Young Guns provides look into future

Young Guns provides look into beach volleyball’s future talent

p1440 Young Guns

It was kind of hilarious, the term “Young Guns.” Bit of a misnomer at times. For there, in the field for the tournament labeled “Young Guns,” were men like 41-year-old Ed Ratledge, who has been playing professional volleyball for longer than Miles Partain, who finished ninth with Marty Lorenz, has been alive. There was Harley Marques, 44 years old and, a decade ago, a member of the FIVB Team of the Year.

So, yes, in a way, the “Young Guns” moniker was a tad off at times. But it’s funny what happened in the finals, a matchup between 28-year-old Alvaro Filho and 30-year-old Alex Walkenhorst and Mexican veteran defender Lombardo Ontiveros and rookie blocker Jose Rubio, who has all of two professional events to his name, 11 if you include NORCECAs.

The Young Guns tournament indeed wound up as a clash between the up-and-coming players of the next two quads.

Ontiveros, perhaps not, but Rubio is a sure bet to be a star for years to come for Mexico. It was the 22-year-old blocker, and not the savvy defender who competed in the 2016 Olympics, who led a semifinal comeback over Americans Eric Zaun and Avery Drost – both deserving of the “Young Guns” tag as well – 17-21, 21-18, 15-9.

Similarly, Rubio remained calm and collected, remarkably poised in his first major final, jumping out to a 21-18 lead over Filho and Walkenhorst in the final before Filho showed just why he’s being looked to as one of Brazil’s finest defenders, the one who took the 2017 Fort Lauderdale Major by storm, winning without losing a single set.

Either way, you’d have never known that Rubio’s best finish to date was a 25th in a 2016 FIVB. Now the world will know much better to sleep on Mexico, which struggled as a country all season, its top team – Ontiveros and his longtime partner, Juan Virgen – barely cracking the top 30 in the world rankings.

The women, too, may have taken notice of some Young Guns of their own. There weren’t quite as many individuals who might not have fit the “Young” label, particularly in the later rounds. The semifinals, comprised of Katie Spieler-Allie Wheeler vs. Molly Turner-Falyn Fanoimoana and Kim Hildreth-Sarah Schermerhorn vs. Milena Matic-Kathryn Hogan, had an average of 25 years old.

The finals, between Spieler-Wheeler and Matic-Hogan were exactly what the name of the event seemed to promise: A glimpse at what’s to come. All four players were competing in their first major final – unless, again, you include NORCECAs, of which Spieler has won a gold medal. And heck, Hogan and Matic, who compete for Serbia, hadn’t even made it past a quarterfinal and won only a single set in San Jose.

Now they have a win to their name, and an extra $14,000 in their pockets. Nice timing for the holiday season.

So was Young Guns a misnomer? Perhaps at first.

But by the end? It was an event fit for the holiday season: At once a glimpse at volleyball’s present and past, and most importantly, the future.