Beach Volleyball: Gibb's passion restored

LONG BEACH — A two-time cancer survivor who never played indoor volleyball, Jake Gibb is used to having something to overcome. And despite finishing No. 1 in the world on the Federation Internationale de Volleyball beach tour in 2012, a disappointing fifth-place finish in the London Olympics left the then-36-year-old standout in anything but a celebratory mood.

The Costa Mesa resident, now 37, said he spent his entire off-season contemplating whether to keep competing on the beach, as well as whether he wanted to eventually make a run at an Olympic medal that has eluded him at the last two Summer Games (he also finished fifth in Beijing in 2008, the first of his two appearances with former partner Sean Rosenthal).

Rosenthal, a former Corona del Mar resident who has relocated to Redondo Beach, left Gibb for a partnership with Phil Dalhausser, who many believe is the top player in the world, adding to Gibb's consternation.

But in new partner Casey Patterson of Huntington Beach, Gibb seems to have found a new vitality.

"It has been awesome," Gibb said of his 2013 pairing with Patterson, a high-decibel, Mohawk-sporting, hip-shaking free spirit who needs only to appear in Gibb's vision to offer inspiration. "Just looking at him fires me up. He has so much energy and that's a huge thing for me, because coming off the last quad [Olympic cycle], you sometimes have a letdown. But he's in the gym lifting with me every day. He has really made [the game] fun for me again."

The 6-foot-7 Gibb and the 6-6 Patterson, 33, won the FIVB season-opening Grand Slam event in Japan. They finished second the following FIVB tournament in Argentina. After a three-FIVB tournament lull during which they did not crack the top four, they finished third in Gstaad, Switzerland earlier this month and won their second match of pool play on Wednesday at the FIVB World Series of Beach Volleyball at Marina Green Park.

"The thing we have learned this year is that we can beat anyone and we can also be beaten by anyone, which is kind of the case with any new partnership," Gibb said. "[Heading into Gstaad] our coach, Tyler Hildebrand, made a few really key adjustments: a little more aggressive serving and just siding out a little tighter. It's just kind of a different game plan, as opposed to just keeping the ball in on the serve. It has really served us well."

Gibb and Patterson, the top-seeded duo, handled the No. 17-seeded Latvian twosome of Ruslans Sorokins and Tom Smedins, 21-19, 21-18, on Wednesday.

Patterson had 10 of his 14 kills in the opening game, while Gibb contributed 10 kills and three stuff blocks in the match.

Gibb and Patterson complete pool play on Thursday.

Gibb said Patterson's height allows them to compete better with a growing trend of taller defenders on the beach, Gibb said.

[Patterson] is a big defender, but that's kind of the way the game is going now, " said Gibb, a Utah native who overcame a malignant melanoma in 2002 and testicular cancer in 2012. "He's kind of the defender of the future."

The future once again looks bright for Gibb, who says the pursuit of an Olympic medal remains his best motivation.

"I want an Olympic medal more than anything," he said.

In women's play Wednesday, top-seeded April Ross and Jennifer Kessy rebounded from an upset loss in pool play on Tuesday. They were granted a forfeit victory in the final pool-play contest against a pair from Finland. Then, in the first round of the 32-team main draw, they topped the No. 14-seeded German duo of Julia Grossner and Victoria Bieneck, 21-11, 14-21, 15-12.

Ross, the leading server on the FIVB tour the last two seasons, had five aces to go with her 12 kills against the Germans.

Ross and Kessy will face the No. 5-seeded Brazilian team of Agatha Bednarczuk and Maria Antonelli in Thursday's round of 16. The women's quarterfinals are also Thursday.

UC Irvine product Whitney Pavlik and her partner, Annett Davis, seeded No. 27, lost in morning pool play to No. 22-seeded Daniela Gloria and Laura Giambini of Italy, 21-23, 21-17, 16-14, and were eliminated.

Pavlik, who will play with three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings in the World Series Cup event that begins Saturday, said she would also play with Walsh Jennings in a handful of FIVB and Assn. of Volleyball Professionals events this summer, before Walsh Jennings eventually partners with Ross.

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