HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA – Goals are simple for Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng.
Protect your home beach, improve every day and stay mentally tough. That’s what they did on Sunday when they had an amazing semi-final before winning the AVP Pro Series 2023 Huntington Beach Open title.
It was the fourth AVP win for the duo as their second generation partnership has never looked better.
Hughes and Cheng needed a 21-18, 21-18 victory over Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles in the championship match, overcoming deficits in the second game of the day.
“Our progress is unbelievable,” said Hughes. “We want to be a new team every time we step on sand, so we work hard in training, in the gym, getting stronger. We just want to be on top of the world.”
Hughes from neighboring Costa Mesa and Cheng from nearby Placentia brought family and friends and put on a show. The couple set the benchmark for USC college beach volleyball, played professionally together, split, then got back together late last season, and there was little stopping them.
This is their second consecutive win at Huntington, although last year’s event was played two miles down the Pacific Coast Highway on a relatively quiet weekend. Sunday’s event took place on the Huntington Beach Pier, where spectators who didn’t want to fight for seats in the stands lined the railings for a peek.
“It’s the most special feeling in the world. It’s really my home beach,” said Hughes. “I was 8 years old and I told myself that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. Being on the pier is completely different and I’m so happy Kelly and I won it together.
After rushing through the first set against Flint and Scoles, the top seeds fell quickly, 12-4 to start the second. However, they found a way to bounce back when Hughes save and strikes in the aisle made the difference.
“It’s nice to win here,” said Cheng. “There are so many family and friends here, it’s special to be able to compete and perform in front of them. Everyone can watch on TV, but in person it is completely different. To be able to do it so close to home, I have so many people here, it’s just really special.”
Unfortunately, the ESPN+ broadcast went off the air after the men’s final, so you had to be on the beach to witness most of the women’s final. Needless to say, calls, texts, and social media aimed at AVPs lit up. The glitch was discovered, and ESPN – at fault, AVP told us – resumed broadcasting later in the second set.
Both teams battled hard in the semi-finals. Fourth seed Flint and Scoles defeated runners-up Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, 23-25, 21-19, 15-12 to advance to the finals.
At the same time, Hughes and Cheng battled fifth seed Sarah Sponcil and Teresa Cannon for an epic 21-19, 17-21, 23-21 victory.
“The semi-final was crazy. It’s just the definition of good volleyball,” said Hughes. “We’ve gone five match points, so it’s a testament to our team staying mentally tough and taking a massive win in the semi-finals and then winning two here.”
Flint and Scoles, looking to win together in the AVP, couldn’t hide their disappointment as they walked off the court.
“We just have to take care of our side of the grid,” said Scoles. “They created some opportunities in the plays that we didn’t. They are a great team and it was an honor and a privilege to be in the final but we are hungry and we will come back better and ready for the next tournament.
Cheng and Hughes shared the winner’s prize of $14,000, while Flint and Scoles shared $8,500.
Hughes and Cheng’s next stop is a vacation in Europe as they return to the international schedule in Ostrava, Czech Republic, later this month as qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics heats up.