Samuels returns to top of MotherLode as teammate’s Rodman jersey fuels run
Colorado’s Katie Pyles breaks through for her first women’s title with MotherLode tournament newcomer Lena Sokolowski
When Eddie Moushikhian puts on the Dennis Rodman jersey midway through a match, it’s best to pay attention. Like Clark Kent swapping the glasses for Superman’s suit, Moushikhian becomes superhuman on the volleyball court with the basketball legend’s name on his back.
His teammate, Jeff Samuels, called the Rodman jersey the favorite part of their tandem. In their only other prior tournament together, it was the jersey that carried them to victory.
“We lost the first set in the finals and we were like, dang, we got blown out a little bit,” Samuels recalled of that day. “This guy comes out of nowhere with a Rodman jersey on in the second set and goes all-world. Jump serve aces, digging, doing everything. After we lost the first set (on Monday), I was like, ‘It’s time to go put on the Rodman jersey and take care of business.’ And there was no looking back from there.”
Samuels and Moushikhian shifted into gear following the uniform swap and went on to win the men’s open division of the MotherLode Volleyball Classic on Monday at Koch Lumber Park in Aspen. After trailing 1-0, they forced a third set to get by the Front Range duo of Lars Basey and Ian Carlson, while 2019 tournament winners Jeff Houghton and Colin McAtee finished third among the nearly 30 teams, as did Lakewood’s Mike Groselle and David Smith.
For Samuels, who is from Michigan, this was his second MotherLode championship. He also won the 2018 tournament alongside Casey Jennings, husband of Olympic volleyball legend Kerri Walsh Jennings. This was the first MotherLode appearance for Moushikhian, who is from Georgia.
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“Jeff honestly just took over mentally. He was able to give me little cheat codes here and there for me to be able to make some touches,” Moushikhian said. “He did a really good job of strategizing against the other team. I come from an indoor background — the beach game is new to me — so he’s kind of teaching me as we play and it worked out perfectly.”
Samuels and Moushikhian lost the first set before the Rodman jersey came out. Moushikhian said his love for Rodman goes back to his father, who used to work on Rodman’s cars when he played for the Los Angeles Lakers. Moushikhian met Rodman when he was young, even though he admittedly doesn’t remember the encounter, but is still fueled by Rodman’s persona on the volleyball court.
“Eddie stepped up to the plate and he took care of business,” Samuels said. “It feels a lot better when you have to work super hard for it and overcome something. No one likes the boring win. It’s the ones where you are not sure it’s going to happen and you pull it out.”
Samuels called this year’s title “the sweetest one so far.” He also finished third in 2019.
There was no 2020 MotherLode tournament because of the pandemic. This year’s iteration was put on my LetsGO Volleyball and Corey Bryndal, who bought the tournament last summer after having played in it on and off since the early 1990s. He’s effectively the tournament’s fourth owner and organizer since it began in 1972.
Photos: MotherLode Open Division Finals
“First off, the MotherLode is legendary,” Samuels said. “With Corey actually coming through and making the event look nice and doing great marketing and getting good players out here, I think this is the spark for a new generation of the MotherLode and I expect it to just grow and grow.”
Pyles, Sokolowski take women’s title
Like the men, the women’s open division winners faced a 1-0 deficit in the finals on Monday. They didn’t need a Rodman jersey to turn the tide, however, as Katie Pyles and Lena Sokolowski rallied back to win in three sets over Utah’s Airial Sprague and Traci Walsh.
“We started out slow,” Pyles said. “Different game plan for the rest of the game. That’s what changed it.”
This was the first MotherLode title for Pyles, who also made the finals in 2019 alongside then-teammate Cassie House. They lost that year to the same pair they beat on Monday, Sprague and Walsh. This was the first MotherLode appearance for Sokolowski, a native of Ukraine who like Pyles now lives in the Denver area.
“Awesome. I get my name on the pole. That’s all I wanted,” Pyles said, referring to the winners’ names being engraved on a plaque that hangs year-round on the courts at Koch Park.
They didn’t do anything overly special to take over the match on Monday, but made a few tweaks offered up to them by Sokolowski’s husband — the team’s de facto coach that day — and was able to keep Sprague and Walsh at bay from there.
“Just cleaning up mistakes and playing our own game and not stressing out about what they do,” Sokolowski said.
Again, like the men, both players applauded the atmosphere around this year’s MotherLode tournament and the new aesthetics, including the personal tents for teams and the faux palm trees that adorned the sand courts.
“The setup, the energy, is great,” Sokolowski said. “All the mountain tournaments are great, but this is just another level.”
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