Winning the has been a dream of Austin Zahn’s since he was 12 years old.
That dream became a reality Sunday as the 23-year-old Hermosa Beach resident helped lead Team Simmzys/Beckers to the title of the 50th annual historic tournament.
Zahn, who grew up in Hermosa Beach and attended Redondo Union High School, played four years of volleyball at the University of Southern California.
And on Sunday, he was part of Team Simmzys/Beckers college all-star cast that swept through the six-man finals, beating three-time defending champions Team Smack (formerly known as Team Magnum), 15-9.
"This is something I have dreamed about since I started to get good at volleyball," Zahn said. "I started to practice really hard in eighth grade because I wanted to do well in six-man when I got older. I don’t know how to describe it but it is definitely one of the best moments of my volleyball career."
Team Simmzys/Beckers defeated Super Average, Team Ditka, Wee-Man’s Chronic Tacos, and Young and Reckless en route to the championship match with Team Smack.
"We pretty much had the same team as last year when we finished third," Zahn said. "We added a couple of guys but were pretty much just a group of guys who played college volleyball with and against each other."
Kevin Tillie, who is a member of the French national squad and set to represent France at the 2012 London Olympics, was part of Team Simmzys/Beckers.
"They don’t have stuff like this in France," Tillie said. "I wasn’t going to play because I hurt my shoulder last week but I’m definitely glad I did. This was very exciting."
Team Smack's Dave Mckenzie, who won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is a USA Volleyball member, called Tillie "amazing."
"I mean his athleticism is off the charts," Mckenzie said.
Legendary beach volleyball player Tim Hovland said that Tillie is "something special."
"He can literally jump right out of the gym. He reminds me a lot of Sean Rosenthal," said Hovland, who won the six-man tournament himself a handful of times.
Although the tournament has a laid-back feel and reputation for being a "party," it remains a virtual who’s who in the world of beach and indoor volleyball.
"It’s a volleyball reunion for us. We all played college and are either coaches or have played at the professional level. So it’s a great reunion for all of us and a time to showcase what a great sport we have," said Mira Costa head coach and former professional beach volleyball player Lisa Zimmerman. She led Team 900 to beat Moonlight Yacht Club 15-11 and win the women's final for the fifth straight year.
Team Trim Lords (formerly known as Team Fletch), who was beaten by both Team Simmzys/Beckers and Team Smack, boasted a frontline of 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist and current USA Volleyball member David Lee, who is rated as the best indoor volleyball player in the world, along with former AVP legends Matt Fuerbringer and Mike Lambert.
"This tournament is not about partying but about a celebration of our wonderful sport," said volleyball announcer Chris "Geeter" McGee. "I mean Lee is just sick, and you got guys like [Mike] Lambo and [Matt] Fuerby who are legends all on the same line. It’s beautiful to watch... People in the volleyball community refer to this weekend as New Year's Eve because this is the biggest party in the world of volleyball."
The Trim Lords also had the backing of NBA players Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, Richard Jefferson and Kevin Love.
"Where else can you play against the best volleyball players in the world," said Young and Reckless team member Evan White, a Mira Costa High grad who now plays volleyball for UC Santa Barbara. "I looked over the other side of the net and I saw Lee, Fuerbringer and Lambert and I was just in awe. What an honor."
Team Smack was stacked with huge names and personalities from the world of volleyball including Mckenzie, Olympic Gold Medalist Rich Lambourne, Ryan Stuntz, Brent Doble, Todd May, Austin Rester and Albert Hannemann.
The team has a cult-like following that includes a fan in a wheelchair with a mega-phone who implores the crowd to cheer every Team Smack point while endlessly playing the theme song to the TV show Magnum PI from a boombox.
There's also a Flavor Flav-type hype man named "Siggy," who wears no shirt and a tie around his neck and encourages the crowd the clap.
"It's fun to be a part of a team that competes so hard and knows how to have fun," Rester said. "This tournament is about honoring Charlie [Saikley, the event's founder,] and what he has done for the sport of volleyball."
Saikley started the event in 1957.
The essence of the tournament was felt before the men’s open loser bracket final when Team Magnum, which was about to face Team Young and Reckless, huddled in a circle and began to sing the lyrics to Neil Diamond’s hit song "Sweet Caroline."
The song started with just the players of Team Smack singing and ended with a majority of the 300-plus crowd joining in. White said, "I think we got a little intimidated by the whole Team Magnum show. I had goose bumps when the whole crowd was singing. It was kind of cool."
Hannemann said that it represented what the tournament is about—"It’s not about winning or losing but building camaraderie among the people in the volleyball community," he said.