Beach volleyball brings out the best in Huntington Beach

Volleyball pros Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, both Orange County natives, took home the big AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open, an event held at the famed pier for the first time since 2019.

Cheng, of Placentia, and Hughes, from Costa Mesa, lost just one set in five matches on their journey to nab the prestigious women’s title.  Palos Verdes native Andy Benesh and Miles Partain, from Pacific Palisades, dominated among higher-seeded teams to win the men’s championship.

Kelly Cheng, left, and Sara Hughes Hughes fall into the sand as they celebrate after winning the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Kelly Cheng, top, and Sara Hughes fall into the sand as they celebrate after winning the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Sara Hughes Hughes gets a dig in a match against Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles in AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023. Sara Hughes and her teammate Kelly Cheng won the match and the tournament. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Chaim Schalk gets a dig in a match against Miles Partain and Andy Benesh during the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Beach volleyball fans attempt to catch free merchandise during a timeout in the women’s finals match at the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Beach volleyball fans, top, line up on the Huntington Beach pier to watch finals at the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Hughes’ trainer Mykel Shannon Jenkins, left, and Sara Hughes celebrate after Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng won the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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“This is a dream come true winning in Huntington,” Hughes said. “I learned how to play when I was 8 years old on a court right there.”

Players from across the country showed up to compete on the sandy, oceanfront courts during the AVP Pro Series Huntington Beach Open, the first California event of the season and a kickoff to the 40th anniversary tour celebration for the Association of Volleyball Professionals. The AVP was started in Southern California in 1983.

The action started Thursday, May 18, with a handful of players advancing from trials into the main event that launched Friday with 32 men and women competitors battling it out for the $125,000 prize purse.

Spectators throughout the three days watched the action from the bleachers and the nearby pier, getting an up-close look at some of the world’s best competitors, including some who will be on the hunt for gold at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The 12-stop AVP tour started in March in Miami and will head to the South Bay later this summer.

Cheng and Hughes are former USC teammates and two-time national champions who have now claimed all three AVP events they have entered since reuniting last fall.  They have also secured four international victories in the last six months.

Hughes now owns seven career AVP titles, including one at all three major Southern California tour stops, and Cheng has five on her resume.

Partain, who played for UCLA’s indoor team until earlier this year, said it was great to be playing close to home.

“It was great to generate this momentum right here in front of our home crowd,” he said.

The Surfrider Foundation will partner to host a beach cleanup at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, May 23, with more than 25 people expected to attend to help leave the beach even cleaner than it was before the weekend’s events.

For full results, go to: avp.com.

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