AVP Hermosa Beach Open returns with familiar Olympians and national champs

Shouts of “Mine!” drowned out the crash of waves as beach volleyball took over Hermosa Beach for the weekend.

Zealous fans, clad in beach attire, trudged barefoot through the sand to the sound of music blasting through speakers. But make no mistake, the gathering in the South Bay was no casual volleyball outing. For the first time since 2019, Olympians and national champions from various Southern California schools, such as USC and UCLA vied this weekend for the AVP Pro Series Hermosa Beach Open championship. As the sports’ best played in front of thousands, youth players competed in the AVP Junior Nationals on nearby nets.

During a mostly overcast and breezy Sunday at the Hermosa Beach Pier, the fight for the $125,000 purse intensified as the tournament’s darlings fisted volleyballs and grunted into the sunscreen-scented air.

Behind monster blocks and laser serves, the top-seeded duo of Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon beat second-seeded Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint in the women’s final to earn their first AVP title individually and as partners.

Cheng, a member of the 2016 national champion team at USC, and Sponcil, part of the 2018 and 2019 championship teams of UCLA, saw each other last summer on the sand court too — as partners when they represented Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. Cannon competed for the Trojans with Cheng at USC.

Sponcil, who previously went 0–4 in championship matches, and Cannon, who was making her first AVP finals appearance, dominated the contest, winning the first set 21-12 and the second set 21-15.

“We knew that it was going to be a battle going in, so we were ready,” Cannon said. “We just had to focus on our side, take care of the game plan and roll from there.”

The sun appeared during the men’s final between fifth-seeded Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, and second-seeded partners Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk. Brunner and Schalk edged the two Taylors 22-20 in the first set before falling 26-24 in a scrappy second set. Brunner-Schalk sealed the match in the third set with a serve that scraped across the net and landed in the sand. Brunner earned his second AVP Hermosa title since 2018.

Chaim Schalk, left, and Theo Brunner celebrate winning the the AVP Hermosa Beach Open on Sunday in Hermosa Beach.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Neither winning pair — both based in Hermosa Beach and trained by the same coach — cruised to victory. In the semifinal, Sponcil and Cannon faced a steep challenge from Sarah Hughes and Kelley Kolinske, with whom they juggled possession of the match point in a nailbiter of a third set. Brunner and Schalk played seventh seed Paul Lotman and Miles Partain down to the wire in the champions’ semifinal match.

Well before that, they found themselves in the contenders bracket Friday after losing to the same pair they beat in the semifinal.

“I’m buddies with both those guys, really good friends with Paul,” Brunner said. “I was like his sensei when he was trying to switch from indoor to beach, so I would have been happy for them if they beat us. But I guess not today, Paul.”

After her win, Sponcil encouraged the crowd to continue supporting the AVP. Beach volleyball has gained popularity, particularly on the women’s side. Over the last 10 years, women’s beach volleyball expanded to more than 150 colleges nationwide.
Many of the weekend’s competitors played on some of the first NCAA beach volleyball teams or transitioned to the sand after indoor careers.

“It is so cool to be able to come down here and see so many courts on both sides of the pier and how fast the game is growing,” Cannon said.

While there are no NCAA or NAIA schools with men’s beach volleyball,
Brunner said overall interest in the sport has increased.

“There’s always fans, the stands are always full, so I don’t know how we monetize that for the tours, but I feel like the fanbase and the interest is there,” Brunner said. “I think it’s onwards and upwards, but we’ll see.”

Southern California beach volleyball fans can catch more AVP action when the tour returns from Aug. 19-21 for its Gold Series event in neighboring Manhattan Beach.

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