To help promote the title sponsor, players on the stadium court at the AVP Championships near the Huntington Beach Pier crammed their lengthy, sweaty bodies into small convertible smart cars that served as benches that must have lacked supreme comfort.
Turns out, uncomfortable was a fitting theme for both the top-seeded men's and women's teams, both of which included a Costa Mesa resident. The men's duo of Costa Mesa's Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson of Huntington Beach, as well as the favored women's tandem of Costa Mesa's April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings were both upset in the semifinals on Sunday.
Ross, an Olympic silver medalist in London and Newport Harbor High product who came in with 10 open titles, was hoping to help Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, move into sole possession of the top spot in career beach wins (she remains tied with Newport Harbor graduate Misty May-Treanor with 112. Instead, they were stunned, 21-15, 21-17, by No. 3-seeded Lauren Fendrick and Brittany Hochevar.
Gibb, a two-time Olympian who along with Patterson had won the last four AVP events, saw his team eliminated, 19-21, 26-24, 15-13, by the No. 4-seeded paring of Theo Brunner and Nick Lucena.
The loss halted a two-tournament winning streak for Ross and Walsh Jennings, who had won the previous AVP event in Santa Barbara, as well as a Federation International de Volleyball tournament in Brazil.
Both Gibb and Patterson, as well as Ross and Walsh Jennings were set to board a red-eye flight late Sunday bound for an FIVB event in China.
"I think we need it," Ross said of the China event that will help divert their attention from the worst finish of her recent pairing with Walsh Jennings. "We need to play and play and play and play right now. As much as it hurts, we were going to have a dip and a growing pain. Unfortunately, I wish it didn't happen in that [semifinal] match, but it did, Now, we need to fix it and build on it and be better because of it."
Gibb, who played with Patterson for the first time this season, was disappointed, but said the duo's third third-place finish, to go with four titles in seven AVP events, made it a successful AVP season. He also took the chance to put some perspective on a pairing that displays promise for a potential push to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"Oh yeah, are you kidding me," Gibb said when asked if he would have taken four wins in seven AVP events before the season began. "For sure, for sure. We're taking nothing but positives from the year; big, big positives."
Ross and Walsh Jennings found little positive about Sunday's performance, though both gave ample credit to their opponents.
"I'm a little at a loss for words," said Ross, who has 10 open titles including three this year, two with former longtime partner Jennifer Kessy. "But [Hochevar and Fendrick] didn't think twice about anything. They just came in guns blazing. They hit the ball as hard as they could on the serve and just went super late to everything on defense and kept us guessing. They played really well and we learned a big lesson today. We'll keep that lesson to ourselves."
Walsh Jennings didn't hide her disappointment.
"I didn't think it would go like that," Walsh Jennings said of the semifinal. "That was an uncomfortable match. They made us uncomfortable and we never fought our way out of it. I think we need to meet aggressive with aggressive and that's what we didn't do today. [Hochevar and Fendrick] had their foot on the gas and we put ours on the brake and stayed in cruise control. We were working hard, but we didn't meet their fire or their aggressiveness, so I think that was the biggest problem today.
Costa Mesa resident Brad Keenan and his partner, John Mayer, the No. 8 seeds, were defeated, 21-11, 21-18, by No. 3-seeded Tri Bourne and John Hyden in the other semifinal. Keenan and Mayer became the lowest-seeded team to reach an AVP men's final in 2013.
The losing semifinal teams, who shared third place, all split $9,500.
The men's title went to Brunner and Lucena, who split $20,000. They defeated Bourne and Hyden, 23-21, 7-21, 15-13, in the final.
The women's crown was claimed by Jennifer Fopma and Brooke Sweate, who defeated Hochevar and Fendrick, 21-9, 15-21, 15-9, in the final.