moving to North Carolina. Jay has been one of my good buds since I moved to California, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say a bad word about a single person. He’s been a fixture in Huntington Beach volleyball for the past few years, so give him a warm farewell, and maybe even throw a few serves his way.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Awesome, penetrating insights from a guy inside the world of beach volleyball! Well written, Mssr. MeWhirter.

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