As you walk the Manhattan Beach Pier, you can’t help but notice the two rows of engraved plaques that commemorate the winners of the annual beach volleyball extravaganza.
So many of the great men’s players are there, from Gene Selznick, to Ron Von Hagen and Ron Lang, to Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos, to Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd, to Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes.
And Pepe Delahoz.
Indeed, because 21 years ago the Colombian from Cartagena teamed with Sean Scott and won the 1998 Manhattan Beach Open, beating Hovland and Brandon Taliferro 15-8 in the final.
“All the stars aligned,” Delahoz recalled. “And they aligned for the biggest tournament of my career.”
That year the AVP was unable to come to terms with the city of Manhattan Beach, which owns the tournament. So the city put on the Manhattan Beach Open.
Delahoz competed on the Colombian indoor national team as a 6-foot-1 outside hitter before his family moved to the United States in 1987.
Both Delahoz and Scott were on an upward trajectory in the late ‘90s.
Delahoz had moved down from San Jose in 1997 after competing in pro grass events in Northern California. His regular partner was Doc Smith, and they were starting to enjoy success on the AVP Qualifying tour.
But Smith was stung by a bee the week prior, and didn’t know if he would be ready to play. In the meantime, Delahoz received a call from Scott to see if he would play. Both had San Diego roots, and had played a few tournaments together.
“Scott was a great player, a good blocker,” Delahoz said. “I had to make a decision, and I said, ‘Let’s go Sean Scott.’”
Scott, a 6-5 blocker from Kailua, Hawai’i, was in his second year of competition on the AVP tour after playing indoors for the University of Hawai’i.
“It was nice to have Sean Scott,” Delahoz said. “He was becoming one of the top players on the AVP at that time. He was young then, you could tell that he was a ‘Rookie of the Year’ type of player.”
The AVP’s top 100 ranked players weren’t allowed to compete in the 1998 MBO because of the concurrent AVP Minneapolis event, opening the door for up-and-comers Pepe Delahoz and Sean Scott.
“We were 101 and 102,” Scott said, “it just happened this way, ‘Oh, we can play.’”
Scott did go on to earn “AVP Rookie of the Year” honors in 1999, and his 15-year career generated $775,421 in earnings as well as 28 AVP and FIVB wins. Scott currently works for USA volleyball as its director of the beach national teams.
“It was a lot of fun,” Scott recalled. “Pepe was a lot of fun to play with. If you watch him play, you know he plays with a lot of emotion, a lot of positive energy. It was really easy to play and partner with someone like that, because if you’re tired, you’re having a bad day, you can kind of lean on his emotion, he’s really passionate about the sport.”
Incredibly, they got to the final.
“I didn’t think I would dominate the Manhattan Open, I just couldn’t believe it. Everything that we were doing was working.”
Hovland had taken a break from full-time competition two years earlier but was still one of the sport’s all-time greats. Taliaferro was a former setter for UCLA.
“Taliaferro, he was a great player, but he was coming from indoors at UCLA, won a couple of NCAA championships, he was a hot player indoors, but he wasn’t as seasoned on the beach as we were,” Delahoz said.
“We served Taliaferro as much as we could. We got off to an early lead, but they brought it back to 9-8, and then we just took off.”
Scott, who went on to add MBO wins in 2011 and 2012 with John Hyden, recalled the slow pace of the match.
“I remember the Hov taking an inordinate amount of time between serves and side changes. If I remember correctly they fell into loser’s bracket early and came all the way back through the losers, so he was just exhausted, so every side change, or moment, he would just sit on the cooler and hydrate. I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is really going slow.’”
Delahoz, who turns 51 in October, works for Card Connect Partnerships, and is engaged to Jenina Rada. Delahoz has three children, Filine (age 11), Alyna (6), and 9-month-old Alejandro. He still keeps his hand in at the Cohasset Courts in San Diego, but has cut his volleyball schedule back to just Saturdays since Alejandro’s arrival.
His passion for the game is obvious.
“Volleyball was great,” Delahoz said. “I was able to travel, I was able to make enough money to support myself. I always had so much passion for it, it didn’t matter who I was playing against.
“Volleyball is something that is in my heart. I’ll always love it, I’ll always be passionate about it. I hope that I can pass it to my kids. Hopefully they will get that passion, too.
“It’s a fun sport, I love the fun friendships that I’ve made through volleyball. I have volleyball friends throughout the world. It’s great to know so many people that all have the same passion.”
“Everywhere you go, you play with people and have an instant connection. I just feel blessed and lucky.
Miss any of our Manhattan Beach coverage? Catch up here:
Pepe Delahoz, perhaps the unlikeliest MBO winner in 1998
MBO post-tournament photo gallery