A youth movement is underway on the beach volleyball scene and that bodes well for the future of the sport. A new generation of young players is starting to make an impact and that was evident at this summer’s Pompano Dig the Beach event.
In the men’s open division, the team of Dylan Zacca and Caleb Kwekel captured first place with a hard-fought victory over TJ Jurko and Alex Diaz. Tied for third place were perennial favorites Piotr Marciniak and Brad Connors and the team of Daniel Leathers and Kevin Coyle.
In the women’s open division, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) tandem of Rileigh Powers and Marlie Monserez are staying busy during their college summer break by competing in various beach volleyball tournaments. They took on Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) pros Katie Hogan and Karolina Sowala Marciniak and came away victorious. The third-place finishers were the teams of Yana Sokolovska/Chauna Kelly and Marija Milosevic/Christina Mathews.
In the quarterfinals, Powers and Monserez had to go to a third set when they faced off against 15-year-old Plantation resident Elena Lam and her partner, Carley Todd. The UCLA duo prevailed 16-21, 21-17, 15-12. Lam came back the next day to capture silver in the Junior Girls 18 division with partner Kristi Talocka.
“When I found out we would be playing against the players from UCLA, I was so excited,” Lam said. “This is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ll never forget this. It was really close and was such a good game. I’m going to go back to the video and see how I can improve.”
The July weekend event attracted a total of 96 teams and featured Open, AAA, AA, A, Junior and Coed divisions. Each week, there seem to be new teams emerging with Dig the Beach titles. At the preceding Fort Lauderdale Dig the Beach tournament, the women’s open division was won by Alexa Downie and Kaylie McHugh, while the men’s open title went to Brett Greiner and Brad Connors.
Veteran players such as Piotr Marciniak and Connors are always in the running, but the depth of players has expanded with some of the young lions making an impact on the local scene.
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Zacca, of Pembroke Pines, teamed up with Kwekel to take his first Dig the Beach title. The 20-year-old Florida International University (FIU) student and the 19-year-old Kwekel from Bradenton had to battle their way out of the loser’s bracket to take the championship. Along the way, there were some very close matches that went to the maximum three sets.
Zacca’s passion for beach volleyball came from his parents, who were big advocates of the sport. He would tag along when they played and started participating at age 7. He is a product of local tournaments like Dig the Beach and was part of their junior development program.
“This is our first Dig the Beach tournament championship, and I was excited to win our first tournament with my best friend,” Zacca said. “We are hoping to have the same winning results in future tournaments.”
After getting knocked into the loser’s bracket with an early match loss, the young guns had a battle on their hands to reach the final. They had to go three sets to defeat Coyle and Leathers and won the final set 16-14. In the championship match, they faced off against Jurko and Diaz and, after dropping the first set 20-22, they proceeded to win the next two sets 21-17, 15-13.
“After dropping our second match of the day, the key to winning was staying confident with our shots and trusting each other,” Zacca said. “We had very good energy and decision making. TJ and Alex are great players as well as people on and off the court. We continued to stay aggressive, and there are always some surprises in these tournaments.”
Zacca and Kwekel had a busy weekend and went 6-1 in the tournament. Youth was served on this occasion, and there are plans to enter some AVP tournaments across the United States.
The next Dig the Beach tournament is scheduled to take place Aug. 6-7 on Fort Lauderdale Beach. For more information, visit digthebeach.com.