Though the skies were grey and cloudy, it didn’t stop volleyball enthusiasts and beach-goers as thousands flocked to the north side of the Huntington Beach Pier for the Huntington Beach Open on May 4-7. The event housed buzzing fans packing the general free admission seats and the limited VIP premium seats daily. The four-day event, hosted by the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), chose Huntington Beach to kick off its 34th season for its eight-stop tour, Huntington Beach being the oldest stop on the tour.
“I’m truly excited about kicking off the 2017 season in Surf City USA, a town that means so much to me as a long-time resident and a place that embraces not just beach volleyball but beach culture at large,” said 14-time AVP champion and Olympian Casey Patterson.
AVP is headquartered in Newport Beach under current owner and managing partner Donald Sun. Sun continues to grow the famous yellow and white signature Wilson volleyball brand into a household name. Other stops on this year’s tour include Austin, New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, with the championship in Chicago, beginning August 31.
“We are thrilled to bring beach volleyball back to these major metropolitan cities, including our return to Hermosa Beach and Austin,” Sun says. “No matter if you’re the casual beach enthusiast or a volleyball fanatic, our goal is to put on the ultimate beach experience, whether you’re witnessing some of the best athletes on the sand in compelling competition or soaking up the festival area, this is not your average day at the beach. We are looking forward to this season and seeing which veterans have more to prove and who of the up-and-comers will emerge into full success.”
Since 1983, AVP has been providing a stage and developing the careers for many of the biggest names in volleyball, and this year doesn’t fall short as the tour welcomes back many Rio medaled Olympians, local up-and-comers and veterans with rich stories of perseverance and devotion to a sport they love.
One local athlete making his official debut on the beach is Reid Priddy. Priddy helped the US Olympic Indoor Volleyball Team win a Bronze in Rio last year. Having suffered a torn ACL during a competition in 2014, which required a double-knee surgery, he defied odds helping the US team win in Rio and has now taken on a new endeavor in the sport–playing on the sand. Though he failed to advance during the Huntington Beach stop, he put on a great show and undoubtedly grew his fan base to include beach volleyball fanatics.
Patterson, another home turf hero considered one of beach volleyball’s top players, returned to the tour after competing in Rio last summer. He was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease when your immune system attacks your thyroid. Since being diagnosed, Patterson has adjusted his diet and improved his life in a very good way. Team Patterson and partner Theo Brunner, ranked No. 2, played on Friday, May 5, and drew record-breaking crowds. Unfortunately, they lost to the ranked No. 7 team, Ryan Doherty and John Hayden. The unexpected loss put fire under Patterson and Brunner, who skillfully played their way into the semi-finals, where they eventually lost to the ranked No. 3 team, Olympian Phil Dalhausser and partner and seven-time AVP champ and Olympian Nick Lucena. Dalhausser and Lucena went on to play and beat Doherty and Hayden for the title and prize money at the Huntington Beach championship.
“Every time you win a tournament, it feels pretty good. It’s been a long time since I’ve won in Huntington,” said Dalhausser. “Hyden and Doherty are a really good sideout team. We had to serve a little tougher than we did yesterday. It was a high-level match. We got them in some passing trouble, and I think that was the difference.”
Laguna Beach’s own Whitney Pavlik returns to the tour after having a few years of multiple back and shoulder injuries, including a broken shoulder that took her out of competitive volleyball for more than a year. Pavlik won the Huntington Beach Open in 2012 and is a three-time Manhattan Beach Open champ. This tour, Pavlik partners with notable two-time Olympic medalist April Ross, and they were ranked No. 2 going into the tournament. Locking their spot for the semi-finals after having to fight their way through three-matches (unexpected), they eventually failed to secure a spot in the championship round. The women’s champs, No. 1 ranked Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar, swept the four-day event and kept their reputation as the team to be stopped.
“Being a local Cal State Long Beach alumni, Huntington Beach was our home beach. This is a great place for jumpers like us to play,” said Hochevar. “Regarding the weather over the last couple days, it showed how strong the AVP fans and players are. They aren’t going anywhere, we aren’t going anywhere–we just want to put on a great show. All we can do is take it one point at a time, don’t think too far in the future or stay too far in the past and stay aggressive but patient. It’s not what you do, but when you do it!”
The Sunday conclusion of the event was high-intensity competition with major upsets and unforgettable highlights. The energy of this tour will continue as it takes on its next seven stops across the US.
The tour hits Southern California one more time on August 17-20 in Manhattan Beach before the August 31st championships in Chicago. General admission is free. In addition to watching these world-class athletes battle it out, you can enjoy an interactive sponsor village experience, top local food options and AVP’s beer and wine garden.