MANHATTAN BEACH >> A small group of legendary beach volleyball players sat courtside Sunday, soaking in the sun and high-level action on Stadium Court.
These were players Casey Patterson had studied and worshipped since the first time he spiked a ball over the net as a teen. He wanted what they had, that aura that comes from winning major volleyball titles.
After numerous tries, Patterson finally joined the ranks of those players who have won the prestigious Manhattan Beach Open men’s title.
He and partner Jake Gibb, seeded No. 1, defeated No. 3 seed Tri Bourne and John Hyden, 21-17, 18-21, 16-14, and will have their name inscribed on the Manhattan Beach Pier alongside names such as Randy Stokolos, Tim Hovland, Steve Obradovich and newly retired Todd Rogers.
“The entire match, I almost was looking for them, for their aura and magic from when they were playing,” Patterson said. “I feel like that was the key for me, just to take one point at a time and try to get on the pier with those guys because they’re all gods and you want to go down with one of those players who are on the pier.”
On the women’s side, Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar defeated Lane Carico and Summer Ross, 21-16, 19-21, 19-17 for the title.
Beach volleyball players worldwide consider the Manhattan Beach Open the elite event on the tour. They often compare it to tennis’ Wimbledon and winning the title brings a special reverence.
“It’s something more special for AVP players and all the international players all want to play on the AVP, in the Manhattan Beach Open and have their name on the pier,” Patterson said. “That’s what they all talk about, how do I get into the Manhattan Beach tournament? It’s what every player in the world wants and I got one now.”
Gibb has won the event twice with different partners but called Sunday’s victory even more special because he won with Patterson, his partner for the past four years. The team also is headed to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
But that didn’t matter to Gibb on Sunday. Nothing did. Not the team’s previous 12 tournament victories, including the Seattle Open two weeks ago, their two FIVB titles or 23 semifinal appearances.
“I don’t even care about that,” Gibb said about the upcoming Games. “Right now it’s about the Manhattan Beach Open and we’re part of the pier and I’m on there with Casey Patterson. We played together for four years and he’s one of my favorite people on the whole planet.”
The victory certainly gives them added momentum heading into Rio in three weeks.
“This is huge for us mentally as far as momentum to tighten the screws a little bit more and go into the Olympics with a win under our belt in the biggest and best tournament in the world,” Patterson said. “That’s great motivation and when I’m on the sand in Rio de Janeiro and Copacabana, it will be as a Manhattan Beach Open champion now and not just an AVP guy who has won some tournaments.”
The prospect of watching the two men’s Olympic teams battle for a spot in the final ended prematurely when Phil Dalhausser suffered a mild strain in his left calf muscle, forcing he and partner Nick Lucena to retire their semifinal match against Gibb and Patterson.
Dalhausser said he felt a twinge after serving at 10-10 and called for a medical timeout. He retired the match shortly after talking to the trainer, and wore a wrap around his calf the rest of the day.
“I took off a little awkwardly on my jump serve and the way my foot was, it was awkward and it put a strain on my calf and it didn’t feel good,” Dalhausser said.
Dalhausser said he wasn’t willing to risk further injury, even if it wasn’t an Olympic year. He experienced a similar injury in February during a match in Brazil.
“I’m not so sure I would be playing if it wasn’t an Olympic year,” Dalhausser said. “I think it would have gotten worse and worse. It hurt a little bit.”
Dalhausser and Lucena are seeded third at the Olympics.