Aaron Wachtfogel and Sean Rosenthal win Manhattan Beach Open
The two grew up together in the same South Bay city, playing the same sport on the same sun-splashed beaches.
Eventually, Aaron Wachtfogel and Sean Rosenthal turned the game into a career, becoming professional beach volleyball players.
But their parallel paths never crossed until this year’s Manhattan Beach Open, when the Redondo Beach natives played together for the first time.
And their inaugural duet paid off, as the two cruised through the Open and won Sunday’s men’s final with ease, beating Dana Camacho and Billy Strickland, 15-4, with several hundred fans crowded around the court’s edges.
For Rosenthal, the win is a repeat. He won last year’s Open with Jake Gibb, earning his name a traditional spot on the nearby pier.
For Wachtfogel, the win carried more meaning.
“My whole life, I’ve been trying to do this,” Wachtfogel said, adding that all of his heroes’ names are along that pier, “every one of them.”
Yet, this year’s Open almost didn’t happen. The Assn. of Volleyball Professionals recently folded, and the Open, in its 50th anniversary this year, had to be saved by city officials and others at the last minute.
On a shoestring budget, tournament officials decided to make this Open retro, doing away with stadium seating, fences, admission and even the current AVP and international rules.
Instead, they went with longer courts and a sideout scoring system — in which only the serving team can score — rather than the typical rally-scoring format that awards points every time the ball hits the ground.
Many players backed out, largely because of the rules, but not Wachtfogel and Rosenthal.
“I grew up loving this game, so I wasn’t going to miss this,” Rosenthal said.
The two play with different partners, but they called each other a few days before the tournament began.
“We just decided if we could pull it off, it would be one of the greatest victories for us,” Wachtfogel said.
They went through seven matches, and only once did a team score in double digits against them. The final was a rout, and ended with a kill by Rosenthal. Shouting fans engulfed them with praise, and raised them atop their shoulders.
And as they went undefeated through this Open, so too did Tealle Hunkus and Heather Lowe, who won the women’s title by beating Kathryn Babcock and Erin Gray in the final, 15-11.
“That just makes it even better,” Lowe said.
Both teams won $4,000, a modest prize, but tournament director J. Parker Saikley said he was pleased that the tournament went off as well as it did, even with the backlash from some players who boycotted.
But he and Mark Leyman, recreation services manager with the Manhattan Beach Parks and Recreation Department, said the format for the Open this year won’t likely happen again.
“This was a one-time shot,” Leyman said.
They didn’t rule, out, however, the possibility of making the Open free to the public next year, with a similar first-come-first-served seating arrangements — if they’re allowed to make that decision, of course.
“I would definitely be available to run this tournament again if they ask me,” Saikley said.
And, Saikley added, if he is allowed to run the tournament next year, the Open will probably go back to the new-school rules.