Long Beach, California was the site of a spectacular, multi-faceted beach celebration called The Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball from July 22-27. Thousands of fans enjoyed a week of world-class volleyball, live music and fun activities. The featured event was the FIVB Grand Slam, an international beach volleyball tournament featuring the best male and female players in the world, all competing for their countries – and for prize money totaling $1 million. After six days of grueling competition, the top-seeded teams from the USA emerged victorious to capture both the gold medals.
American women Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross swept through the field and defeated Brazil's Barbara Seixas and Agatha Bednarczuk in the finals in two games, 21-17, 21-17. Walsh-Jennings and Ross played an error-free final against the scrappy, but undersized fifth-seeded Brazilians. The taller Americans hit over Agatha's block numerous times, and both Americans took turns blocking.
They converted several point opportunities with big blocks and spectacular defensive scrambling that made the massive crowd go crazy as they headed for the win. But heir road to the gold-medal match had one major bump. In the round of sixteen, one of the strong German teams, tenth-seeded Laura Ludwig and Julie Sude, took the Americans to three sets, losing a heartbreaker 17-15 after holding a match point. From there, Walsh-Jennings and Ross seemed to get better in each round. This is their fourth win on the 2014 FIVB World Tour and they split $70,000 for the victory. They are well on their way to dominating the 2016 Rio Olympics!
The top seeded men's team also won the event. Americans Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal squeaked past the Polish dynamic duo Mariusz Prudel and Grzegorz Fijalek, 22-24, 21-17, 15-9, avenging a loss to the Poles just last week in The Hague, Netherlands. The Polish team reached the gold-medal match by beating Americans Todd Rogers and Theo Brunner in straight sets in the semifinal. Rogers and Brunner made it into the event as qualifiers and their long week of play ended with the bronze medal when they defeated Germany's Alexander Walkenhorst and Stefan Windscheif. The Americans shared $40,000 for third place.
The men's gold medal match was a true back-and-forth battle as both teams put on an amazing show of athleticism. Rosenthal and Fijalek made some incredible diving defensive plays. Prudel is an undersized blocker but has incredible quickness and jumping ability. He made some amazing plays at the net, but the big difference in the match was Dalhausser. His stuff blocking, aggressive serving, great setting and transition spiking showed that he truly is the most dominant player in beach volleyball.
The third set was a real nail biter from the beginning. After a 5-5 side switch, the Poles misplayed two serve receives and Dalhausser stuff blocked for a 9-5 lead. Once they got that cushion, the Americans closed things out as their home-country crowd cheered them on to a hard earned victory and a split of $70,000. It was the team's third gold medal in the last four FIVB events.
The week at Long Beach included an array of fun activities. Live music on the stadium stage kept the crowds pumped. Several volleyball tournaments took place on the outer courts. Companies including Mizuno, Paul Mitchell, Sabra, Pop Chips, Toyota, Barefoot Wines, Deep Eddy Vodka, Budweiser and the MGM Grand displayed their products and gave away free samples in the sponsor village.
Some brave fans took their chances against the “Kerri Cannon.” This was an Asics sponsored mechanical device that simulated the powerful spike of Kerri Walsh-Jennings. The machine shot volleyballs at about sixty miles per hour directed at the crazy fans that tried to dig the balls hit at them. Prizes were awarded for accurately passing the cannon's spikes, but we spotted a few black eyes in the crowd courtesy of that cannon!
The live music was a highlight of the weekend's activities. A big stage was set on one end of the volleyball stadium for the performances. On Friday, Ryan Cabrera, the American pop-rock singer-songwriter performed before a men's quarterfinal match. Later that afternoon, Bleachers, two-time Grammy winner Jack Antonoff's new project, played a set of solid rock. They closed their set with the chart topping single “I Want to Get Better.” Friday's music concluded with this summer's breakout band MAGIC! led by dynamic singer Nasri. The band played just weeks after the release of their first album, “Don't Kill the Magic.” Their first single, “Rude,” is in the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 and top 5 on Top Digital Songs Chart.
Saturday's music lineup started with British pop singer-songwriter and Atlantic Records recording artist Katy Tiz, who played a short set of energetic tunes before the other men's semifinal. Singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson performed a little later in the day. SomeKindaWonderful, a new band with the hit single “Reverse” was the day's musical headliner. The band has a classic rock sound, but with new, modern energy. DJ Arie, the official DJ of the 3-time NBA Champion Miami Heat kept the stadium crowd entertained throughout Saturday and Sunday. He mixed a blend of rock, hip hop and lively beats that had fans dancing throughout the stadium.
There were a variety of other volleyball activities going on throughout the week. While the pros were competing at the FIVB event, several hundred kids, college students and adult weekend warriors participated in competitions. A junior's tournament took place on Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday also featured a kid's clinic led by Kerri Walsh-Jennings. On Thursday there was a collegiate sand championship. Friday featured a coed 4s tournament that included a few celebrity sightings. Ex-Laker Luke Walton, Dallas Mavericks small forward Richard Jefferson, retired NBA player and current analyst Brent Barry all participated. Also, pro volleyball players Mark Williams and Jeremy Caasbeer were among the participants along with several of southern California's elite volleyball players.
On Saturday there was a six-person tournament for both men and women that featured many participants in wild costumes. This event had some celebs playing as well as many pro players, including some of the international stars that had been eliminated from the FIVB competition. Seen among the sixes teams were pro basketball's Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic and Richard Jefferson; pro football's Matt Leinart and pro beach volleyball's Jen Snyder, Casey Jennings, Laryissa Mereszczak, Cristal Engle, Billy Allen and Paul Baxter. Also spotted in the crowd of tall, talented players was Taylor Sander, the starting outside hitter for the USA men's indoor national volleyball team.
After the FIVB Grand Slam Men's bronze-medal match on Sunday, a celebrity pro-am game took place. Pro skier Bode Miller, football legend Terrell Owens, basketball's Sasha Vujacic and pro volleyball players Stafford Slick, Cristal Engle and Kerri Pottharst played. They were joined by actors, models and radio personalities including Manny Streetz, Joel Alexander, Talon Reid and Travis Van Winkle. Bronze medalists Todd Rogers and Theo Brunner acted as coaches to help the celebs.
The event in Long Beach was a huge success, as fans packed the stadium and the USA's beach volleyball teams put on quite a show, coming away with two gold medals and a bronze. The Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball, only in its second year here in California, has become one of the premier stops on the FIVB World Tour and has grown into a spectacular event. If next year is anything like this one, it will be the top beach destination of the summer of 2015!
Follow Jenny Peters on Twitter at @jennpeters.