Emily Day, Brittany Hochevar go back-to-back at Manhattan Beach
When the matchup for the women’s final of the Manhattan Beach Open on Sunday became clear, it seemed No. 2-seeded Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar might have a somewhat easy time defending their title because they were going to take on the 15th-seeded team of Nicole Branagh and Brandie Wilkerson.
But when a team reaches the final of an AVP event, it has been playing very well, so there would likely be no cake walk. There wasn’t, but Day and Hochevar played splendidly in emerging victorious in straight sets, 21-18, 21-18, before a packed Stadium Court crowd.
The end came on a beautiful ace by Long Beach State alum Hochevar. Day, out of West High in Torrance and Loyola Marymount University, and Hochevar celebrated on the sand, drinking champagne and then squirting some on of a variety of people, including coach Hector Gutierrez.
Day and Hochevar are the first team to go back-to-back in this 58-year-old tournament since Jenny Kropp and Whitney Pavlik did it in 2011-2012. Day and Hochevar also won at Hermosa Beach and Huntington Beach this season.
“It’s one thing to learn how to win, then it’s another thing to consistently win,” Hochevar said. “And I think it’s hard to do. It’s hard to keep winning and for us to win the three California stops now in the same calendar year and then to go back-to-back in Manhattan Beach …”
Hochevar, 36, was composed, but emotional, as she explained what it all meant. Day listened, then expressed herself.
“I mean, I’m so proud of us,” said Day, 30. “I knew we could do it. I knew it was going to be tough, with a full field here and it’s nice to solidify all of our hard work and prove that we are a consistent great team, because you don’t want to win just one tournament.”
Day paused for a second.
“And I love that we got all the SoCal tournaments,” she said, with Hochevar responding, “Yeah,” in animated fashion.
Branagh, of Hollyglen via Orinda, California, and Wilkerson were playing together for the first time, making their trip to the championship match all the more impressive.
Branagh, 38, is a 2008 U.S. Olympian. Wilkerson, 25, of Toronto, had athleticism and youth going for her. Together, they made Day and Hochevar work hard.
“Nicole is Nicole, she’s an Olympian,” Hochevar said. “She’s a baller, she’s a warrior. Brandie is freaky athletic. I mean, you saw her. Her block-jump gets her chest above the net.”
The first set ended on a tip-shot by Day. In the second, her terrific block on Branagh led to a 16-13 lead. Every time Branagh and Wilkerson got close, a big play was made to keep them at bay.
Day loves to dance after a win. She did some of that in the sand. Would she go out in the evening to continue?
“Uh, yeah,” she said, with a big smile.
Gutierrez, who coaches at Texas Christian University, praised his players.
“The girls did a great job, like mentally ready,” he said. “They were patient.”
Day had 19 kills and two blocks. Hochevar came through with 12 kills, six digs and two aces.
Wilkerson had 14 kills and four blocks, Branagh had eight kills and four digs.
Day and Hochevar defeated No. 23-seeded Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes in the semifinals, 21-14, 18-21, 16-14 .
Branagh and Wilkerson reached the finals by defeating top-seeded April Ross of Costa Mesa and Lauren Fendrick, 16-21, 21-19, 15-10.
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