Kormeluks excel on sand

Pass, set, spike. Pass, set, spike.

If Newport Beach residents Alex and Matt Kormeluk aren't playing a beach volleyball tournament together, they can usually be found playing "pepper."

In the evening, they're practicing out in the street. When it gets too dark, they move inside to the entryway of the Kormeluk home.

"They've broken like three crystals on my chandelier so far," said Shelly Kormeluk, Alex and Matt's mom, with a laugh. "There's always been no balls allowed in the house until volleyball came around. Since volleyball is my husband's passion, that changed the 'no balls in the house' rule."

Exceptions always can be made. With how well Alex and Matt are playing, they can play pepper wherever they want.

Alex just turned 12 in early July, but he's had a standout summer on the California Beach Volleyball Assn. Tour. Playing against kids that are often several inches taller and nearly three years older, Alex has nevertheless took over the top spot in the 14-and-under standings on the tour.

Alex, who is going into the sixth grade at Mariners Elementary, stands just over 5 feet tall. His game is bigger. He has continued to progress ever since joining the Balboa Bay Club about a year ago.

The boys' father Nick, who played collegiately at Pepperdine, said he hasn't necessarily been surprised by the quick ascension.

"He sets goals," Nick Kormeluk said. "He set his goal at the beginning of the beach season to try to take over that points rating. He's been to more tournaments and probably practiced every day, if not five or six days a week, either playing or practicing. He's just got a competitive spirit, and a dedication to win. As a former Pepperdine player myself and somebody that still plays on the beach, he's got an opportunity with me to get out and improve any time he wants. It's something that he's really embraced; it wasn't forced upon him."

Alex has traveled up and down the beaches in Southern California this summer. In June, he won a pair of tournaments in Pacific Palisades. Earlier in August, he won a tournament in Long Beach with his older brother. In the format, the top three finishers earn points, and Alex has been top-three in 11 different tournaments this summer with a few more still to go. He also plays often with Corey Taylor of Costa Mesa, a teammate at Balboa Bay.

The hours can be long for the tournaments, which last a single day. And the opponents can be tough. In one match, Alex said he played against two incoming high school freshmen who stood 6-5 and 6-3, respectively.

But the time spent has been worth it.

"I wanted to get to the top of the list," Alex Kormeluk said. "My dad and I both thought that I would at least get close, and I ended up getting first. It's a big accomplishment. It made me feel really good. There's tons of names on the list, and I just saw my name first."

Matt, who is 14 and will be a freshman at Newport Harbor High, has been no slouch himself. He just began playing volleyball competitively in January. Earlier this summer, he helped the Balboa Bay 14s win gold in the open division at the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships in Dallas.

On the sand, he enjoys being on the same side of the net with his younger brother.

"Alex is a setter, and I think he can put it where I want it to bang against other teams," Matt Kormeluk said. "[It's a good] setter-hitter combo."

In indoor volleyball Alex also plays setter, along with outside hitter. He said he enjoys both positions.

"I like outside hitter more, but setting is fun," Alex Kormeluk said. "You get lots of the action."

For the Kormeluks, the action never seems to stop. Broken chandeliers seem to be a small price to pay.

"It's just a passion for the game that's kind of propelled them to do so well so quickly," Nick Kormeluk said.


Twitter: @mjszabo

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