Last weekend’s Pacific Beachfest Invitational in San Diego had an altered format this year, going from a doubles invitational to a “king of the beach.”
Eight players per gender were invited and the combination of temperatures reaching an unseasonably warm 88 degrees and a format that required a minimum of eight sets took its toll on the competitors.
When it was all over, Leah DeKok and Jeff Samuels were the big winners.
After two rounds of pool play, DeKok and Lynne Galli emerged as the finalists. DeKok, 31, is one of the top blockers on the AVP qualifying tour, with a high finish of 13th. Galli, 37, is a hard-working defender with a best finish of 9th in 2016.
Galli finished with the best point ratio and was given first partner selection. She chose Amanda Wiggins. Galli and Wiggins played together extensively in 2014, with a high finish of 13th at AVP Huntington Beach.
DeKok chose Katie Meyers as her partner in the championship final. Meyers, 28, just completed her first season competing professionally, with a best finish of 21st.
“Katie and I have played pretty regularly,” DeKok said, “and I’ve obviously played with Lynne and Amanda, but I picked her since she was fresh and we had just played, and she’s a great player.”
DeKok knows both Galli and Wiggins well, having played three events with Wiggins and two with Galli. The pair appeared fresher than their opponents in the 21-18, 21-15 win.
DeKok felt fortunate after narrowly escaping from pool play.
“The first two pools weren’t great, I barely snuck out of both, but I didn’t get served much, so I didn’t get much of an opportunity to get into rhythm. Even in the finals, we won, but Katie did 90 percent of the work.”
DeKok was exhausted after the win, but had nothing but praise for the new format.
“I love the format. I think it’s fun to do something like this rather than the regular partner format, it’s a nice break or refresher for everyone,” DeKok said.
“It’s a lot of playing, I’m definitely gassed. I cramped after we were done. I would definitely love it if they kept the format for next year.”
On the men’s side, Samuels and Ian Satterfield emerged from a competitive field to compete for the men’s championship.
Samuels, 31, switched from the NVL tour to the AVP this year, earning two ninth-place finishes. Satterfield, 26, is enjoying a remarkably consistent year, with six 13th- or 17th-place finishes.
Samuels, who earned first choice, selected Gabriel Ospina for the finals. Ospina, 24, competed primarily with Paul Lotman this year with a high finish of third in NVL Long Beach and 17th in AVP Chicago.
“He’s fresh, he’s hungry, he balls. With some guys, and I can be in this category, you don’t always know what you’re going to get. With him, I knew exactly what I was getting, and he lived up to expectations,” Samuels said.
“That’s exactly what I needed, someone with energy, because I didn’t have much. We did what we could with what we had at the time. That’s a testament to today, because it was wicked for a while.”
Satterfield chose Tal Shavit, 31, a diminutive lefty with a big jump. Shavit’s best finish this year was 21st in Huntington and San Francisco.
Samuels and Ospina had just enough to take the championship in a 17-21, 21-18, 15-9 win.
“It was a heck of a time, I mean there were a few points today when I didn’t think I was going to make it, 90 degrees in San Diego with humidity was tough.
“Focusing on what we could control helped us out in the finals. I wasn’t feeling great, obviously, but grinding on and taking each play as hard as we can.
“Being grateful for each play really helped us out today, and attitude and rhythm and all that really helped us out.
Samuels was playing on fumes in the finals.
“I was cramping since the pool before the finals, I was breathing as well as I could, and it would go away, and then it would come back, and it went away at the end in the finals, I didn’t hit a ball in the last two sets.
“The first set I hit a bunch, hit some out, but that took too much energy, and I just hit shots the rest of the way. That’s weird for me to say, but I didn’t think I had anything else, but I pulled it out, and I’m so grateful for it.”