Beach volleyball: Gibb seeks return to form

LONG BEACH — Now 38, most of Jake Gibb's peers operate under the popular athletic premise that the older you get, the better you were.

And though coming off his best season as a professional beach volleyball player, the Costa Mesa resident is taking great solace from that thought as he and partner Casey Patterson begin play in the World Series of Beach Volleyball on Wednesday at Marina Green Park.

Gibb, who finished fifth at the 2012 and 2008 Olympic Games, has failed to win in six events on the Federation Internationale de Volleyball World Tour and the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals domestic tour in 2014.

He and Patterson were second at the AVP St. Petersburg Open and were third at the AVP event in Milwaukee. But their top finish in an FIVB event this season is fifth at the season-opening Shanghai event in China.

"We've lost a series of really close matches to eliminate us," Gibb said of his team's FIVB season, which includes a 17-11 record entering the start of pool play in the $1 million World Series in Long Beach. "It's not that we're not playing well, we just haven't pulled out a few matches. It's one of those things where, if we keep grinding, we're going to get our finishes. We're not hitting a reset button."

Patterson, a 33-year-old Huntington Beach resident who began playing with Gibb in 2013, said the duo's success last season has helped them continue that grind.

"It's a good foundation to have," Patterson said of the 2013 campaign in which the twosome won six tournaments overall, with two runner-up finishes and another four third-place showings, "especially with the season we are having. It's fun to look back on how successful we were as a new team and then maybe not being so [successful] as we are right now. If we keep working as hard as we are, the success will be there, because we experienced it."

Gibb said he is also convinced that greater success is ahead.

"I'm stoked to be playing with Casey and it feels awesome," Gibb, who in 2012 while paired with former Corona del Mar resident Sean Rosenthal were FIVB World Tour champions. "We're still in the infancy of our partnership, so we are going to keep going. It feels fresh and new and fun.

"We had a great season last year for sure," said Gibb, who was named Male Beach Volleyball Athlete of the Year in 2013 and 2012 by USA Volleyball. "And we know we can do that and much more. It's fun to have that much confidence in our team."

Despite the lack of a title in 2014, that confidence has gained ground, Patterson said.

"As far as a team and the defensive scheme we're running, we're almost twice as effective as we were last year, because we are more comfortable with each other," Patterson said. "And I've had another season of defense under my belt, which I was totally new at [in 2013]. We're still right there with the top teams in the world. For us, it's really tough because we're playing very well, but not winning those matches, so it's kind of a mind-over-method thing."

With the largest purse and the most FIVB rankings points available at the event that has become known as the top beach tournament in the world, Gibb and Patterson are both happy to be enjoying their home-sand advantage.

"I get to sleep in my own bed for the first time in six weeks," said Gibb, whose family and friends, along with those of Patterson, make up a substantial rooting section.

"We'll probably fill one half of the stadium," Gibb said of the structure constructed surrounding center court." Gibb and Patterson parlayed that support into a victory at the World Series Cup, a sidelight to the World Series Grand Slam event last year in Long Beach.

Added Patterson: "This is right in our wheelhouse, being at home and me living only 15 minutes away."

Gibb and Patterson, No. 15 on the FIVB World Tour points rankings and prize money list, are also bidding to be one of two teams to represent the United States in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"The goal is to stay in the top two for the U.S., because the goal is hopefully Rio," Patterson said. "That's mandatory to be in that position, so there is a lot of pressure that not a lot of people know about who aren't following it real closely. There's a lot more pressure than just not winning. It's kind of good, though, because I feel like, as athletes, we thrive on that."

Thriving has been an understatement this season for Newport Harbor High product April Ross, who along with partner and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings have three FIVB events this season, as well as both AVP events in 2014.

Ross, who earned an Olympic silver medal with then-partner Jennifer Kessy in London, is playing her first complete season with Walsh Jennings, whose former partner, Newport Harbor alum Misty May-Treanor, retired following the London Olympics. Ross was USA Volleyball's Female Beach Athlete of the Year in 2013.

This season, Walsh Jennings and Ross, who won the final two FIVB events last season, have won AVP titles in St. Petersburg and Milwaukee this season. They also collected gold medals at the FIVB events in Fuzhou, China, Moscow, Russia and Stavanger, Norway. Ross and Walsh Jennings have won five of the nine FIVB events in which they have played and are tops on this year's player prize money rankings.

Ross and Walsh Jennings also open pool play Wednesday, as does former UCI standout Whitney Pavlik, who is paired with Jennifer Fopma. Pavlik and Fopma were third at the AVP Milwaukee Open earlier this month.

Will Montgomery, who played at UCI, was eliminated in the second round of men's qualifying on Tuesday. Montgomery and partner Stafford Slick, led, 17-14, in the opening set against Canadians Josh Binstock and Sam Schacther. But Binstock, a 2012 Olympian, keyed a comeback to help earn a 21-19, 21-12 triumph and advance to the main draw.

Montgomery and Slick received a first-round bye.

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