Volleyball

Wait is over: Taylor Crabb, the “people’s champion,” wins the Manhattan Beach Open

on

MANHATTAN BEACH, CA. — Five years ago, Taylor Crabb hit the perfect swing. The right swing. An untouchable swing. A bullet down the angle around Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena that would have sealed the 2018 Manhattan Beach Open title.

It might be the most haunting swing in the past half-decade on the AVP Tour.

It landed no more than half an inch out, one of Crabb’s only blemishes on an otherwise scintillating final. One does not simply give Phil Dalhausser second life — not Sunday Phil, and especially not Sunday Phil at the Manhattan Beach Open. He and Nick Lucena would come back, from down 18-20 in the second set — after losing 12-21 in the first — to winning, 22-20, 15-13.

In the ensuing four years, Crabb would watch his brother, Trevor, win three straight Manhattan Beach Open titles. He’d watch his good friend, Tri Bourne, win two.

Taylor hadn’t even made it back to the finals.

“It hurts my soul,” Jake Gibb once said, “that Taylor isn’t on the Pier yet.”

All is right with Gibb’s soul. All is right in the beach volleyball world.

Taylor Crabb is on the Manhattan Beach Pier.

Taylor Crabb-Taylor Sander-AVP Manhattan Beach Open
Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander celebrate winning the 2023 Manhattan Beach Open/Mpu Dinani photo

He and Taylor Sander exorcised every last demon from the past two years in a single tournament, culminating in a 27-25, 21-16 victory over Trevor Crabb and Theo Brunner. It’s a victory that is equal parts thrilling and cathartic, alas finding a way to beat the team for which that had no answer for the previous two seasons, and doing so at the most opportune time, on the sport’s biggest annual stage.

“Trev and Theo, they’ve had our numbers all year,” Sander said after, doused in a mix of Kona brew and rain.

The day started early on Manhattan Beach. With a storm headed to Southern California sure to bring, at the least, a lot of rain, the AVP chose to start at 7 a.m. Sunday. Subsequently, the title matches were not streamed live on either ESPN+ or the Bally Live app, but were shown later Sunday in their regularly scheduled time slot on ESPN2. And even that was delayed a few minutes as a pro softball game finished up.

As a team, Taylor Crabb and Sander were 1-9 against Trevor Crabb and Brunner, discounting a forfeit at the Espinho Challenge earlier this summer. They had lost once in Huntington and twice in Hermosa, including the finals. It was Trevor and Brunner who knocked them out in Atlanta and who sent them into the contender’s bracket on Saturday in Manhattan in a 17-21, 21-16, 21-23 epic.

Brunner, in particular, has had Taylor’s number, reserving his best blocking performances for the younger of the Crabbs, stuffing him to the point that the technical timeout in Fort Lauderdale last summer was 16-5 — not 17-4, as the score originally indicated, “that was a scoring mishap, Crabb said earlier this year, laughing. In the quarterfinals in Manhattan, Brunner picked up six blocks. In a 21-15, 21-6 semifinal evisceration of Seain Cook and Cody Caldwell, he tacked on another six.

And now, in the finals, against the hottest team in the country, against the blocker who had dialed into his timing for two years in a row, Taylor Crabb was supposed to get his name on the Pier?

Indeed.

He’s nothing if not confident, Crabb. He has figured out every blocker in the world — save for Anders Mol — from Alison to Dalhausser to Paolo Nicolai and Robert Meeuwsen and, yes, on Sunday morning, he figured out Theo Brunner. Up 18-14 in the second set after winning the first, 27-25, Crabb approached from the right, the side his new coach, Evie Matthews, switched him to the moment he took over for Crabb and Sander. There would be no low swing for Brunner to seal this time. No cut shot where Trevor would be waiting. No baby line roll for Brunner to swat. This was a titanic rip up the seam that sent the ball bouncing into the VIP boxes.

19-14.

Crabb leaned back. Smiled. A smile that knew it was only a matter of time. For five years now, that’s what people had been saying: It’s only a matter of time until Taylor Crabb gets his Manhattan Beach Open title.

But when?

It is easy for fans of the game to say it’s only a matter of time. It was only a matter of time for Dan Marino to win a Super Bowl, for Reggie Miller to win an NBA Championship, for Ted Williams to win a World Series. Only their time never came. That’s why it gnawed at Gibb, Crabb’s partner during the Tokyo Olympic quad, to no end.

There are no guarantees in sports. There are no guarantees at the Manhattan Beach Open.

Alas, however, Taylor Crabb’s time has come. The beach volleyball world feels right for it. Properly balanced.

“He belongs on the pier among the greats in our game,” Gibb said. “He’s one of the best defenders in AVP history and is so deserving of this honor.”

A legend is what Sander called his 31-year-old defender and good friend. And it was the legends to whom Crabb paid his first respects, nodding to the old school greats who show up every year — Randy Stoklos and Sinjin Smith, Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd — the ones who legitimized it as a professional endeavor.

“You guys paved the way,” he said.

Randy Stoklos-Trevor Crabb-Manhattan Beach Open
Taylor Crabb with Randy Stoklos, one of the many who “paved the way” for him/Mpu Dinani photo

And he, in turn, is paving the way for others. There is no single player in America who spends more time on a beach, any beach, than Taylor Crabb. He’ll play fours in the afternoons at 21st Street, talking trash with the old men on the big court. He’ll run clinics in Idaho and Ohio and wherever else beach volleyball is being played.

“He’s the people’s champ,” Tri Bourne said.

No longer just the people’s champion, he is the 2023 Manhattan Beach Open champion. Five years after hitting the swing that should have sealed his name in the form of a volleyball plaque on the Pier with all the other decades of winners, Taylor Crabb’s wait is over.

“Now,” he said, hugging Sander, “there’s two Taylors on the Pier.”

Wait is over: Taylor Crabb, the “people’s champion,” wins the Manhattan Beach Open Volleyballmag.com.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login