SALT LAKE CITY — Usually No. 1 seeds attract the most attention at tournaments. But on the first day of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Salt Lake City Open at Liberty Park, fans flocked around the matches involving the No. 2 seeds.
That’s because the No. 2-seeded men's team of Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson is composed of local favorites — with Gibb hailing from Bountiful and the University of Utah and Patterson from BYU. On the women’s side, the No. 2-seeded team includes three-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, the top women’s beach volleyball player in the world.
The only unfortunate thing for local fans is that both matches were played simultaneously early Friday afternoon on adjoining courts, leaving folks to choose one or wander back and forth between the two.
In the end, the two No. 2s won their matches to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals, but not without some tense moments.
Gibb and Patterson fell behind early and had to rally to beat Casey Jennings and Stafford Slick, 21-19, 21-17, while Walsh Jennings and partner Whitney Pavlik got a good fight from Brenda Whicker and Airial Sprague, the only Utah team in the women’s bracket. Walsh Jennings and Pavlik prevailed 21-15, 21-16.
“I played awful, but Casey carried us to a win,’’ said Gibb, the 37-year-old who has played in the last two Olympics. “It was a tough draw for us because it was against a guy who has won seven opens in his career, but we’re super stoked to get through.’’
Gibb was talking about Jennings, a former BYU star who happens to be the husband of Walsh Jennings, who has been a top player on the AVP Tour over the years. The husband and wife played at the same time Friday, which was slightly distracting to Walsh Jennings.
“I heard the scores — it’s impossible to turn it off — but I was still focused,’’ she said. “Those girls were scrappy, really good players.’’
Whicker and Sprague, who advanced in the local qualifier on Thursday, were thrilled to get the chance to play against Walsh Jennings and Pavlik. The two are cousins from Farmington and both played for the University of Utah — Whicker when she was known as Brenda Barton in the late 1990s and Sprague, who was known as Airial Salvo in 2005-07.
“This was a dream come true for us,’’ said Whicker. “Who gets to play teams like that every day?’’
Earlier in the day, both No. 1-seeded teams won as Sean Rosenthal and Phil Dalhausser won their match 21-7, 21-15 and Jen Kessy-April Ross, the silver medalists at the London Olympics won 21-16, 21-14. Rosenthal is Gibb’s former partner of the past seven years.
In the women’s winner’s bracket, all eight top-seeded teams moved on to Saturday’s quarterfinals, while there were three upsets in the men’s draw. Theodore Brunner-Nick Lucena (ninth seed), Andrey Belov-Adam Roberts (12th seed) and Jon Mesko-Bill Strickland (10th seed) were the upset winners.
Play continues Saturday at Liberty Park with the main draw beginning at 9:30 a.m. All four of the men’s winners bracket matches start then, with the four women’s matches to follow at 10:45 a.m. Because it’s a double-elimination tournament, matches will continue throughout the day, with the semis set for 2:30 p.m. in the men’s and women’s draws.
AVP stars praise Liberty Park venue
Most of the competitors in the Pro Beach Volleyball tournament at Liberty Park hadn't been to Salt Lake City before.
Some were a bit wary of having a beach volleyball tournament here, as most AVP Tour events are on real beaches in California, Florida and Atlantic City, N.J.
“To be honest I had some reservations because some people had some negative things to say about Liberty Park, so I didn’t know what to expect of the venue,’’ said April Ross, silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics. “But when I got here I thought, 'This is amazing; it’s gorgeous.' This is honestly one of the best venues I’ve seen off the beach.’’
Her partner, Jen Kessy, couldn’t agree more.
“When you think beach volleyball, you don’t necessarily think Salt Lake City. But for us playing all around the world, we don’t get to play on a beach that often anyway,’’ she said. “So to actually have it in a park is amazing. You have trees and you have grass and shade for people It’s a really, really nice venue. I’m glad they picked this spot.’’
Phil Dalhausser, on the No. 1-seeded men’s team with Sean Rosenthal, had never been to Salt Lake before this week, only driving through Southern Utah with his family years ago.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s beautiful,’’ he said. “The park is a lot bigger than I expected — it took me awhile to find it.’’
Dalhausser only had two minor complaints.
“I didn’t realize it got so hot during the summer. I’m glad we played in the morning,’’ he said. “We’re not used to this and the altitude. My lungs are burning a little bit with the elevation.’’
Star Kerri Walsh Jennings is familiar with Utah, having come out to the state for friends’ weddings and because her husband Casey played for BYU in 1999-2000. She said she doesn’t mind the hot temperatures, which got up to 100 in the afternoon.
“The hotter the better,” she said.
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