Jennings, Samuels take down Front Range duo to win MotherLode Classic

Jeff Samuels, front, celebrates a point in the men's open finals of the 46th annual MotherLode Volleyball Classic on Monday at Koch Lumber Park in Aspen. Samuels and teammate Casey Jennings won the tournament over Jeff Houghton and Skylar Del Sol in two sets. Jayna Duke and Kyra Lacon won the women's open.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Jeff Samuels needed a last-second partner for the MotherLode Volleyball Classic, which was held for the 46th year this past weekend in Aspen.

Why not Casey Jennings?

The husband of Olympic superstar Kerri Walsh Jennings, he didn’t hesitate and decided to make his first trip to Aspen for the Labor Day Weekend.

“I’ve been wanting to play in this for a long time, but other tournaments have conflicted and it was my job and I had to go other places,” said Jennings, who is an accomplished professional volleyball player in his own right. “I wanted to play in it and all of a sudden it came up and I didn’t even know. And Jeff called me Thursday night, which is four days ago, and he said, ‘Dude, I don’t have a partner for MotherLode.’ And I said, ‘I’ll see you there.’”

The decision more than paid off for the pair as they made their way from sunny California to the cooler, wet weather in Aspen, where they held off Colorado’s Skylar Del Sol and Jeff Houghton to win the men’s open division on Monday at Koch Lumber Park. Del Sol is a MotherLode fixture and has twice won the tournament.

While this was Jennings’ first MotherLode, this was the fourth for Samuels, who had never finished higher than fifth. Although, it had been a few years since he last competed in Aspen.

Samuels said this was the first time he and Jennings had played alongside each other in a tournament.

“Been making leaps and strides since then and getting tutelage from guys like this,” Samuels said after the finals on Monday, pointing toward Jennings, who he calls both a coach and mentor. “We kind of went with it as the tournament went along and got better and better and played tougher teams as it went on. But hats off to Skylar and Jeff. They battled to get here and they definitely showed out in the final and played great.”

Jennings and Samuels beat Del Sol and Houghton 2-0 in the finals, although it took a seven-point run in the second set after falling behind by three to secure the prestigious championship. Not that winning was everything for the pros.

“We really had to battle. It was not easy by any means. They are a great team. They side-out well,” Samuels said of their opponents. “It’s pretty surreal here. It’s pretty calm. You feel good after you leave here, whether you win or lose. It’s a great atmosphere. Winning aside, I always want to come back and play this tournament.”

Jennings echoed that sentiment. While this year’s entry into the MotherLode was rather last second, he seemed ready to book his flight for 2019. And, just maybe, he’ll have his three-time Olympic gold medalist wife with him.

“I knew it was a really cool tournament, but what a special place to be and to be able to play in my first tournament back in a year. Really excited and I’m stoked Jeff called me,” Jennings said. “We’ll be back. I’ll be back next year and I’ll bring my family with me. Hopefully my wife will play and the kids will be running all over the place.”

Earlier in the day, Jayna Duke and Kyra Lacon, both of Texas, won the women’s open division title. They pulled out a close 2-0 win over the New Mexico pair of Chloe Crappell and Madison Irwin.

Because of impending weather and quick matches that morning, the open division finals were played about an hour earlier than had been scheduled on Monday.