HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. -- Defending champions Adam Wienckowski and Jonathan Justice could very well return to the men’s final Saturday at the USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
This year, however, only one could leave as defending champion.
On a gloomy day alongside the Hermosa Pier, Wienckowski and new partner Tim Brewster advanced to the final four as the top seed. Second-seeded Justice is paired with Bryce Estes, and they reached the semifinals, too.
Their performances highlighted the third of four days of competition at Hermosa Beach. The tournament started off with 46 women’s teams and 16 men’s teams at the onset, and will conclude with the semifinals and championship matches in both divisions tomorrow, with the women’s final being televised live on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET.
Last year, Wienckowski and Justice won the men’s title in the second year of the tournament while representing Florida State.
From there the duo went on to compete at the World University Championships in Germany, where they finished 18th. It was a learning experience.
“We just kind of got out finessed,” Wienckowski explained. “We didn’t serve tough enough, we didn’t pass well enough. We really didn’t do any of the little things well enough, and it’s something that I overlooked. So this year, I’m definitely trying to be more aggressive and focus on the little things.”
However, despite winning events with “collegiate” and “university” in the name, Wienckowski was actually still in high school. Because he took college coursework at Florida State during his senior year, he was eligible to compete alongside Justice, a sophomore engineering student at FSU at the time.
This year, Wienckowski enrolled at Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton.
Even with new partners, both defending champs continued to roll.
The Wienckowski-Brewster duo stomped their way to the semifinals with a 21-12, 21-13 win over Kaden Knepper and Eugenio DeJesus of Liberty. They’ll face Zachary Meyer and Jordan Hoppe of Concordia University Irvine in Saturday’s semifinals.
Defending champ Adam Wienckowski & 2018 Youth Olympian Tim Brewster are moving 🔛 to #BeachChamps19 semifinals!— Team USA (@TeamUSA) May 11, 2019
Here's what they need to focus on tomorrow to take home a title ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/xELRrigJ0N
On the other side of the bracket, Justice and Estes squeaked out a nail biter against Evan Cory and Jacob Titus of Lincoln Memorial, coming back after losing the first set to win 18-21, 21-16, 17-15. They’ll aim to hold off the Lewis University team of Jason Gibbs and Carlos Jimenez.
If both defending champs reach the final, they’ll be plenty familiar with each other’s games.
“I know Jon’s game well. I literally grew up with him,” Wienckowski said. “He’s one of the people who taught me to play in a way. So at this point, I picked up a few things.”
Wienckowski came into the tournament with a highly thought of partner.
The southpaw Brewster is only a freshman at UCLA, but he already has the pedigree to be one of the elite collegiate beach volleyball athletes. Along with John Schwengel, Brewster was given a wild-card berth into the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, where they went on to finish fifth.
“The Youth Olympics was a really cool experience,” Brewster recalled. “Competing against the top athletes my age in the world, it shows you what you need to get better at, and what you need to work on, so that’s what I focused on coming into college. Working on the things that the rest of the world is better than I do and trying to implement that into my game.”
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On the women’s side, the defending champions continue to roll.
Louisiana State’s Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss, competing as the second seed, dispatched Eden Hawes and Madelyn Delmonte of Georgia State, winning 21-12, 21-9. That led to a match up with Alabama-Birmingham’s Jaelyn Keene and Tressa Buckland, who kept things close at 21-19 in the first set but ultimately fell 21-16 in the second.
The TIGER family 🐾 💜@LSUBeachVB's @kristennuss97 & @clairecoppola1 are surrounded by their best friends at #BeachChamps19. pic.twitter.com/us95vbVA1g— Team USA (@TeamUSA) May 11, 2019
That sets up a semifinal against Florida State’s Madison Fitzpatrick and Alaina Chacon, who had to win three matches to reach the semis. However, they didn’t drop a set, including in a 21-12, 21-7 quarterfinal win against LSU’s Olivia Powers and Kelli Agnew.
Atop the bracket, top-seeded Brook Bauer and Deahna Kraft of Pepperdine survived a scare in their first match, when Long Beach State’s Megan Kruidhof and Mariana Molina rallied to force a third set. However, Bauer and Kraft held on, and then they swept past Florida State’s Brooke Kuhlman and Avery Poppinga in the quarters.
Rounding out the final four is Loyola Marymount’s Emma Doud and Savannah Slattery, who beat Charleston’s Devon Rachel and Jamie Rhodes in the quarterfinals.
Tomorrow, the tournament concludes with the semifinals and finals for both the men and women, with the action starting at 9 a.m. local time.
Sam Yip is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.