It was a huge prize-money weekend for pro beach volleyball as the third-seeded women, April Ross and Alix Klineman, and top men, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, won the AVP Manhattan Beach Open last weekend.
The men’s championship was a made-for-TV roller-coaster ride, as Jake Gibb and Tayor Crabb took the first set by a large margin. They had closed in on taking the second set when Dalhausser and Lucena launched an impressive comeback. A few controversial calls in the third and final set gave the advantage to Dalhausser and Lucena, who took the chance and ran with it, winning 15–13.
“I can’t believe we won that match,” said an emotional Dalhausser. “We had no business winning it.” The victory was Dalhausser’s seventh at Manhattan Beach and the third win in four years for the Dalhausser-Lucena team. They took home $24,000 of the $250,000 purse.
Deemed the Super Bowl of Beach Volleyball Tournaments, the 60-year-old event is the longest-running beach volleyball competition. The tournament featured hundreds of men’s and women’s teams competing for a piece of the purse and a plaque on the Manhattan Beach pier.
“We’ve pulled some good comebacks this year,” added Lucena. “I guess we don’t give up, and we figure out a way. We’ve got a little grit.”
Just as excitement over the men’s match began to dwindle, the women took the sand. This match included new partners Kelly Claes and Brittany Hochevar, the top seeds; in order to reach the finals, Hochevar had played a fierce match against former partner Emily Day. Together, Hochevar and Day had won the Manhattan Beach Open last year.
Claes and Hochevar took on Olympian April Ross and hometown favorite Alix Klineman. After Ross and Klineman took an extended set 27–25, Claes and Hochevar followed up with a 21–17 win. The third set was a wild ride. When Ross and Klineman got to match point, the point-freeze rule came into play and the crowd witnessed a 32-serve freeze with neither team able to score the two-point advantage needed to win. Finally, Ross and Klineman claimed the championship.
“It means everything to win here in my home town,” Klineman said. “It’s so cool to have my friends, my family, and people that I grew up with here.” Klineman, who grew up just five blocks away from the Manhattan Beach pier and attended the Open often as a child, will now be a part of history with her name forever emblazoned on a bronze plaque on the pier.
“At the end, my legs were shaking a little bit,” admitted Klineman, referencing the 32-serve freeze. “And it just kept going. But it’s a pretty cool experience for the fans to see it go back and forth like that.”
Though they are volleyball professionals now, none of the Manhattan Beach Open champs played the sport exclusively when they were young. In fact, neither Dalhausser nor Lucena started playing until they were 17, having played multiple sports until then. Klinema tried everything from volleyball to basketball to soccer to tennis, while Ross played mainly basketball and soccer until junior high. “Definitely kids should be playing multiple sports at the same time,” added Lucena.
With the excitement of the championship match still fresh, the players talked about what they need to do to build the fan base and grow the game of volleyball.
“I’m going to a lot of places to do clinics,” said Ross. “I think there is a big need for some real information about beach volleyball. We need more beach facilities. I think the more the NCAA grows, the more colleges in the Midwest will pick it up, and hopefully it will expand from there.”
Added Lucena, “Ever since I started playing, I just loved it. I’m fortunate to be doing it.”
Top photograph by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images