Son of NBA coach wins men’s open at Aspen MotherLode
September 7, 2009
ASPEN – At barely 6 feet, Jesse Rambis clearly does not take after his towering father.
“I got my mother’s height,” joked the 23-year-old, the son of former NBA player and current Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis, who stands 6-foot-8.
“And my quickness!” Linda Rambis proudly chimed in after Monday’s MotherLode open men’s final.
That agility paid off. Jesse Rambis and teammate John Moran capped off a perfect Labor Day weekend with a straight-games (21-17, 21-16) victory over Dane Jensen and Evan Engle to clinch the MotherLode title – the first for each.
The win came in Rambis’ third trip to Aspen, while Moran finally broke through in his seventh trip to the world’s largest doubles volleyball tournament. The duo were playing together for the first time.
“I’ve come so close here – third and fifth place,” Rambis said. “This is special. … It took lots of battles, the first one being the gnarliest.”
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Rambis and Moran, from Manhattan and Redondo beaches in California, staved off elimination in Saturday’s first round, where they were pushed to a third and final game, which they won 15-13.
Once they made it to the winner’s bracket, the duo stayed there.
Dane Jensen (Hermosa Beach, Calif.) and Evan Engle (Dana Point, Calif.) had to fight their way through the loser’s bracket. Just one hour before taking on Rambis and Moran, they outlasted fellow Californians John Mesko and Dana Camacho in a tight, physically taxing match.
It appeared to take its toll, as Jensen and Engle struggled to keep pace in the final. Jensen drew roars from the crowd with a powerful kill that cut his and Engle’s deficit to three at 18-15, but Rambis answered back with a well-placed drop. Rambis secured the Game 1 win with a similar shot that sailed barely beyond the reach of Engle, who dove to the sand in vain.
Moran, at 6-foot-5 an imposing and dominating force at the net, drilled a kill down the sideline to break a five-all tie in the second game. Despite battling altitude sickness that made him light-headed – Moran could be seen using supplemental oxygen during breaks in play – he and Rambis would not trail again.
“I felt great at the net, and Jesse was lipping so many balls,” Moran said. “He [converted] sideouts so well the whole tournament.”
Jensen and Engle hung tough – pulling to within two points on multiple occasions, the last coming at 15-17 – but faded down the stretch. Rambis pulled off an athletic dig, then soared high for a kill to stretch the advantage to 19-15, then Jensen hit a ball into the net. Rambis split the defense with a kill to seal the match and the tournament title.
Afterward, he shared a warm embrace with his parents before walking off the court.
“No [it’s not nerve-wracking.] This is complete joy,” said Kurt Rambis, a four-time NBA champion during his 14-year career, most of it with the Lakers. “Watching your children play is more [gratifying] than anything I’ve ever done in sports.”
Moran, who logged four Top-10s on this year’s AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, could not contain his excitement.
“This has pretty much been the dream year,” he said, grinning. “I’ve had my best season ever on the AVP, my wife is giving birth to twins, a boy and a girl. … This is the perfect ending.
“I’m retired until next season.”
In other action Monday, Paige Davis (Hermosa Beach, Calif.) and Jenelle Koester (Redondo Beach, Calif.) repeated as women’s open champions after besting Christina Hinds (Los Angeles) and Crystal Morrison (Newport Beach, Calif.) in two games decided by a total of four points.
Koester pulled off an acrobatic block to square Game 1 at 21, then Davis finished off a long rally with a kill to the back right corner of the court. After Hinds tied the game, Morrison initially blocked Davis but let the ball fall to the sand. Koester pulled off a dig and a kill in succession to seal the win.
Davis and Koester, who were beaten early Saturday and had to work their way through the loser’s bracket, pulled out a 21-19 Game 2 victory to finish off the match. Last year, the duo topped 2006 champion Carrie Wright and partner Kelly Rowe in the Labor Day finale.
Angela Knops (Fort Collins) and Brooke Langston (Hermosa Beach, Calif.) tied for third with Utah’s Helen Farr and Traci Walsh.