After being on the road for weeks, it was nice to have an event in my home state. Even though I didn't get to sleep in my own bed, as Santa Barbara is about two hours north of Los Angeles, I was thrilled I didn't need to get on an airplane to make the trip. I began my journey up the coast early Thursday afternoon to try and catch the end of the St. Petersburg men’s final that had been postponed due to weather.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed the end of the match by five minutes. They picked up where they left off in Florida, with Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson up one game (set) and down 11-10 in the second to Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner. I was told it took only around 10 minutes to finish out the game with Jake and Casey winning 21-19 to officially take the St. Petersburg Open title. (Spoiler: This would not be the only tournament they would win while in Santa Barbara.)
Even though I missed the conclusion of the St. Pete final, Thursday wasn't a complete waste for me. I went to a restaurant/club that night to watch B Lee's son perform with his band. B Lee is one of the most iconic referees on the AVP tour, and I remember Grady Lee as a volunteer ball boy years ago playing air guitar during the finals on stadium court. Last year he sang a Coldplay song right before the finals and now he's performing on stage with his band. I really enjoyed his performance and I look forward to following his career.
Once the tournament got underway Friday morning, some very interesting things happened. Summer Ross and Emily Day lost early and ended up in the contenders’ bracket for the first time all season, Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal played Todd Rogers and Ryan Doherty in the contenders’ bracket ending Rogers and Doherty's tournament with a ninth, and Jake Gibb looked like his tournament was over when he rolled his ankle on the first point of his second match. The way Jake yelled in pain after he landed on Pedro Brazaeo following a battle at the net, I was sure he was done. As Jake was walking around testing his injured ankle, he realized he was halfway to the medical tent and just kept walking. A few minutes later, he emerged, ankle wrapped and ready to play. I'm not sure of the severity of Jake's ankle injury, but he was still able to play at a high level and eventually win the tournament giving him and Casey four victories on the AVP so far this season. And did I mention that those four victories happened consecutively?
Needless to say, this new partnership is working out. Oh yeah, there was an amazing rally during the men’s final that made Sports Center's Top Ten. Casey picked up a one handed dig from a John Hyden attack off serve receive, but it went wide around the net. Jake ran under the net and brought the ball back, allowing Casey to smash an attack back to Hyden and Tri Bourne, but Hyden pulled out a chicken wing dig. After another few back and forths, the rally ended with a Bourne kill. It was around a 22 second rally.
I didn't get to see the new partnership of Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross until their third match of the tournament, but here's what I can tell you. One, they didn't really get tested until the semifinals when they came up against Lauren Fendrick and Brittany Hochevar (no offense to the teams they played prior to that). Two, they ended up winning the tournament fairly easily. Three, they haven't even scratched the surface of their potential as a team.
I'm excited to see how they progress over the next few weeks before the Huntington Beach event and I'll be interested to see how other teams game plan for them.
In addition to all the amazing volleyball action in Santa Barbara, tour MC Dustin Avol and I had some amazing meals. In particular, I’d recommend Holdren's Steakhouse, owned by former AVP Star Dax Holdren's family. It’s always a must when I'm in Santa Barbara. I highly recommend their filet and for dessert, s'mores.
One more event to go and then I'm really looking forward to recapping the season to see what we did well and what we can improve on.