The beach volleyball community came together Sunday to raise funds for the Eric Zaun scholarship fund in a team King of the Court event hosted by Travis Mewhirter, Stafford Slick, and Katie Spieler at Second Street in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Three pools of men and two pools of women competed in what was, for many, their first competition since March.
With volleyball gradually resuming around the country, this was the largest pro beach volleyball event since the pandemic struck, with an estimated 200 fans in attendance.
Eric Beranek and Andy Benesh won the 12-team men’s division, with Geena Urango and Emily Hartong winning the eight-team women’s division.
And as Zaun would have wanted, the tournament was replete with thrift-store clothing, outlandish costumes, adversity, and of course no lifts were called.
Teams came out from New Jersey and Florida in order to honor Zaun’s memory. Donations can be made here. Full results, a photo gallery, and player memories of Zaun follow.
Zaun died June 11, 2019, after falling from the 29th floor from the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. His death was ruled a suicide. Zaun, a popular and quirky character, inspired many in the beach community through his colorful antics and enthusiasm for beach volleyball.
Mewhirter, his good friend, reported that the event itself raised around $4,000, with the scholarship fund eclipsing $6,000 total Monday morning.
Christopher Vaughan began playing club with Zaun at age 15, partnered with Zaun from 2010-2012, and trained with him from 2010 on with Quan Nguyen of Quandomania in New Jersey.
He remembers that Zaun thrived on adversity.
“Eric and I were playing our last pool play game in the Susquehanna Smash grass tournament in 2014. We used to play with each other every weekend, but we took a year break.
“When we used to play, we were the loud obnoxious kids. We were going to break pool, but decided we wanted to go undefeated for the tournament.
“We were down 8-1 in side-out scoring in a game to 11. Great adversity.”
Zaun then provided the motivation in what was essentially a meaningless pool-play match.
“We called a timeout, and Eric said ‘We need to bring morale up, let’s play like we used to.’ They immediately scored the next point to get their 9-1 lead. After a side out I turned to them and said, ‘You’re gonna need that one!’
“After we sided out, Eric served us all the way to 11-9, we celebrated each point, pounding the ground, yelling at the top of our lungs ‘Let’s go Shane’s and TK’s, we love adversity!’ (Shane Donohue and TK Kohler were players that Zaun and Vaughan had watched and admired).
Dave Palm partnered with Zaun on the NVL for most of 2015 and 2016, earning championships in Panama City 2015, Hermosa 2016 and Seattle 2016. He remembers he had to sleep three to a twin bed one night as the “Road Dawg” Zaun hadn’t handled their accommodations.
“It was at the NVL Port St. Lucie Championships, and Zaun reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got our accommodations covered.’
“So we got there early, and I asked, ‘Where are we staying?’ And he replied, ‘Oh, it’s been a bit of a problem, we have some adversity to go through.’
“So it turns out that we didn’t have a place to stay, we hang out at the venue for the entire day, at the bar, getting drinks, talking to a whole bunch of people. Next thing you know, it’s about 8 o’clock, and I asked him again, ‘Hey, where are we staying?’, and he said, ‘Hey, I’m still working on it.’”
“Long story short, next thing I know, we’re staying with one of the employees at the venue, and she had a twin bed, and we had three people sleeping on a twin bed squished up. It was a dormitory-style room with tile floors, so you couldn’t even crash on the floor.”
As with most Zaun stories, it had a positive ending as the pair made the NVL championship finals the next day, Palm said.
“Next thing you know, we woke up, we didn’t win the tournament, but we finished second. It was definitely a memorable moment sleeping three grown people sleeping in a twin bed in a small room. That was definitely a night to remember. We did pretty well, so I can’t complain.”
Katie Spieler, Zaun’s former girlfriend, remembers the first time Zaun met her parents. He was about an hour late.
“He came to meet my family at Thanksgiving. He was really nervous to come meet my family, so I made sure that I was with him so that he wouldn’t do a U-ie. Then he calls me on the 405, and says, ‘We’ve got an issue!’
“His van had broken down on the huge uphill on the 405, he was on the side of the road and his car wouldn’t start. I thought that he was making it up, and that he didn’t want to meet my family. I don’t know how that van still worked. It would shut down all the time, and he would still finagle it to make it work.
“But then he managed to get it started, as he would always do, and I think that’s the funnest thing about Eric, he always found the way to get through adversity, so he got back in, and slow-roasted the engine all the way up, and he was about an hour late, but he made it.”
1st place: Eric Beranek, Andy Benesch
2nd place: Kyle Friend, Dave Palm
3rd place: Sean Rosenthal, Adam Roberts; Ben Vaught, Cody Caldwell
5th place: Billy Allen, Stafford Slick; Jake Rosener, Spencer Sauter; Mark Burik, Brandon Joyner; Branden Clemens, Dylan Maarek
9th place: Jon Ferrari, Brian Miller; Travis Mewhirter, John Eddins; JM Plummer, Avery Drost; Jake Urrutia, Spencer Sauter
1st place: Geena Urango, Emily Hartong
2nd place: Delaney Mewhirter, Katie Spieler
3rd place: Jessica Gaffney, Allie Wheeler; Sheila Shaw, Kenzie Ponnet
5th place: Brittany Howard, Corinne Quiggle; Victoria Dennis, Jo Kremer; Morgan Martin, Iya Lindahl; Summer Nash, Molly Turner
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