New year, different partners, same result for volleyball stars April Ross and Phil Dalhausser: AVP Manhattan Beach Open champions.
Dalhausser and Nick Lucena dominated the men's bracket from Friday to Sunday, winning all of their matches without dropping a set. In the title game, they beat fourth-seeded Tri Bourne and John Hyden, 21-19, 21-17.
"It's one of the best tournaments you can win," Lucena said. "Any tournament you win is great, but to be up there with a lot of the best players in the world, I'm thankful. It's awesome."
It was Dalhausser's fifth Manhattan Beach Open victory (he won in 2014 with Sean Rosenthal), and the first for Lucena.
"If there's one thing that will never, ever get old, that's winning," Dalhausser said. "I can't think of anything else that feels better than winning."
The final match wasn't easy for Dalhausser and Lucena, at least compared to their previous outings. They trailed late in the first set before coming back, and found themselves down 9-5 in the second set. But Lucena's defensive prowess and Dalhausser's blocking ability against a shorter team was enough to chip away at their opponents' lead.
The victory was especially notable for the duo because it had been a decade since they teamed up to compete at Manhattan Beach. In that event, they finished as the runners-up.
"We got a second chance," Dalhausser told the crowd afterward. "Yeah, it was 10 years later, but it makes it more sweet."
The 26-year-old Bourne had never played in a Manhattan Beach Open final and was encouraged by his and Hyden's performance despite the loss. He also made a prediction for Dalhausser and Lucena's volleyball-playing future.
"In my opinion, those two will probably retire as partners," Bourne said. "They're good — you've got to play Nick differently because he's so quick, and you've got to play Phil differently because he's so big. It's tough to do."
Ross, meanwhile, teamed up with Jennifer Fopma for the Open. They also had an efficient three days, winning all six matches. Fopma was filling in for Kerri Walsh Jennings, who's recovering from a dislocated shoulder. Last season, Ross and Walsh Jennings won all seven events on the AVP tour, including the Manhattan Open. In this year's championship, Ross and Fopma knocked out fifth-seeded Nicole Branagh and Jenny Kropp, 21-15, 26-24.
"It's such a prestigious thing to get your name on the pier, and no one is going to give up," Ross said. "I wasn't going to believe that we were going to win until the last ball hit the sand."
Branagh and Kropp had their shot in the second set, going up 12-9, but the top seeds fought back, eventually sending it to overtime.
"Kudos to them for making us do a couple things that we weren't comfortable doing, but at the very end, we came back to our game plan and got a couple points on it," Ross said.
Fopma knows she'll have to "give April back" now that the tournament is over, but is more than satisfied with the result.
"Honestly, it's a dream come true," Fopma said. "To be a professional beach volleyball player, the ultimate goal I think is to have your name on the pier with all of the top players in the world. It still doesn't feel real. I'm so grateful that we were here and we were able to battle."
Ross acknowledged that Fopma was thrown into an unusual set of circumstances, but was grateful for how she played.
"She met the challenge," Ross said. "She knows how bad I want to win, and with how Kerri and I did last year, I didn't expect anything less with her. I think that's a hard situation to get into sometimes. She came in and stepped up right away."
The final matches were determined earlier Sunday morning in the semifinals, when Ross and Fopma held off second-seeded Emily Day and Jen Kessy, 21-16, 23-21, while Branagh and Kropp easily surpassed Lane Carico and Summer Ross, 21-16, 21-18.
Dalhausser and Lucena had no trouble with Trevor and Taylor Crabb, winning, 21-14, 21-14. Bourne and Hyden struggled initially against Ryan Doherty and John Mayer before pulling away in the third set, 15-11.
The Crabb brothers were the Cinderella team of the 2015 Manhattan Beach Open, entering as the 13th seed. They appeared to run out of gas against Dalhausser and Lucena, but it's easy to see why — they played four times on Saturday, culminating in the biggest upset of the tournament, a 29-31, 21-17, 16-14 thriller versus top-seeded Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson. That match, at one hour and 15 minutes, was the longest of the main draw.
Now, players on the AVP tour turn their attention to the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball at Long Beach, which begins with qualifiers on Tuesday. Ross will be back with Walsh Jennings, and Dalhausser and Lucena will look to build on their impressive showing.
"The World Tour is a different story," Lucena said. "Every game is a tough game. I'm confident in us as a team, but it's not going to be easy."
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