MAY 5, 2022, MANHATTAN BEACH, CA – Hagen Smith and Jake Dietrich were, as Smith described it, “peeking around” plenty during pool play of Saturday’s CBVA in Manhattan Beach, California. It was the second of three events in the CBVA Hermosa Beach Wild Card Series, in which the top team in the series earns a bid into the main draw of AVP Hermosa Beach later this summer.

Already, Smith and Dietrich had won the first in the series. They knew, going into it, if they won, the bid was theirs for the taking. Still: It wouldn’t hurt if a few of their closest competitors fell early in the second tournament.

So they peeked around, keeping an eye on Leor Schiffer and Alexander Biz, Dylan Maarek and Curt Toppel, and Kyle Stevenson and Tomas Salava, all of whom made the semifinals in Santa Monica in the first tournament of the series.

What they saw was most pleasing.

Maarek and Toppel were slugging it out in what quickly became known as the pool of death, which included Adam Roberts and Cody Caldwell, Raffe Paulis and Duncan Budinger, Brian Miller and Jon Ferrari, and Bryce Paxon and Nick DiMatteo. Schiffer and Biz, meanwhile, one of the hottest teams on the CBVA this season, the ones whom Smith and Dietrich met in the finals in Santa Monica, were uncharacteristically struggling.

Neither Toppel and Marrek, nor Biz and Schiffer would break pool.

It made the quarterfinals, against Salava and Stevenson, all the more pressure-filled: Beat them, the thinking went, and the series lead could be widened significantly.

“They were our final hurdle,” Smith said. “There was a little more riding on it. We were definitely peeking around, seeing who was still alive and getting the rundown, and rooting for those other guys. It definitely alleviated some of the stress and that extra pressure, but we just played free and it’s been working for us.”

Indeed, all is working just fine for the two, as Smith and Dietrich won their second consecutive tournament together, sealing up the series and the bid into the main draw of Hermosa, the first of Dietrich’s career and the fourth for Smith.
“It’s starting to click a little bit,” Smith said. “We complement each other really well with what we’re doing. He’s playing really well.”

Well enough that it took until the semifinals for someone, anyone, to make a change in their strategy against the two.

“I don’t know who gave everyone the scouting report against us in pool play,” Dietrich said, laughing. “But literally everyone served me every ball.”

Finally, in the semifinals, Lev Priima and Silila Tucker, who qualified for AVP Austin in Panama City Beach, switched it up, forced to serve Smith after Dietrich continued siding out at such a high rate.

How’d that work?

“Hagen had two huge swings for the match in typical Hagen fashion,” Dietrich said of the 32-30 semifinal win. “He finds a way. He finds a way to get the ball on his right shoulder and take a rip. He has such a huge window it’s like setting the ocean. Honestly, it’s so crazy.”

In the finals, they’d meet Jon Mesko and Gabe Ospina, winning 28-21, sealing up both the main draw berth and their second consecutive CBVA win.

“I’ve played in seasons where I’ve won multiple CBVAs,” Dietrich said. “But I don’t know if I’ve ever won two CBVAs back to back.”

While the men’s series is prematurely finished, the women’s is still completely wide open. Agnieszka Pregowska and Heather Friesen claimed gold in Santa Monica but failed to break pool in Manhattan Beach. In fact, every single team who made the quarterfinals in Manhattan Beach didn’t play in Santa Monica at all, making the final tournament of the series, at the Hermosa Beach Pier on May 28, a high-stakes affair. 

Now tied for the lead in the series with Pregowska and Friesen are Mackenzie Ponnet and Chelsea Ross, who won in Manhattan Beach. Meanwhile, Katie Lindstrom and Lauren DeTurk claimed second, while Jenna Colligan and Bailey Showalter and Megan Gebhard and Kahlee York both finished third. It makes for a crowded leaderboard, with a two-way tie for first, a two-way tie for second, a four-way tie for third, and nearly a dozen teams still in the mix tied at fifth in the series, with only one tournament remaining.

~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew

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