The Manhattan Beach Open is many different things.
For 23-year-old Los Alamitos resident Geena Urango, the 2012 installation is the first time she's played in the tournament since high school. Now, some two years after playing on USC's indoor volleyball team, the beach volleyball convert is hoping to advance to a money-qualifying spot in the double-elimination tournament.
For defending 2011 champion John Hyden, who turns 40 in October, the 2012 tourney will be "tough" with two of the U.S. Olympic volleyball duos competing to be top dog.
"We'll have to go through two of the top American teams (Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal and Matt Fuerbringer/Nick Lucena) to win this," he said Thursday, "but they also gotta go through us. It's gonna be just as tough for them to win it."
Last summer, many beach volleyball players were focused on accumulating the points needed to make the Olympics. Neither 2012 Olympic duo played in the MB Open in 2011, and Hyden and his partner Sean Scott did, winning the tournament for the first time.
Hyden explained that he and Scott weren't in a position to go after Olympic gold by accumulating points and said that politics were involved.
But Hyden, who has been on the pro circuit for about 10 years, takes it all in stride, in his case, a 6'5" stride.
Friday afternoon, he and Scott, a Redondo Beach resident, were honored at a plaque ceremony with women's winners Jenny Kropp and Whitney Pavlik.
Said Hyden Thursday a day before the ceremony, "I mean to be put up on the pier with the great players of the past is pretty awesome."
Their plaques now grace the Volleyball Walk of Fame along with other greats, including Sinjin Smith, Karch Kiraly, Mike Bright, Mike O’Hara, Ron Von Hagen, Mike Dodd, Tim Hovland, Kent Steffes, Randy Stoklos, Kathy Gregory, Kathy Hanley, Patty Dodd, Linda Chisholm, Jackie Silva, Angela Rock, Karolyn Kirby, Holly McPeak, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers.
For Urango, the road to the MB Open, part of the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series, has been focused. This summer, she has been training with the USA Beach High Performance team for the Under 26 age group. She also achieved her goal to make the team that will represent the U.S. in the World University Games in Brazil. She has her sights on doing well in Brazil in September, perhaps even coming home with a medal.
Next summer she hopes to play in most of the Jose Cuervo, National Volleyball League and Association of Volleyball Professinals events, hopefully on her way to the Olympics in 2016.
Urango says she loves the fact that there are only two players on a team in beach volleyball. "You definitely have more a of a role in the game, and it's not as position specific as the indoor game. Both you and your partner have to do all the skills--set, hit, pass, serve, etc."
As day one of the MB Open wrapped up, Urango and her partner Caitlin LeDoux made it through Friday's qualifying games of 28 teams battling for 8 open spots and will face the 2011 defending champs Kropp and Pavlik at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Hyden and Scott, who are the No. 3 seed on the men's side, will face the No. 30 seed, Adam Cabbage and Connor Hughes at 10 a.m. Saturday. Gibb, 36, of Costa Mesa, and Rosenthal, 32, of Redondo Beach, the No. 1 seed, will play the No. 32 seed of Mira Costa alumni Weston Carrico and Parker Kalmbach at 9 a.m. Fuerbringer, 38, of Hermosa Beach, and Lucena, 32, of Santa Barbara, the No. 2 seed, will play the No. 31 seed at 10 a.m.
"Yes, we have plenty of competition," said Hyden, who lives in Sherman Oaks. "Never underestimate anybody in the first round. You've gotta win each game one by one."
Undoubtedly, Hyden and Scott have their work cut out for them. "As always, we'll be out to win it. Our chances are pretty good with our track record but it's definitely gonna be a rough tournament," said Hyden.
"We look forward to it [playing the Gibb/Rosenthal and Fuerbringer/Lucena] because then we can hopefully show them that we're still the team we were last year or two years ago."
Hyden calls competition between any of the three teams "probably one of the best matches out on the beach all weekend."
As for having watched video of Gibb and Rosenthal in the Olympics to scout them, he said, "We don't really watch any video. It's more than we've played them [in different partnerships] over the past 10 years so we know kind of what to do against them and they know what to do against us.
"So, it's whoever does their job better and executes their game plan better" that's going to win, he said.
The Manhattan Beach Open, held just south of the pier, is free. The tournament goes from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and the festival area is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Semi final play can begin as early as 8 a.m. Sunday. The women's final is set for 2:15 p.m. and the men's final for 4 p.m. that day.