By Geoffrey Nielsen
History was made Sunday at the 55th Annual Manhattan Beach Open as Keri Walsh Jennings became the most decorated female athlete to compete on the sands south of the Manhattan Beach Pier
. Walsh Jennings defended her crown with new partner April Ross by defeating Brooke Sweat and Lauren Fendrick, 19-21, 21-13, and 9-0, who were forced to withdraw in the third game due to back spasms plaguing Sweat.
Walsh Jennings and Ross have met Sweat and Fendrick in each AVP final this season and have lost the first game in each match. Same held true Sunday, as things started off rocky for Walsh Jennings and Ross after dropping the first game 19-21. The duo were down 4-1 and all the momentum seemed to be with Sweat and Fendrick but a long rally that was punctuated by Ross diving from one side of the court to the other quickly shifted the momentum back to Walsh Jennings and Ross.
"Last season was really special because Casey and I both won," Walsh Jennings said of the 2013 MB Open. "This season is special because I get to share it with April (she played with Whitney Pavlik in 2013). No one is more deserving than April and I'm glad because she is such a great player and deserves to have her name up on the pier."
For Walsh Jennings, the win is her seventh Open title which makes the three time Olympic gold medalist the winningest athlete to ever compete in the MB Open, besting former leader Nina Matthies who held the previous mark of six titles. The irony is not lost on Walsh Jennings and her coach Marcio Sicoli, who just happens to be the assistant coach to Matthies at Pepperdine University.
"I am not looking forward to work tomorrow," said Sicoli, who is a Manhattan Beach resident and widely considered the best coach in beach volleyball, with smile. "Nina is very proud of Kerri and her accomplishments. Kerri also understands what this means and how special this win is."
Only Karch Kiraly has more wins than Walsh Jennings with eight but that will be clearly in the sights of Walsh Jennings next season. Walsh Jennings and Ross are undefeated this season on the 2014 AVP Tour as they head into the
"Right now they are playing better than any one in the world," said Sicoli. "Kerri might be the greatest player to ever play this game. She is just amazing and just seems to get better. Nobody works harder and this is the result."
This is the 11th straight week the players have been competing, with players flying all over the world for FIVB tournaments and then returning to compete in local AVP tournaments. The grueling schedule has taken its toll on many who looked like mummies covered in K-tape at the MB Open.
“On my first jump serve in the second set (of the Manhattan Beach Open final Sunday), I started to feel numbness and tingling down my leg, and it just kept getting worse,” Sweat said. “I thought I should probably look at the big picture and be cautious. The timing is bad because we’re supposed to be on a flight to Poland tonight.”
Former Mira Costa Mustang Lane Carico was extremely close to making the final as she and her partner Kim DiCellon lost in three games in semi-finals to Sweat and Fendrick, 21-16, 18-21, 15-11.
"I thought we could make it to the final," said Carico, who played college volleyball for the University of Miami. "After the second game, I really thought we had a chance but the long rally at 9-9 seemed to take to wind out of our sails. It was a great match but it was even more fun to have all my friends and family around."
On the men's side, the hottest team in the world finally got a championship win this season on the AVP as Rosenthsal and Dalhausser defeated Theo Brunner and Todd Rogers 21-17 and 21-14.
For Dalhausser, it was his fourth win at the MB Open but first without longtime former partner Rogers, who he ironically faced in the final, and only his first AVP win of the season. Dalhausser and Rosenthal have dominated the FIVB circuit but had yet to break through on the AVP Tour this summer.
"We wanted to be ready for Manhattan, so we took last week off from Salt Lake City to get rest for this week," Dalhausser said. "This is the one AVP tournament we really wanted to win because of the history and tradition."
The win was the third for Rosenthal, who considers Manhattan the biggest event in the sport.