Three Olympic Medalists Meet in Women’s AVP Final

When the dust settled after a furious day of volleyball at West Beach on Saturday, four teams remained standing in the 2012 AVP Championships.

The matchups on Sunday, September 9, are:

Women’s final, 10 a.m. – Jennifer Kessy and April Ross vs. Kerri Walsh and Nicole Branagh.

Men’s final 11:30 a.m. (approximately) – Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal vs. Brad Keenan and John Mayer.

Walsh, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, is the only player of the eight who has previously won a title in Santa Barbara. She and Misty May-Treanor, who retired after the London Olympics, won three consecutive tournaments here in 2004-05-06.

Kessy and Ross are the top-seeded women’s team. They were silver medalists at the Olympics – losing a close match to Walsh and May-Treanor – and they won the AVP qualifying tournament in Cincinnati last week.

Gibb and Rosenthal had made it to the final of the last Santa Barbara AVP tournament in 2010, when they lost to Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. They got a measure of revenge Saturday, knocking Rogers and Dalhausser out of the tournament in a wild-card match, 21-18, 14-21 and 15-5.

That advanced Gibb and Rosenthal to the men’s semifinals, where they prevailed over John Hyden and Sean Scott, 19-21, 21-18 and 15-13. It was the last match Saturday, and it aroused several ovations from the crowd, as all four players made brilliant saves trying to stay alive in the third set. Earlier in the day, the same two teams met in pool play, and Hyden-Scott won another barnburner, 22-24, 21-18 and 20-18.

Keenan and Mayer had a great day, defeating Rogers and Dalhausser in their final pool matchup, 21-16, 21-19, and sweeping Matt Fuerbringer and Nick Lucena in the semifinals, 21-18, 21-13.

Rogers and Dalhausser, the 2008 Olympic gold medalists, might have played their last match together after a fabulous seven-year run. They won their first two tournaments of 2012, at Brasilia and Shanghai. But they lost their aura of invincibility the rest of the year, falling short in 10 tournaments, including the London Olympics. Rogers, a Santa Barbara native, will turn 39 on September 30. With the next Olympics four years away, he said he and Dalhausser will “probably’ part ways.

Sources said the 6’9” Dalhausser may forge a partnership with Rosenthal. Both players are 32. Gibb has been a solid big man on Rosenthal’s side – they qualified for the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 – but he is 36 years old.

The 6’8” Keenan, 31, was the dominant big man Saturday. He and Mayer, both former teammates at Pepperdine, have reached their first AVP final together. They reunited this year after playing on the beach as a team in 2006. “We were green then,” said Mayer, who has one AVP title to his credit, with Jeff Nygaard at San Diego in 2009.

Keenan was on the verge of winning the Santa Barbara championship in 2008, when he and Hyden had a 14-9 lead over Rogers and Dalhausser in the third set of the finals. But despite four match points, they could not close it out, and the hometown favorites eventually won, 20-18.

“I try not to think about it any more,” Keenan said.

He will take more positive thoughts into Sunday’s finals. It could turn into a family bonanza. Keenan’s wife is April Ross. Because both of them have won all their matches in the past two days, they could each win a share of a $47,000 payout that would go to undefeated AVP champions.

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