MANHATTAN BEACH, California (July 23, 2019) – The 2019 Beach National Tour Junior Championships wrapped up Tuesday as six more national champions – all from the 14U and 18U – divisions were crowned at Manhattan Beach, California.
An Extra Advantage
For the second year in a row, Skylar Martin and Rebecca Watkins won the Girls 14U National Division at the NBTJC, and for the second year in a row, they had some help from an unexpected ally.
Enter Brown Cup.
“Brown Cup came to us last year for the NBTJCs, and we brought him out after playing a Yahtzee game, and we ended up winning, so we were like, ‘bring this one out again’,” explained Martin.
“It’s our good luck charm for this tournament,” Watkins added.
They were staying in an old condo in Siesta Key, Florida, last year for the NBTJC and found an old Yahtzee game. Instead of the usual red hard plastic cup, an old, flimsy brown cup was in its place. “We thought it was so funny that this was the cup, we just kept it,” Watkins explained.
Don’t worry, they replaced it in the game with a red solo cup.
It turns out Brown Cup only works if it’s on the beach, too. They brought him – their pronoun for the charm – out to California, but he stayed hidden for their first two tournaments in the area, neither of which they won.
“We had to bring him out so everyone could see it,” said Watkins.
“And it worked,” said Martin.
Whether it was Brown Cup or something else, the pair from S3 won the championship match in three sets, defending their title in the process. When asked to compare the two titles, both enjoyed this one more.
“It was really cool to end our last tournament of the season with a national championship,” said Martin.
Watkins also enjoyed it for other reasons. Last winter she suffered back and shoulder injuries that kept her from the game for over four months. Then, indoor volleyball prevented her from practicing on the beach as much as she wanted.
“For me, personally, this was more meaningful because of what I’ve been through earlier. I thought we fought really hard, and I just love my partner.”
New Partner, New Placement
A new team won the Boys 14U National division in 2019, but there was a familiar face on the podium as Leandro Cortado, along with new partner Carson Strawbridge, took gold after a three-set win Tuesday afternoon.
Cortado took second with former partner Francisco Bonola-Pimentel at the 2018 NBTJC in Siesta Key, but he prefers first place.
“[Winning gold] just feels a lot better. After last year, I was trying to make a new goal with a new partner.”
That new partnership worked out. The two started playing together August 2018 out of Nothin’ Drops Volleyball EN FUEGO and trained all year for this tournament. “Our goal was to come to Nationals, and then we win it,” said Strawbridge. “We were training hard for this.”
And that training was worth it for both.
“I’ve never had such a greater feeling,” said Strawbridge. “To come out here across the country and take first out of every team in the nation, there’s nothing like it.
Cortado felt something special, too. “I just got relieved after that last point, after that ball hit in. It was crazy though.”
An Extra Special Birthday
John Ziska certainly knows how to enjoy a birthday. On Tuesday, his 17th birthday, he won a national title.
“Yeah, most memorable birthday I’ve had. Eric definitely gifted that win to me, it was great. Good volleyball,” referring to partner Eric Winn.
The pair went into the Boys 18U National Open finale without much information on their opponents Dominic Hagerty and Hunter Haas, but they worked out the best ways attack the southeastern squad and secured a two-set victory.
“We went in kinda blind, we’d never seen them play or play in this tournament, but we figured it out,” said Winn. “Figured out who to serve, what to do, that shots were working more than necessarily swinging when we had the opportunity to. Playing smart.
Despite living on the East Coast – Winn is from the Atlanta area, and Ziska lives near Tampa, Florida – this tournament is one of several in California for the duo. They’re also playing in the AVP Hermosa Beach Open Qualifier, AVP First National Championships, and USA Volleyball’s High Performance Championships while they’re in the area.
“We love it out here, it’s the best. Love the weather, the waves are great for surfing, and the volleyball’s great.”
Sweet Home Arizona
The Girls 18 Regional Open Division winners – Alexis Sweeney and Alina Randall – hail from RPM Sand in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the duo think Arizona is a perfect training ground for sand volleyball.
“It’s a tight community in Arizona,” said Sweeney. “I’m originally from Colorado, and I moved there in January. For me coming in, RPM especially is such as family atmosphere for me. Also, I hate cold and love heat, so that was a big draw for me to go to Arizona for school,” continued Sweeney, who will attend Arizona State in the fall.
Randall, a Grand Canyon University commit, thinks that training in the heat is good preparation. “Coming out here to California, it’s so windy out here and we don’t get that a lot. But the heat we can deal with.”
They claimed the 18 Regional title with a strong two-set win over Peyton Yamagata of Ashburn, Virginia, and Maria Gonzalez of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. “That’s a very good team,” Sweeney said of their foes. “We came out ready to fire, and it went really well.”
Fiftieth State, but Number One in Regional Volleyball
It was an all-Hawaii final in the 14 Girls Regional Open Division, and the duo of Indigo Clarke and Samantha Okano of Spike and Serve won the Aloha State showdown, beating Hie Loui and Senna Roberts-Navarro of Outrigger-Hunakai in two sets.
Despite the limited number of teams in Hawaii, these four had never met in competition before.
“We’ve never played them as a team, we only played them as individuals with different partners,” said Okano. “We’ve never actually played them together.”
The Spike and Serve duo came out tentative initially but soon found their rhythm.
“We were a little nervous. We haven’t been on the mainland for a while, since last year,” Clarke said.
“We kind of took a while to figure them out,” finished Okano. But figure them out they did, to the tune of a 21-16, 21-13 victory, capping off a perfect 12-0 record in the National Beach Tour Junior Championships.
A Long Day, but a Good One
Nine hours. That’s how long Girls 18U National Open Division champions Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft of San Diego, California, spent at Manhattan Beach today, inclusive of a 45-minute weather delay in the morning. They played three matches and two sets to 28 for a total of 288 points. But, at the end of the day, they’re going home national champions.
“It’s been a long day,” said Kraft. “My legs are feeling it right now. A little tired, a little fatigued, but it was good.”
It was worth it to earn the gold medal. “It’s really good to be a national champion, it makes us feel like all the hard work’s paid off.”
Kraft also enjoyed the reward after a long year.
“We put a lot of work into this season and during practices, so it feels good to see success in tournaments.“
And there’s been a lot of success in the tournament for these two. They end competition with a perfect 12-0 record, not having lost a single set
The 2019 Beach National Tour Junior Championships are now over, but USA Volleyball’s beach programming is not. The Beach High Performance Championships will take place July 29-31 just up the coast in Santa Monica, California.