For most of the summer of 2011 beach volleyball remained in a state of flux. There were smaller domestic tours in the form of the NVL and Corona Light Wide Open, but the large-scale events with the big prize purses, where all of the best domestic players battled it out, were strikingly absent.
A partnership between USAV, IMG Action Sports and Jose Cuervo Tequila effectively squashed that limbo in the form of the Jose Cuervo Beach Series. And as the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball”—the Manhattan Beach Open—returned, so too did the grandstands, the television broadcast, the dancing girls, the fans, and some of the best players in the world.
Since 2010 the duo of Sean Scott and Jon Hyden have done nothing but win—making their own case for who is the best American team right now. After all, Scott and Hyden were the last domestic team to beat Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, and they’ve won every single tournament they’ve entered this year (seven total) and won eight straight tournaments dating back to last season’s win in Cincinnati.
Amongst all those wins Scott and Hyden now have a Manhattan Beach Open championship to add to their remarkable title haul.
Every single player who steps onto the deep sand at the Manhattan Beach Open, shrouded in the shadow of the famous pier where the plaques of winners past gleam in the Southern California sun, aches to have their own name enshrined alongside the sports’ legends.
Scott and Hyden entered the finals undefeated in the tournament, dropping only one game during three days of play. Their opponents were the unlikely pair of FIVB regular Brad Keenan and AVP veteran Billy Allen. Keenan and Allen began their partnership the Wednesday before the tournament and found themselves on the grand stage Sunday despite only two practices as a team prior to the event’s start.
Hyden and Scott proved too strong for the newbies, taking down Allen and Keenan in straight games (21-18, 21-13) wrapping up their sixth straight victory in convincing fashion.
In the first game it was the defense from both Hyden and Scott that proved to be impenetrable. Keenan and Allen kept it close throughout but a few 2-0 and 3-0 runs from Scott and Hyden proved to be their undoing. A huge block from Scott on Allen late in the match pushed the lead out to 18-14, effectively ending any comeback bid.
In the second game Scott and Hyden collectively flexed both their offensive and defensive firepower en route to a dominant win. Hyden seemingly dug everything from the touches to the big kill shots from both Keenan and Allen. When Hyden wasn’t getting touches on the majority of hits, Scott made his presence at the net felt as one of the game’s best blockers put several swings right back to the sand.
“If we take care of business on our side like we know we can, we’re going to win,” said Hyden. “And that’s just what we did.”
A 4-0 run early in the game saw Hyden and Scott grab a large 10-5 lead. Big swings from both Hyden and Scott coupled with several service errors saw the champs run their lead all the way to 18-10. At 20-13 Scott went over on 2 and as the ball went off Keenan’s hand and dropped to the sand, the most coveted title in beach volleyball now belonged to Hyden and Scott.
“I’m elated. It feels so good to finally come out on top,” said Scott. “I’ve been second a lot here and to finally win one feels really good.”
In the women’s final Jenny Kropp and Whitney Pavlik continued their own winning ways, capturing their fourth title on the season with a similarly impressive performance, taking down Tracy Jones and Jennifer Fopma (21-13, 22-20).
After losing a week earlier in the semi-finals of a Corona Light Wide Open event in Hermosa Beach, the duo came out ready to make amends for the uncharacteristic performance.
“We definitely weren’t happy with last week, especially after playing so well,” said Pavlik. “We learned a lot from getting bumped out and we didn’t want that feeling again. We knew what we had to do. Even in the semis our intensity was extremely high.”
The partners carried that fire straight into the finals. Pavlik was all over the court, thwarting Fopma and Jones with several lunging digs and providing Kropp with textbook sets. Kropp did her part on both sides of the net as well, putting up a huge block and slamming down the big kill shot at every available opportunity.
“We caught fire in the first game and we carried that momentum into the second. This whole weekend was a battle with great competition so we’re thrilled to come out on top,” said Kropp. “I think we can look at each other now and say we are good, we work hard for it. Let’s use it, try to build our confidence and keep winning,” added Kropp.
Tournament officials estimated over 35,000 fans attended the tournament over the three-day period.
“I think it’s great that IMG, USA Volleyball and Jose Cuervo stepped up and ran this event,” Scott said. “It showed a lot of domestic players how good beach volleyball could be. A lot of players I talked to this weekend have the same sense and that is that we’re coming back.”
Originally published in November 2011