Costa Mesa native Sara Hughes and partner Kelly Cheng are queens of AVP Huntington Beach Open
Huntington Beach was where Sara Hughes fell in love with beach volleyball.
She remembers the court where it happened at age 8. It was just a stone’s throw from where she competed on a big stage Sunday afternoon.
“It’s truly my home beach,” Hughes said. “I was 8 years old, and I said, ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”
That choice is going just fine for the Costa Mesa native.
Hughes and partner Kelly Cheng, from Placentia, won the AVP Huntington Beach Open for the second straight year on Sunday. Top-seeded Hughes and Cheng rallied for a 21-18, 21-18 victory over No. 4-seeded Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles in the championship match on the north side of the pier.
No. 5-seeded Andy Benesh and Miles Partain upset top-seeded Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, 20-22, 21-11, 15-12 in the men’s title match.
Hughes and Cheng earned their fourth tournament title together and split the $14,000 first prize.
In her comments after the match, Hughes dedicated the victory to her first coach, the late Bill Lovelace.
Last year’s Huntington Beach Open win occurred further down the beach, at Newland Street.
“Being at the pier is completely different,” said Hughes, 28, a former star at Mater Dei High and USC. “It’s absolutely incredible, and I’m so happy Kelly and I won it together.”
They rallied from deficits of 12-4 and 17-15 in the second set of the title match. Cheng slid over for a big block at 18-18, giving the duo their first lead of the set, and they won it shortly after.
Hughes and Cheng had almost lost in the semifinals, but saved five match points in a marathon 21-19, 17-21, 23-21 victory over No. 5 Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil.
“We’re fighters,” Cheng said. “Don’t count us out. I think Sara and I just have some really unique chemistry, and we love to fight and we never give up … Everybody’s good out here. Any opportunity you can take advantage of is really important, and Sara and I know that if one of us brings the fire, that just brings our level of play up. We really try to use that as much as we can.”
Benesh, from Rancho Palos Verdes, and Partain, from Pacific Palisades, won the men’s Huntington Beach Open for the first time.
They had lost to the top seeds earlier in the tournament but found a way to survive with the title on the line.
“I thought we made some defensive adjustments,” said Benesh, a former USC star who won his third AVP title. “I thought we served a little bit better, especially in that second set. They’re a great team. They made a lot of really good plays, especially at the end of the first set. We just had to stay calm.”
Partain, just 21, quit as a setter for the UCLA men’s indoor volleyball team earlier this year to pursue his dream of making the Olympics in beach volleyball. He was acclaimed in indoor volleyball, earning 2022 MPSF Player of the Year and first-team All-American selection.
Partain said winning a tournament so steeped in tradition, like Huntington Beach, was definitely significant. This was his second AVP title, as he won in Atlanta last year with then-partner Paul Lotman.
“It’s awesome to be able to play in front of a home crowd,” Partain said. “Some friends from college came down, some local people. It’s cool to see them and know they’re supporting.”
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