The late-afternoon wind tested the patience and ball control of the finalists in the California Beach Volleyball Association Premier Tour event at East Beach on Sunday.
In the men’s final, the local team of Ric Cervantes and Will Rottman did a good job of handling the breezy conditions down stretch and pulled away to a 28-22 win over Tennessee Fulks and Logan Mister for their first Santa Barbara Open championship.
The women’s title match went down to the wire, with the duo of Dos Pueblos alum Taylor Racich and former SBCC state champion Kelissa Lemoine edging 2022 DP graduate Portia Sherman and high schooler Logan Tusher of the Bay Area, 28-26, for their first title.
Lemoine and Racich were playing together for the first time as the partner Lemoine planned to play with was sidelined with a injury.
“Kelissa messaged me two weeks ago and said, ‘Do you want to play,’ said Racich, who helped Dos Pueblos win the CIF-SS Division 1A indoor title in 2009 and earned All-CIF honors before playing collegiately indoors and on the sand at Pepperdine. “I didn’t even have my CBVA membership, I didn’t renew it. She was the one that was proactive in getting us in this tournament. I was thankful she reached out.
“I love how fierce she is on the court and that feistiness she brings. I need that, I need someone to push me.”
Lemoine said she heard really good things about Taylor’s game and decided, “‘I’m going to just go for it.’”
Lemoine finished second in an Open tournament at East Beach last October and was determined to get it done this time.
“Honestly, it means a lot,” she of winning a title in Santa Barbara. “I try to keep the next goal in my head every time I do something. Before City College, I didn’t win anything. Then it was like, ‘I want to win this,” and me and Emma (Crabb) won (the California Community College Pairs Championship). After that it was, ‘I want to start doing good in the Opens.’
“Last year, we got second place and I was super bummed. I didn’t play well and I said, ‘OK, I’m going to train harder. I want to win an Open and I want to win an Open here.
“I’m just shocked that it happened.”
It was a bit of shock that Cervantes and Rottman were even playing in Santa Barbara. They were all set to fly to Denver to compete in the AVP Tournament over the weekend. But those plans were scrapped when their flights got canceled.
“We weren’t supposed to be here,” said Rottman. “We were supposed to be in Denver for the AVP event and we couldn’t get a flight out. All our flights got canceled. We were bummed about that but stoked we get to play in the Open here.”
They contacted tournament director Dane Selznick and he opened a spot for the Santa Barbara High alums.
“It’s awesome,” said Rottman of winning on the home beach. “This event, I have it circled on the calendar every year.”
Cervantes finished second in the tournament in 2017, third in 2022 and fifth in 2019
“It’s pretty special,” he said of winning it.
There was an added significance to the victory.
“My dad has been going through some stuff, so it’s really special for me,” said Cervantes.
Players on both sides were like contortionists as they tried to control the ball in the wind and hit sets that blew backward.
Mister gave his team a lift with a pair of points on a shot to the far corner followed by a tough serve to tie the score at 22. But that momentum didn’t last as he committed an error on the next serve.
Down 23-22, Fulks/Mister never got the ball back.
Rottman capped a wild scramble with a shot to the corner to start a five-point run. Consecutive errors by Mister and Fulks made it 26-22 before Cervantes followed with a terrific play. He read Fulks’ shot, scooped it up and crushed a short set from Rottman.
A blistering jump serve by Rottman forced a ball-handling error for the title-winning point.
“We just kind of stayed the course,” said Rottman. “The wind is tough; anyone can beat anyone, you just got to be on your game. We were aggressive. Passing is everything, ball control is everything. Luckily, that plays to Ric’s skill set and it was great.”