MANHATTAN BEACH, California (July 20, 2019) – Known as “Wimbledon of beach volleyball” and home of the Manhattan Beach Open, countless champions have been crowned at Manhattan Beach, California. Six more joined those ranks Saturday as the 12U and 16U divisions wrapped up play at the National Beach Tour Junior Championships.

Beach volleyball and Manhattan Beach have nearly become synonymous. Here’s how some NBTJC competitors look at their home the last three days.

Winning Where the Greats Won

As a Manhattan Beach native, Kyle Johnson may be biased when he says, “Manhattan Beach is the best beach in the country.” He continued, “It’s where beach legends are made, so to compete for a national championship, it’s awesome.”

He’s not wrong about legends being made there. Plaques listing the name of past winners of the Manhattan Beach Open, one of the world’s most prestigious beach events, line the pier that overlooks the courts. Names like Misty May-Treanor and Mike Dodd are immortalized along that walkway. 

Johnson and partner Grant Strong now have something in common with those greats; they too have won a title on that same sand. The pair won the Boys 16U National Open title Saturday.

Strong is a native of Clearwater, Florida, but he still has an appreciation for what Manhattan Beach means to beach volleyball. “This is where volleyball was created, so it’s pretty special to be playing here instead of back home,” he said. After winning the title, he added, “It feels pretty good [to win], especially here. This atmosphere is amazing.” 

A Match Worthy of Manhattan Beach

On a day full of tense contests, the tightest of them all may have been the Girls 16U National Open Division title match. In it, Simone Gibson and Megan Widener, both from the San Diego, California, area took on Kelly Belardi and Savannah Standage, both of Manhattan Beach. 

The match went three sets. Gibson and Widener won the first 21-16 and Belardi/Standage took the second 17-21. It all came down to a third set tiebreaker, and that was decided in extra points after both teams fought off multiple match points. In the end, Gibson and Widener strung together enough plays to go clear by two, taking the frame at 19-17. 

After the tight contest, Widener was quick to complement their opponents. “They were very good, they never gave up. That pushed us.” 
Gibson felt the same. “That game was anyone’s game,” she said. “In all reality, we were able to control the points when we could and took opportunities when we had them.”

Even after taking those opportunities and claiming a national title, Gibson was looking towards the future. “It’s amazing, but you always have to keep on raising the bar,” she said. “Of course I’m going to enjoy the celebration, but you just can’t let it sit with you. The competition is out there for the gold, and if you want to stay up on the podium, you have to work your butt off.” 

Spoken like a true Manhattan Beach winner. 

Defending Their Turf

The winners of the Boys 12U National Open division didn’t have to come very far to compete. Simon Capps and Thatcher Fahlbusch, both of Manhattan Beach, play on these same courts often, and they enjoyed being able to represent the area well. 

“It’s amazing how we can show that this is our beach and that locals win,” Capps said. “It was fun having my neighbor here to play with me.”

The duo faced Logan Eaton and Ethan Li from Virginia and the Chesapeake Region, winning in straight sets. They were impressed with their foes from the East Coast. 

“We played a really good volleyball team that was from outside of California,” said Caps. “We did really well playing against them because we had never seen them before. We just got them, we just competed well.”

Fahlbusch enjoyed the competition from another region, but he wouldn’t want to leave Manhattan Beach. “Oh yeah, it’s really cool [to grow up where beach volleyball started]. There’s a lot of people that play out here.” 

Meeting in the Middle

With 2,704 miles separating the Girls 16U Regional bracket duo of Ava Wright (Boulder City, Nevada) and Jesse Coralle (Pukalani, Hawaii), they met in the middle to compete in the NBTJC. A four-hour drive for Wright, and a five-hour flight for Coralle. The journey, however, was well worth it for both. 

“It’s way nicer than our courts at home. When we both meet up and play, it’s really fun,” said Wright.

The distance has limited the pair’s chances to play together. This was just their second tournament as partners. Despite their limited experience as a pair, they seemed to be happy with the tournament after their opening match Saturday morning. 

“It’s been honestly really well,” said Coralle. “We both are passionate about the game and really competitive. We just gel and work really good together.” 

Together, they reached the quarterfinal of the division’s top bracket, the gold bracket. Again, well worth the trip. 

Scene to a Reunion

Manhattan Beach may be home to Girls 12U Regional Division contestant Stella Seligson, but she was more excited to play with her good friend, Nola Wells, than to play on her home beach. “It’s cool because my friend came from Hawaii to play, so I get to play with her.” The pair are close due to the lifelong friendship of their dads, who both grew up in Hawaii. 

This was their first tournament as playing partners. 

While the 12U and 16U divisions are finished, the 2019 NBTJCs are only halfway over. On Sunday, July 21, the 14U and 18U divisions begin their tournaments, once again on Manhattan Beach.

    Saturday’s Division Champions

  • Boys 16U National Open Division: Grant Strong (Clearwater, Florida)/Kyle Johnson (Manhattan Beach, California)
  • Girls 16U National Open Division: Simone Gibson (San Diego, California; Wave Volleyball)/Megan Widener (San Marcos, California; Tamarack BVC) 
  • Girls 16U Regional Open Division: Piper Ferch (Redmond, Washington; Dakine)/Samaya Morin (Lake Stevens, Washington/Dakine).
  • Boys 12U National Open Division: Simon Capps/Thatcher Fahlbusch (Manhattan Beach, California; MB Surf)
  • Girls 12U National Open Division: Isabella Adishian (Manhattan Beach, California; MB Sand)/Ivanna Rivera-Vargas (Chula Vista, California; Coast VBC)
  • Girls 12U Regional Open Division: Kate Denker/Mathea Dalton (Fremont, Nebraska; Nebraska Elite)