Classic men’s final at MotherLode in Aspen
September 6, 2011
ASPEN – The record crowd that spilled out of the bleachers at Aspen’s quaint Koch Lumber Park on Monday was treated to a classic at the Classic.
Long after the sun had dipped below Shadow Mountain, a hushed, tense throng watched as game point after game point was spoiled down the stretch in the men’s open division final at the 39th MotherLode Volleyball Classic.
In the end, Casey Patterson and Sean Rosenthal, two of the country’s standout players and the tournament’s No. 1 seed, stood tall. They battled back to square the third and deciding game at 19 after an errant serve from their opponents, Russ Marchewka and Eyal Zimet, and pulled ahead for good when Patterson produced an acrobatic dig, then drilled a spike up the sideline.
Rosenthal, a 2008 Olympian, blocked Marchewka to seal the victory.
“That couldn’t have been more fun,” a giddy Patterson said later, after appeasing a crowd of autograph seekers. “That kind of match, those are the ones you live for – where you’re on the edge and you have to side out or they win. You’ve got to make a play, there are tons of people watching – that’s why we play beach volleyball. That feeling is what hooked us in the first place. I’ve been on the other side. To be on the winning side, next to having kids and being married there’s no better feeling.”
Patterson, a 31-year-old Utah native and Brigham Young graduate, had competed here multiple times in college and had always vowed to return and win, a goal that he put on hold while competing professionally.
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He was afforded the chance last September following news that the Association of Volleyball Professionals was closing because of a lack of funding. Patterson and then-partner Ty Loomis cruised to a straight-games victory over 2009 champions Jesse Rambis and John Moran.
While he’s been competing on the International Volleyball Federation circuit this year, Patterson made sure a return trip to Aspen was on his schedule – particularly because the celebrated event was a featured stop on the fledgling National Volleyball League circuit.
“I wanted to help [founder Albert Hannemann] and the NVL – they put on great tournaments,” Patterson said. “I talked to him a couple of weeks before and told him I wanted to be here to support him. Let’s do it.”
He convinced friend Rosenthal to tag along.
“I’ve been hearing about this tournament for a long time, but I always had other tournaments on Labor Day weekend – AVP or something overseas,” said the 30-year-old Californian. “We were talking about maybe going to a tournament in Cincinnati this weekend, but we decided to come here. I’m glad we did.”
The high-powered duo rolled through qualifying Saturday and Sunday, then received a stiff test in Monday afternoon’s semifinals. With their match against Stafford Slick and Evan Engle squared at 12 in the deciding game, Patterson and Rosenthal pulled ahead after a double hit call. Rosenthal provided some intense pressure at the net on the next two points, producing a block and an Engle mishit that sailed out of bounds, clinching a 15-12 game win and match victory.
A few hours later, Patterson and Rosenthal found themselves fighting to stay alive once more against Marchewka and Zimet, who like them were unbeaten entering the finals.
Patterson struck first in the opener, producing four consecutive kills to spark a 5-1 run to break open what was a 16-all tie.
Undaunted, Marchewka and Zimet rebounded in a tense second game in which the two sides shared the lead 12 times. With things knotted at 26, Zimet drilled a kill through Rosenthal’s outstretched arms, then Patterson’s attempted dig sailed into the stands, forcing a third game.
The first to 15 would win. The battle was on.
“You know what, it is kind of stressful until you remember all those matches you’ve played that were exactly like that,” Marchewka said. “You just play point to point. When you’re swinging at the ball, you’re not thinking of anything else except getting a kill.”
Added Rosenthal, “When you’re down at all, there’s always pressure. You learn to deal with it. I was trying to be as calm and cool as I could, have a beer in the timeouts and just enjoy myself.”
Marchewka and Zimet had the first opportunity to seal a win, but Patterson soared and pounded a kill up the sideline. Rosenthal followed with a well-executed drop shot, then hit a serve that landed little more than a foot wide.
The back-and-forth tussle would continue for the next 10-plus minutes, prompting one inebriated fan in the crowd to yell, “Come on! I have to pee.”
During one spirited exchange, after drilling a potential game-winner well long and wide, Patterson buried his head in his shirt.
“I was trying to do so much. Sometimes you have to be patient and make the good, solid veteran-style play,” he said. “You can’t always go with that [big] hit even though the crowd wants it – I always say ‘Hit for show, shoot for dough.'”
Patterson made amends with some stellar play down the stretch, then Rosenthal produced the $12,000 block.
Dinner was on him.
“Now it looks like I have to buy sushi for my whole crew. I didn’t really agree to it, but I guess that’s what’s happening,” Rosenthal joked as friends circled him and shouted “rainbow rolls” and “sake.”
“It was a treat to come out here. What a great final for the fans.”