Sara Hughes makes childhood dream come true, wins Manhattan Beach Open with Kelley Kolinske

Manhattan Beach, California August 21, 2022-Kelley Kolinskke, right, and Sara Hughes.

Kelley Kolinske, right, and Sara Hughes celebrate after defeating Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint for the AVP Manhattan Beach Open women’s title on Sunday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

She started as an 8-year-old volunteer at the Manhattan Beach Open with a dream and passion for beach volleyball. On Sunday, Sara Hughes walked away from the iconic tournament as champion.

Hughes and partner Kelley Kolinske won their first Manhattan Beach Open championship Sunday, defeating Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint in three sets to earn a spot on the hallowed Manhattan Beach Pier.

The tournament known as the ‘Wimbledon of beach volleyball’ is the crown jewel of the domestic tour. The event, which commemorates winners by having their names engraved on bronze plaques displayed on the pier, fueled Hughes’ first obsession with the sport when her mother signed her up to help almost 20 years ago. One of the first athletes to focus solely on beach volleyball in college, Hughes’ career blossomed at USC with three team national titles and two doubles national championships. On Sunday, it reached an even higher level with family and friends packing the stands in matching red shirts that read “Sara’s Squad” on the back.

“I’ve been playing beach since I was 8 years old and I’ve loved every moment of it,” said Hughes, a Costa Mesa native. “To win this with Kelley is incredible.”

The first-time champions were joined by repeat winners Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, who won their second straight Manhattan Beach Open title with a 21-17, 21-14 victory over Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk.

Crabb, who defeated his younger brother Taylor in the semifinals on Sunday, is the first man to win three consecutive Manhattan Beach Opens since Phil Dalhausser, a seven-time champion, and Todd Rogers, who won three times in the 2006- 08. Crabb won in 2019 with Reid Priddy.

“I’m coming for you, Phil,” Crump said during an on-field interview after the game.

Tri Bourne, left, and Trevor Crabb celebrate winning the championship at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open on Sunday.

Tri Bourne, left, and Trevor Crabb celebrate winning the championship at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open on Sunday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

After Schalk’s serve on match point went out of bounds, Bourne, Crabb and their coach hugged. Bourne jumped over a sponsorship board at the side of the field, sprinkling sand in his face. The pressure of defending the championship is gone.

“It’s a psychological battle, but that’s sport. That’s what we won,” Bourne said. “We won that challenge and moved on to the challenge.”

In a sport where partnerships change as quickly as the ocean breeze, the pair of Bourne and Crabb have endured. Hawaiian natives and childhood friends joined forces in 2019, building on their shared passion and history. In contrast, the women’s final featured two pairs who made their debut in January.

Hughes and Kolinske knocked out top seeds Sarah Sponsill and Therese Cannon in the semi-finals on Sunday. Kolinske’s husband posted signs all over their apartment this week that read “Kolinskes go to the pier, Manhattan Beach Open champions.” He hit a sign on the way out the door on Sunday morning.

“Manhattan Beach is the mecca for beach volleyball,” Kolinske said. “It’s the most iconic, it’s the most historic tournament, so to put your name on the pier, to have it stamped there forever, it’s very special and to do it where we both live, in our home country, with all the our families and friends here has been awesome.”

Hughes and Kolinske finished the match with five straight points, completing a 10-13 comeback to earn their place in the prestigious berth with a 21-18, 11-21, 15-13 victory. Kolinske tied the third set at 13-13 with an ace.

Flint and Cheng entered the final on an 11-match winning streak that included a title at the World Beach Volleyball Elite 16 Tournament in Hamburg, Germany, last week. Kolinske knew she had to serve aggressively at the crunch point. When the ball clipped the top of the net, the pace on her serve helped her dribble gently over the tape and drop for a point.

Kolinske exhaled.

“I kind of got lucky in that,” the former Pepperdine All-American said with a smile.

Kelley Kolinskke, left, and Sara Hughes celebrate their Manhattan Beach Open title.

Kelley Kolinskke, left, and Sara Hughes celebrate their Manhattan Beach Open title. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The lucky roll did not dampen the celebration as Hughes sent Kolinske to the sand after Flint’s attack on match point went out of bounds. Hughes raised her hands to the crowd. She and Kolinske sprayed each other with beer. They posed with the plaques that will soon bear their names.

Post Malone’s “Congratulations” blares over the speakers, serenading Hughes with a line fit for a childhood dream come true.

“I’ve dreamed of it all since I was young.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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