After only three years, Eric Fonoimoana’s vision of providing high-level competition for women in the sport of sand volleyball is making strides.
There were some growing pains the first two years, but the men's beach volleyball Olympic gold medalist thinks he now has a solid base. This year 64 of the nation's top women and girls from college and high school competed in Hermosa Beach at the Third Annual E Invitational Tournament last Friday and Saturday. The tourney was formerly titled "Queen of the Beach."
“There are definitely better players every year,” said first-year winner Sammee Thomas of Huntington Beach, who took third in the college division this year.
The tournament pits the top players in either the college or high school divisions against each other, earning points with each new partner that eventually leads to a cut down and then a final four to see who is the best overall player.
Winners were Katie Gavin, who plays at Pepperdine, in the college division and in the high school competition it was Kendall Peters, who just finished her junior year at Notre Dame-Belmont in Northern California.
Gavin, who is 19 and attended Laguna Beach, just finished her freshman year in college. Gavin was a wild card entrant, but came through when she needed to.
“I was kind of surprised that I even made it this far, but Dani was a great partner at the end and we got all the points we needed,” said Gavin, who closed out the tournament with a winner into the left corner that dropped in. “It’s really good practice (playing in this tournament).”
In the final match, Gavin and Dani Barton, who finished second, won 28-17. With the victory, Gavin beat Barton in total points by one to get top college girl honors.
“Katie was just steady; she was super steady, especially in the wind,” Fonoimoana said. “It was very windy and she went very methodically about her business. She kept balls alive that normally people would let go. She made big, big plays when she needed them.”
Dani Barton of the University of Utah and Camille Burman of Granada Hills finished second in each division.
“It was pretty close, Katie did awesome,” said Barton, who played in it for the first time. “It was really fun, it was really tiring though.”
Barton said she will be back to give it a shot at winning.
Thomas, who has played all three years and is 21 now, took third. She plays for Stetson and was happy to contend for the title once again after a drop off last year.
“It felt really good,” Thomas said. “Last year I didn’t do too well, but this year I feel like I was prepared for it. I won 12 out of the 14 games I played. That is a win for me.”
Ashley Delgado, 19, who attends Tulane University, took fourth. She is from Novato in Northern California.
“I come down to Hermosa Beach a lot to get better training,” said Delgado, who played last year but improved a lot in this year’s tournament. “Last year I didn’t make it out of the first round so it feels really awesome to have improved in just a year. It feels like my hard work is paying off.”
She plans to be back next year.
As for Peters, Fonoimoana commented on what made her successful in the high school division.
“She was just steady. It was her ball control, going back there and serving tough. She dug a lot of balls.”
The best finish by a local was Nathalie Myszkowski in the high school competition where she finished in third place. She was just a freshman on the Mira Costa girls beach volleyball team this year.
“Eric’s E Invitational differs from the usual tournaments,” Myszkowski said. “I partnered with so many great players that I would’ve never thought I’d play with and I greatly expanded the range of players that I feel comfortable with. Pairing with a wide range of players opens up opportunities to play new positions, find new partners and make new friends.”
She added, “There was never a time in this tournament without tough competitors and with each advancing round the competition increased in difficulty.”
Myszkowski took this as another opportunity to compete.
“My goals for this summer aren’t necessarily to win but to play my best and to work my hardest in every tournament and every practice.”
“She definitely has a bright future,” said Fonoimoana, who is her coach. “She was in the mix. She learned a lot. As a freshman coming into this and beating some seniors, that is awesome for her.”
Lexi McKeown of Laguna Beach finished fourth.
Overall the tournament does several things for the players, but it gives them an opportunity to practice with new partners.
“It teaches you how to be a really good partner because you better work well with others and communicate loudly,” Fonoimoana said. “You are trying to accomplish one thing and that is to win. If you cannot communicate with what you are try8ing to do and get that rhythm as far as the setting and playing rhythm you will end up losi