I kicked off my 2014 Manhattan Beach Open weekend by attending the plaque ceremony on Thursday prior to the main draw. It was my first time going to the plaque ceremony, which for those of you who don't know is when you and your partner get a plaque with your names on it cemented into the Manhattan Beach Pier after winning the MBO the year before. If you ever find yourself in Manhattan Beach, I highly recommend you take a nice gingerly stroll down the pier and watch the history of this great sport unfold beneath your feet.
I made it a point this year to attend the plaque ceremony (and will make it a point to go from now on) because Casey Jennings and Matt Fuerbringer were getting their names on the pier for the first time. Not to sell Kerri Walsh Jennings and Whitney Pavlik short, as both were witnessing their names be put on the pier again—Whitney's third and at that moment, Kerri's sixth—but I feel a special connection with Casey and Matt. Their first year on the AVP together in 2003 was my first year DJing for the tour, I DJed both of their weddings, and their first final was my first final. We were in Fort Lauderdale and they took 2000 Olympic gold medalist Eric Fonoimoana and his partner Dax Holdren, who had won the majority of the AVP events the year before, to a third set but lost 20-22. After making six finals, they finally got a win during their seventh finals appearance in Belmar, New Jersey, in 2004. I promise if you asked every AVP staff member and player at that time, they would all have said they were rooting for Casey and Matt to win a championship. That duo’s performance on the court was infectious and unless you were a family member of the opponents, or one of Rosie’s Raiders, you were cheering for Casey and Matt.
This year’s pier ceremony was extra special because Matt and Casey had ended their partnership after the 2009 season and at the beginning of last summer, Matt retired from playing volleyball to take a job as the assistant coach for our men’s indoor national team. Casey convinced him to come out of retirement for one event, last year’s Manhattan Beach Open. Fulfilling the storybook ending, they won and now have their names on the pier together (just typing that sentence gave me the chills).
As for the 2014 event, it’s the Manhattan Beach Open, so of course it was awesome. IMG and the AVP went old school again this year, deciding to forgo a stadium, which meant it was beach seating for everyone. People had to get up early and stake their claim for courtside seating. I arrived at 7:15 Sunday morning for an 8:15 start and there were already people there. The fans may not be as energized or willing to throw their hands in the air to a song without a stadium, but they are there for the volleyball and there was no denying they were engaged during every point of both the men’s and women’s finals.
Being that most of the AVP players live and train in Southern California, the California events always bring out players’ families and close friends. Rosie’s Raiders were out in full force and Em’s Entourage, Emily Day and Summer Ross’s crew, continues to grow and is becoming a fan base that’s making a name for itself.
My DJ booth overlooked the outside courts, which for the first two days of the main draw really let me feel like I was a part of the tournament. Getting to see all the fans cheering for their teams before everyone moves to stadium, or in this case, feature court, on Sunday for the finals really lets me get a feel for the crowd and the tournament.
The men’s finals pitted former partners Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser against each other, battling to get their name on the pier. Earlier in the tournament, Phil aggravated an abdominal muscle and everyone could tell he wasn’t 100 percent, but Rosie went into high gear during the final. Rosie’s performance really made the difference for them, and Phil and Sean beat Todd and Theo Brunner 21-17, 21-13.
The women’s final was where all the drama happened this year though. Kerri Walsh Jennings was going for a record seventh Manhattan Beach title, her partner April Ross was going for her first, and they were matched up for the fourth time in a row on the AVP against Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat. Lauren and Brooke were not only looking to finally beat Kerri and April in the finals, but get their names on the pier for the first time as well. Lauren and Brooke came out determined and won set one 21-19, but lost set two 21-13. It would come down to a third set to determine who would get their name on the pier. Brooke, who has been battling a nagging back injury, fought for as long as she could this tournament until the pain in her back was too much. With Brooke having to forfeit partway through the third set, Kerri and April became the 2014 AVP Manhattan Beach Open champions. Ending a match with an injury is never easy, but the crowd, along with Kerri and April, gave Brooke and Lauren the respect they deserved for battling as hard and long as they could. But make no mistake about it, Kerri and April WON the Manhattan Beach Open and I will be there when they get their names on the pier during the plaque ceremony next year.