MANHATTAN BEACH — Kelly Claes of Placentia loves playing beach volleyball in front of family and friends because “it pumps me up to play even harder.”
She was therefore thrilled Saturday after she and partner Brittany Hochevar – the top-seeded women’s team in the Manhattan Beach Open – defeated No. 5-seeded Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman by scores of 21-13, 26-24 to advance to Sunday’s semifinals.
The top-seeded men’s team of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena also made it to the semifinals, after being taken to three sets by fifth-seeded Stafford Slick and Casey Patterson. Scores were 19-21, 21-19, 15-12.
Claes afterward was animated.
“I’m, like, unbelievably excited,” said Claes, in just her second season on the AVP tour, and first as partner of Hochevar, who won this tournament in 2016 and 2017 with Emily Day.
“Yeah, it is our first season together and it’s been great,” said Claes, whose team will play second-seeded Emily Day (Torrance) and Betsi Flint in one semifinal. “I mean, we took a second in China in an FIVB 4-star, which, I’ve never been to a finals in an FIVB, so that was amazing.”
Claes is 22. Hochevar is 37, and one of the top players in the country. They apparently have worked hard on and off the court in an effort to maximize their potential.
“This whole season we’ve been doing a lot of team bonding stuff to get to know each other better at team dinners and stuff,” Claes said. “It’s been really awesome. She’s been a great friend and mentor.”
Claes had seven service errors in the victory, but came through with a match-high 19 kills to go along with seven digs and two blocks.
She likes the way things are going.
“I don’t want to say we’re playing perfect – there’s always something to improve on – but I’m really happy with how aggressive we’re playing and we’re playing sharp and we’re playing together,” Claes said.
Taking care of Larsen and Stockman in that second set wasn’t easy, and Hochevar was stoked about how she and Claes were able to grind it out when the going got tough.
“I think what’s important is that when it gets sticky and when it gets hard that we press into the uncomfortable and not run away from it,” said Hochevar, a Long Beach State alum out of Fowler, Colo.
Hochevar would love a three-peat, even though the third title in succession would be with a different partner.
“We want to win this … I want to win this dang thing again,” she said, “so just kind of doing whatever it takes to win, but knowing that the aggressive mind-set is important.”
Hochevar was asked to assess her young teammate.
“She’s very good,” she said. “I’m learning parenting skills that I didn’t have before, in some regards. There are sets of skills that I need to develop and it’s been an extremely grueling year for myself and how to manage and win with a young player, but also, stay relevant because she’s good and she pushes me to stay fast and explosive and keep up.
“It’s been a really good balance in a lot of ways.”
Hochevar had 15 kills and 19 digs.
Larsen led her team with 13 kills and Stockman had 14 digs and nine kills.
Daulhausser and Lucena won this tournament in 2017. But it appeared like they may end up having to fight their way back through contender’s bracket after losing the first set to Slick and Patterson.
Undaunted, they came back to win the second and third sets.
“They served real tough in the first two sets, and then they started missing, so that took a little pressure off of us,” Dalhausser said.
Dalhausser, who is 6-foot-9, was outstanding in getting seven blocks with his 19 kills. Lucena had 19 kills and 11 digs.