Pro-players Crabb, Rosenthal win the Contest
By Amy Orr, Special to the Independent
Under cloudy skies, more than 500 fans packed the boardwalk at Main Beach to watch the finals of the annual Laguna Open, a two-day sand volleyball tournament. After 62 matches, a field of 64 players had been narrowed to four men: Ed Ratledge, Eric Zaun, Trevor Crabb, and Sean Rosenthal.
A $5,000 cash prize was on the line, but these athletes were playing for more than money. They were playing for the love of the sport. And they were happy to be in Laguna Beach.
?The community really gets involved here in Laguna,? said Zaun, a 23-year old player who recently moved to California from New Jersey. ?There are lots of fans at every game, which makes it fun.? Zaun and Ratledge have been partners since February.
Ramzi Sliheet of Laguna Niguel sat in court-side seats for hours with his wife Natalie. ?We watched some games yesterday and had to come back to see what would happen today,? he said.
North Laguna resident Jim Reese said, ?it?s a great competition and it?s on the beach. What more do you need to say??
The tournament organized by director Kirk Morgan, now in his sixth year, is part of the Malibu-based California Beach Volleyball Association. He is gratified by the community?s support, though recreation supervisor Adam Gufarotti says the city?s role getting the courts and equipment ready is the easy part. ?The real work is done by Kirk and his wife Landi and their team of volunteers. They do a tremendous job.?
Morgan?s dedication shows with a blossoming list of sponsors whose contributions allow the event to continue growing and attracting top athletes. ?This year we have the deepest field of talent since I?ve been here. It?s the best tournament since the big money days of the AVP tour,? he said, referring to the Association of Volleyball Professionals, whose three-year Miller beer contract for $4.5 million in prize money in 1988 pumped up contests.
This year?s sponsors include: the Ballesteros Realty Group, CBVA, the City of Laguna Beach, Lindy Dado, the Deck on Laguna Beach, Everything Laguna, First Bank, High Brew Coffee, Krysti Higuchi, Hobie Sports, iFinance Mortgage, the Inn at Laguna, Dave Kamena, Mago Hot Sauce, Push Play Agency, Rado, SkyLoft, Stan Shuster, Tatra Tea, Tommy Bahamas, Troy Lee Designs, and the Wine Caterers.
With the limited sand space at Main Beach, Laguna can no longer host enormous competitions like other beach cities. Nevertheless, Morgan is proud to carry on the tradition of the Laguna Open, which celebrated its 63rd year on the sand.
Despite the size constraints, Main Beach has a lot to offer. The sand is soft, the courts are flat, and the waves are only steps away. Laguna?s own Dusty Dvorak, a graduate of LBHS, setter for the 1984 Olympic gold medal volleyball team, and member of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame, played in the Open in 1989.
?This is my first time playing in the Laguna Open. It?s a great event and I?m stoked to be here,? said Sean Rosenthal, a 36-year-old with fifth place finishes in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic Games. Rosenthal entered the tournament with Trevor Crabb, 27, a 2014 graduate of Cal State Long Beach. Both athletes now live in Redondo Beach and are in their first year of playing together.
?Laguna is an awesome tournament. There?s always a nice crowd and lots of camaraderie between the players. It?s a great local event,? said Crabb.
That camaraderie was evident during the final match of the weekend. Rosenthal and Crabb won the first game with a decisive score of 21-15. Ratledge and Zaun battled back for a 21-18 victory in game two. Game three was crucial, but the mood was light.
With a slim 8-5 lead, Rosenthal smiled and launched a skyball serve at his opponents. It was a silly, risky move, but the crowd loved it. Throughout the game, the players teased each other across the net.
Points were scored by both sides, but Ratledge and Zaun were unable to close the gap. Rosenthal and Crabb finished the game with a 15-11 win. They were awarded gold medals and the tournament title.
But all four players were smiling when it was over. And so were the fans.