The 59th annual Men’s Laguna Open volleyball tournament last weekend “was deep with talent and saw some of the biggest crowds since the national sponsor money days of the 80s and 90s when the prize purses were much larger,” said organizer Kirk Morgan.
Since he took over running the tournament in 2012, Morgan has been on a mission to get back the heritage of the tournaments in their glory days. And when city officials challenged him last year to beef up local participation and bring in world-class players, he took them seriously and secured great competitors despite “very little prize money.”
This year, thanks to title sponsors, Morgan said they managed to quadruple the prize money for both the men’s and women’s opens. They also amped up the ambiance with live music hosted by local FM station KX93.5 and visits by volleyball royalty, including USA Women’s National Team coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist Karch Kiraly, and volleyball Olympic gold medalist and former Laguna Open champion Dane Selznick, who greeted former pros Ty Loomis, Leif Hanson, Sean Fallowfield and Brian Wisely. Selznick’s father, Gene Selznick, won the Laguna Open six times, including the first four, starting back in 1955. “The Laguna Open is officially the world’s oldest continuously held beach tournament and will celebrate its 60th year in 2015,” said Morgan.
Hawk Hatcher, the number one ranked AAA player in California hailing from Hermosa Beach, and his partner, Mark Williams of Carlsbad, defeated Andre Belov of Russia and Adrian Carambula of Miami, Fla., “in a thrilling double elimination final that saw the teams tied eight times in the final deciding game before Hatcher and Williams finally pulled it out,” recounted Morgan. The best local finishers were Mike Garcia and Michael Boag in 9th place and Jon Larson and Bobby Jacobs in 13th. Kurt Blanton of Laguna Beach and Jarrett Kessler also competed.
According to Morgan, 32 of the 56 teams signed up were AAA rated players and organizers had to turn away several lower ranked teams who failed to qualify for entry, since they only took the top 28 ranked teams.
The Deck, Pacific Edge Hotel and Driftwood Kitchen kicked in prize money and hosted a series of events to promote the tournament, while Firebrand Media sponsored an event at their One Laguna venue on Forest Avenue and provided media coverage that drove large crowds to the beach, said Morgan. Meanwhile, Cuipo Water and Tropare donated thousands of dollars that brought out some high level talent, including several of the top 10 AAA rated players in California, 13 of whom boasted professional rating points, meaning they qualify to play in the big money pro events, said Morgan.