Laguna Open preview

Laguna Open Preview: Sean Rosenthal, Mark Williams Running it Back


Sean Rosenthal doesn’t have a short memory. He remembers exactly what happened in 2002: A 16-21, 19-21 loss to Fred Souza and Anjinho in Chicago, the final event of the AVP season. It wasn’t just a loss to put him and Mark Williams in ninth place. It was the loss that kept them out of that year’s King of the Beach.

Nearly two decades and 300 tournaments later, Rosenthal recalled that off the top of his head.

“You remember little things like that,” he said. Just as he remembers how good his partner was, and is.

It has been 17 years since the two lost that final match in Chicago, but this weekend, in Laguna Beach for the 65th annual Laguna Open, they’re running it back. Rosenthal and Williams. An American legend with an Australian one.

“Mark’s always been a good player,” Rosenthal said of Williams, a 2004 Olympian. “He’s always solid. Always solid. This tournament’s going to be fun. There’s some good teams, going to be some good action. It’ll be a good tournament. I’m stoked on my partner just coming out of the woodwork. He’s going to be that solid lefty who’s going to side out and block balls.”

The last time Williams competed in a professional event came in 2016, in an NVL with an up-and-coming Skylar McCoy. They had won one in Milwaukee the year before, and McCoy and Rosenthal both echoed a similar sentiment about the 6-foot-6 blocker: He’s just one of those guys who’s always, always, always solid. Reps or not. Practice or not. He’ll be just fine.

It made for an easy call for Rosenthal, whose partner on the AVP Tour, Ricardo Santos, couldn’t make it from Orlando, Florida.

“I didn’t want to mess up any teams. I didn’t want to call somebody and break anybody up and just have a domino effect down the ladder,” he said. So he just put an old one from ’02 back together again. So, in a way, there are old partnerships in this Open and new, in a field that could be relatively comparable to, say, an AVP San Francisco, annually a stop in which many top teams were competing overseas.

Mike Brunsting and Rafu Rodriguez – typically partnered with Ty Loomis and Ed Ratledge, respectively – are the top seed, though Miles Evans and Billy Kolinske, while they don’t have many CBVA points to their name, could be considered one. Intriguing, as always, are a number of perhaps experimental partnerships on entry list as well: Raffe Paulis and David Lee, Mike Boag and Logan Webber, David Ryan Vander Meer and Jeff Samuels.

Chase Frishman, the 2016 champ with Brunsting, is likewise running it back with a former partner in Avery Drost, while a host of other newer 2019 partnerships are seeking a relative breakthrough in a strong field: Mark Burik and Ian Satterfield, Kyle Friend and Duncan Budinger, Ben Vaught and Spencer Sauter, Travis Mewhirter and Myles Muagututia, Lev Priima and Jake Landel, and Paul Lotman and Gabe Ospina, to name a few.

As prize money swells every year, rising from $400 in director Kirk Morgan’s first year at the helm to $10,000 this year, the field grows stronger and stronger.

“It used to be a big one,” Rosenthal said. “Stoked with what Kirk’s doing with it. Basically, he’s bringing it back to being a legit tournament.”

And in doing so, he’s bringing back some old school partnerships.