Winning the Charlie Saikley 6-Man Volleyball Tournament has been a dream of Austin Zahn’s since he was 12 years old. That dream became a reality Sunday as the 23-year-old Hermosa Beach resident helped lead Team Simmzy's/Beckers to the title of the 50-year-old historic tournament.
Zahn, who grew up in Hermosa Beach and attended Redondo Union High School before playing the last four years at the University of Southern California, was part of a college all-star cast that swept through the finals by beating three-time defending champions Team Smack [Team Magnum], 15-9.
“This is something I have dreamed about since I started to get good at volleyball,” said Zahn. “I started to practice really hard in eighth grade because I wanted to do well in six-man when I got older. I don’t know how to describe it but it is definitely one of the best moments of my volleyball career.”
Team Simmzy's/Beckers was never seriously tested, beating Super Average, 15-9, Team Ditka, 15-10, Wee-Man’s Chronic Tacos, 15-10, Young and Reckless, 15-11, en-route to the championship match with Team Smack.
“We pretty much had the same team as last year when we finished third,” Zahn said. “We added a couple of guys but were pretty much just a group of guys who played college volleyball with and against each other.”
“We got a bunch of NCAA all-star guys returning from last year,” Tri Bourne said of his Simmzy's/Beckers teammates. “We just tried to stay focused because a lot of these guys on Team Smack are our coaches, so it’s nice to be able to beat them.”
The talk of the tournament among the players was the play of Kevin (Frenchy) Tillie of Team Simmzy's/Beckers who is a member of the French national squad and is set to be an Olympian representing France at the 2012 London Olympics.
“They don’t have stuff like this in France,” Tillie said. “I wasn’t going to play because I hurt my shoulder last week but I’m definitely glad I did. This was very exciting.”
“That kid is pretty amazing,” said Team Smack's David Mackenzie, who won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a current USA Volleyball member. “I mean his athleticism is off the charts and he can really sky.”
Tillie also had the respect of legendary beach volleyball player Tim Hovland who was amazed at how high Tillie jumped out of the sand and the strength with which he hit the ball.
“He is going to be something special,” said Hovland, who won the tournament himself a handful of times and is considered by many to be one of the top five players of all-time on the beach. “He can literally jump right out of the gym. He reminds me a lot of Sean Rosenthal.”
Although the tournament has a laid back feel because of the costumes and reputation for being a party, there is some pretty stiff competition because the tournament is a virtual who’s who in the world of beach and indoor volleyball.
For instance, Team Trim Lords [Team Fletch in previous years], who was beaten by both Team Simmzy's/Beckers and Team Smack, boasted a frontline of 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist and current USA Volleyball member David Lee, who is rated as the best indoor volleyball player in the world, along with former AVP legends Matt Fuerbringer and Mike Lambert.
“This tournament is not about partying but about a celebration of our wonderful sport,” said Chris (Geeter) McGee, who is the voice of beach volleyball. “I mean Lee is just sick, and you got guys like Lambo and Fuhrby who are legends all on the same line. It’s beautiful to watch.
“People in the volleyball community refer to this weekend as New Year's Eve because this is the biggest party in the world of volleyball.”
The Trim Lords also had the backing of NBA players Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, Richard Jefferson and Kevin Love.
“Where else can you play against the best volleyball players in the world?” said Young and Reckless team member Evan White, a lifelong Manhattan Beach resident who went to Mira Costa and now plays volleyball for UC Santa Barbara. “I mean I looked over the other side of the net and I saw Lee, Fuhrbringer and Lambert and I was just in awe. What an honor.”
Team Smack was also stacked with huge names and personalities from the world of volleyball including Mackenzie, Olympic Gold Medalist Rich Lambourne, Ryan Stuntz, Brett Doble, Todd May, Austin Rester and Albert Hanneman.
“It's fun to be a part of a team that competes so hard and knows how to have fun,” said Rester. “This tournament is about honoring Charlie [Saikley, the event's founder] and what he has done for the sport of volleyball.”
Team Smack also has a cult-like fan following that includes a guy in a wheelchair with a mega-phone who implores the crowd to cheer every Team Smack point while endlessly playing the theme song to the TV show Magnum PI from a boombox along with a Flavor Flav type hype man named “Siggy,” who had no shirt and a tie around his neck. Siggy asks everyone to clap three times at the count of three.
The essence of the tournament was felt before the Men’s Open loser bracket final on Sunday, when Team Magnum, who was about to face Team Young and Reckless, huddled up in a circle and began to sing the lyrics to Neil Diamond’s hit song “Sweet Caroline.” The song started with just the players of Team Smack singing and ended with a majority of the 300-plus crowd serenading along to the chorus.
“You try to focus on the game and just drown out the crowd,” said White, "but I think we got a little intimidated by the whole Team Magnum show. I had goose bumps when the whole crowd was singing. It was kind of cool.”
Behind the adrenaline of the crowd, Team Magnum cruised right past Team Young and Reckless, winning 11-2 to set up the battle with Team Simmzy's/Beckers.
“You know this is really what this tournament is about,” said Hanneman of his enjoyment of playing in the tournament. “It’s not about winning or losing but building camaraderie among the people in the volleyball community.”
The Women’s final was won once again by Team 900, who won for the fifth straight year. Led by Mira Costa head coach and former professional beach volleyball player Lisa Zimmerman, Team 900 rolled over Moonlight Yacht Club, winning 15-11 to secure the championship.
“I think that they really made it about the volleyball this year,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a volleyball reunion for us; we all played college and are either coaches or have played at the professional level. So it’s a great reunion for all of us and a time to showcase what a great sport we have.”