Both teams standing atop the proverbial medal stand at the NVL’s Hermosa Beach Open took the long road to get there. Crawling up from the qualifier, Mike Morrison and Derek Olson earned their $7,500 check by defeating Mike Placek and Austin Rester 21-16, 21-18 in the men’s final. Christie Jenkins and Iwona Lodzik also started the weekend in the qualifier before eventually defeating number one seed Megan Wallin and Chara Harris in the semis and taking the final 21-12, 21-18 over Kathrin Winkler and Briana Hinga.
Morrison, 6’6” and 34 years old, has been playing professionally on the beach for 10 years, winning bronze with Eyal Zimmet in the 2010 FIVB Chennai Challenger in India and taking a career-high third in the AVP’s 2009 Brooklyn event. Olson, the younger and smaller of the winning duo at 29 and 6’1”, grew up in Oregon watching his father Brock set the record for wins at the Seaside Beach Volleyball tournament with five total, inspiring Derek to develop a beach career of his own. The University of Oregon grad has been playing on the tours since 2008 and last year, took second at Seaside with Matt Motter.
Morrison and Olson came into the qualifier as the sixth seed and broke into the main draw as the 30th. Shoved to the contenders’ bracket by Russ Marchewka and Jason Lochhead, the overall sixth seed, the underdog duo won three more matches to meet Marchewka and Lochead again, this time in the semifinals where Olson and Morrison redeemed themselves 21-19, 21-18.
Missed serves riddled the men’s final and both teams started out targeting the other squad’s big guy (Rester is 6’7”, Placek 6’3”), but gradually began to employ the wind and serve wherever it would move the ball the most. Between Olson’s all-over-the court digging and Mike Morrison’s huge block at the net, Placek and Rester couldn’t seem to hold a lead, although both games were close throughout.
In the women’s final, Jenkins, 25, a World Championships gold medalist trampoline athlete from Australia, used her practically perfect hands to dish out some nectar for partner Lodzik. Jenkins gave up her trampoline career in 2011 to pursue beach volleyball and is now ranked in the top ten in Australia. Lodzik, a 6’1” outside hitter at Northwestern University from 2002-2003, grew up in Tarnobrzeg, Poland, and during the Hermosa Beach finals earned the moniker “The Polish Hammer.”
Winkler and Hinga offered up no resistance in the first set, but found some fire in the second set only to come up three points short of forcing a third.
The next NVL event will not be until the “Best of the Beach” event in Las Vegas, October 24-26.