LONG BEACH — It was somehow fitting that the team with the most history behind it came out on top in the inaugural final of the World Series Cup as part of the World Series of Beach Volleyball on Saturday at Marine Green Park.
This was, after all, a celebration of beach volleyball's past as much as a postcard to its potential future, with the return of the refurbished Assn. of Volleyball Professionals domestic tour ready to kick off a schedule next week that includes six events in seven weeks.
April Ross and Jennifer Kessy, the 2012 Olympic silver medalists in their seventh and final season together, rallied to defeat Kerri Walsh Jennings and Whitney Pavlik, 18-21, 21-17, 16-14, in front of a glistening and grooving Long Beach crowd that drew comparisons to the communal party days of the old AVP that ostensibly ended in 2010.
"That was intense," said Ross, a Costa Mesa resident and Newport Harbor High product who along with Kessy overcame a 9-2 deficit in the decisive third set. "That's probably in the [United] States, 100 percent the biggest semifinal I've ever played, just in terms of the crowd and how fired up [event public address announcer Chris "Geeter" McGee] was. And, the fact that that was the [Americans'] chance to get into the final. It felt like it was really big, and it felt a little Olympic-like and the stakes were high."
Ross, who will eventually team with Walsh Jennings for the final two Federation Internationale de Volleyball and AVP events later this summer, collected 15 kills, three stuff blocks and three ace serves. Her final kill capped a 9-2 run that allowed her team to pull even at 11-11.
Walsh Jennings and Pavlik, a former UC Irvine and Orange County Volleyball Club standout, playing together for the first time, pulled ahead, 12-11 and 13-12, thanks to two Pavlik kills. They also led, 14-13, on a the last of Walsh Jennings' 12 kills, before three Kessy kills closed out the improbable victory.
"I told Jen afterward that that's why I love playing with her, because I know that we can be down, 9-2, and we still can have so much fight that I don't doubt that we can come back," Ross said. "It's just a matter of calming down and figuring out what the right thing to do is."
In this instance, the thing to do was simply siding out.
"Once we sided out, we scored seven [of eight points]," said Kessy, who posted 20 kills, two blocks and one ace to overcome nine hitting errors. "It was just ugly on our side."
Ross and Kessy will meet Taiana Lima and Talita Antunes of Brazil, the champions of the FIVB Grand Slam event completed Friday, in the final of the women's World Series Cup on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Pavlik had 19 kills and one ace, while Walsh Jennings, who said the pulled abdominal muscle that kept her out of the FIVB Grand Slam event did not bother her in the least, posted 12 kills, four blocks and one ace.
Walsh Jennings, who along with legendary and now-retired Newport Harbor High graduate Misty May-Treanor won the last three Olympic gold medals in women's beach volleyball, said the energy surrounding Saturday's match was reminiscent of the old AVP. She also said it will stick with her for another reason.
"I kept saying in this tournament, I was waiting for the killer in me to come out and that [loss] just brought it out and I'm [ticked]," Walsh Jennings said. "So thank you [Ross and Kessy] … That loss, for sure, is going to be with me for a while; every time I hit the gym and every time I play again. That woke something up in me. I feel it."
Walsh Jennings and Pavlik said they felt good about their first match together.
"I've been looking forward to playing with Whitney for a long time," Walsh Jennings said. "She's a proven winner and her defense is so fun. She has all the shots. It was really fun. I am really excited about our potential. It's going to be 'Watch out AVP.'"
Added Pavlik: "For me, it's always a chemistry thing and I think we work really well together. [Playing together] was great and it just showed how much we can build from it. [Playing together in AVP events in Salt Lake City, Manhattan Beach, Cincinnati, Atlantic City and St. Petersburg] is going to be exciting."
Costa Mesa resident Jake Gibb and his partner, Casey Patterson from Huntington Beach, were trounced, 21-16, 21-13, in the third-place match of the Federation Internationale de Volleyball Grand Slam event on Saturday morning.
"We played a great tournament all week," said Patterson, who along with Gibb lost to eventual champions Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal in Friday's semifinals. "To have two chances at a medal and then leave the tournament with two losses and no medal is disappointing. I'd rather suck on a 17th place and come back the next tournament ready to slit everyone's throat."
Instead Gibb and Patterson will get another chance at Dalhausser and Rosenthal in a semifinal of the men's World Series Cup on Sunday at 11 a.m.
The men's World Series Cup final will be Sunday at 3 p.m.