Koski-Minc comeback highlights AVP qualifier field

Ben Koski and Jeff Minc are getting back together for the AVP Nivea Santa Barbara Open pro beach volleyball tournament at West Beach.

Friends and volleyball partners since their days at Santa Barbara High, Koski and Minc toiled six years on the AVP Tour before hanging it up in 2007 when Koski suffered a knee injury. They are reuniting for Thursday’s qualifier, from which eight teams will earn spots in the 32-team main draw.

Ben Koski (all photos courtesy of Ken Delgado)

The 64-team men’s and 49-team women’s qualifiers are scheduled to start at 8 a.m. The match format is best-of-three sets, single elimination.

Action in the main draw starts Friday at 9 a.m. and runs through Sunday. The championship matches are set for 2:30 p.m. for the men and 4:30 for the women. The men’s final will be televised live on ESPN2.

Former San Marcos and UCSB star Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are the No. 1-seeded men’s team. The 2008 Olympic gold medalists are seeking their third Santa Barbara Open title. The top women’s team is Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh.


The reunion of Koski-Minc should bring out a few more people to the West Beach Courts on Thursday morning.

“It’s fun,” said Koski, 30, about playing in their hometown. “You get to play in front of friends and family, and it always makes you play a little better because you have that support.”

They had tremendous support when they last played in an AVP event in Santa Barbara in 2006. Back then, they had fan groups called Minc’s Drinkers and Ben’s Benders, who blasted this looney song, “Peanut Butter Jelly Time.”

Koski said he doesn’t know if they’ll be around long enough this weekend to create that kind of buzz again.

He has a damaged knee, and he and Minc, 29, haven’t played much since they dropped off the tour three years ago.

“We were both kind of getting to the point where we weren’t into pursuing professional volleyball anymore,” said Koski, whose best finishes with Minc were two ninth places. “On top of that, I hurt my knee and I haven’t been able to play the last three years. I have lost a lot of cartilage in my right knee. It’s pretty strong now, but it still gives me problems.

“I can’t really play professional volleyball, but I’m at a point where I can at least play a couple of games in a qualifier and do all right, and give it a shot.”

So what prompted them to enter the tournament?

“Because it’s in Santa Barbara, and we’ve been playing a little here and there,” Koski said. “I asked Jeff if he wanted to play for old time’s sake and he was into it. So we’re playing.”

They should be in good physical condition. Koski works as personal trainer and performance coach at Titan Fitness Center and he coaches a boys under-16 team for the Santa Barbara Volleyball Club. Minc is a Santa Barbara County hotshot firefighter.

While they never reached the upper echelon of teams on the AVP Tour, Koski-Minc  always had good chemistry on the court and a good time off of it.

“It’s not like we were the only guys,” Koski said of their post-tournament fun. “We played hard when we played. When we were done we liked to go out and have fun, joke around and pull pranks on each other. When you’re struggling on tour and don’t have a lot of money, and you’re on these trips and you’re just scrapping to get by, you
need to blow off a little steam and have some fun with your buddies.”

They are hoping to rekindle their on-court chemistry on Thursday and win as many matches as they can.

Jeff Minc

The 6-4 Koski was a powerful hitter and blocker while the 6-3 Minc played solid defense and frustrated opponents with an assortment of shots on offense.

The pair had a decent year in 2006, qualifying for 11 main draws. In 2007, Koski hurt his knee at a tournament in New Jersey and soon after the team was done playing.

“At that time, we were both kind of getting sick of the grind of having to shell out money for tournaments and not really getting much back,” Koski recalled.

He still enjoys the game and is excited about playing in the tournament at home.

“I love playing and I love competing,” Koski said. “That’s one of the things I missed the most when I got hurt, just being able to go out and compete in tournaments, regardless if it was AVP or local games.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes this weekend.”

For local beach volleyball players and fans, the Thursday qualifier is one of the most anticipated events of the weekend-long AVP tournament.

Walk around any of the courts at West Beach on Thursday and you’ll more than likely find a team with a local connection. There are your East Beach challenge court regulars, past high school standouts, former and current players from UCSB and City College and players who transplanted here because of the community’s rich tradition in the sport.

These teams scrounged up the $100 entry fee to give it their best shot at making the main draw and playing against one of the top teams on the pro tour.

Here is a look at the local players entered in Thursday’s qualifiers.

On the men’s side, starting with the highest seeded team:

David Fischer-Vincent Robbins (Q2): Fischer is a Santa Barbara High alum who has been playing in AVP events since 1998. His best finish on tour is a fourth.

Jeff Murrell-Kevin Dake (Q11): The AAA-rated Murrell is the brother of Jen Holdren, the wife of retired AVP star Dax Holdren.

Avery Drost-Chris Icaza (Q13): A Westmont graduate, Drost honed his game at East Beach before moving south. He has a AAA ranking.

Connor Hastings-Matt Schroeder (Q36): Hastings is an assistant coach with the UCSB women’s team. Schroeder, a Westmont grad, is a coach at Laguna Blanca and with the Santa Barbara Volleyball Club. They took ninth last week at a CBVA Open in Manhattan Beach.

Kyle Denitz-Eddie Stokes (Q50): Denitz was a standout player at Carpinteria High. He’s played on the tour off and on since 2005.

Marcelo Duarte-Chris Gugliano (Q51): Duarte is a Santa Barbara high alum who is now an assistant coach for the SBCC men’s team. He has 12 9th-place finishes spanning from 1992-1999. Guigliano played at SBHS and also USC.

Ben Koski-Jeff Minc (Q55): Former Dons, UCSB Gauchos and AVP partners are reuniting for local tournament.

Will Harris-Dan Terry (Q56): East Beach challenge court regulars. Terry is the boys volleyball coach at Cate School. He placed third in the Santa Barbara AA last summer.

Dillan Bennett-Jon Newton (Q59): Bennett played at Dos Pueblos and Newton at San Marcos last year. They won a junior tournament at East Beach last summer. Bennett recently earned an AA rating in a CBVA event in Playa del Rey.

John Hancock-Kanani Leite Ah Yo (Q60): Regulars at East Beach, the finished third in Santa Barbara Open last summer. Kanani, a AA-rated player, is a former SBCC standout.

Geoffrey Berz-Kawika Burdine (Q61): Berz played at SBCC. Burdine attended UCSB.

Ahu Leite-Ah Yo-Jeff Ryberg (Q62): Ahu was the setter on this year’s SBCC team and the younger brother of Kanani. Rydberg a Ventura resident, plays almost every weekend on the East Beach challenge court.

Robert Baldwin-Christian Love (Q64): Both play at East Beach. Love is the son of Mike Love of the Beach Boys and often times tours with the band. He won an A rating last September.

The local women playing in the qualifier are:

Patti Cook-Jill Muhe (Q9): They won AAA at Dockweiler State Beach last weekend. Cook has played on the AVP Tour. She was an NAIA All-American at Westmont and is now the associate head coach for the women’s team. Muhe is a coach from Oxnard.

Cayley Thurlby-Olivia Waldowski (Q11): The 6-2 Waldowski was an All-Big West player at UCSB in 2004 and 2006. Her best finish on the AVP Tour is a 17th.

Jennifer Corral-JoAnna Papageorgiou (Q16): Corral regularly plays at East Beach.

Nora Tobin-Nicole Brandt-Young (Q39): Tobin developed her game at East Beach. She has an A rating.

Shayna Guigliano-Andrea Sanchez (Q41): They finished third in an Open at Will Rogers State Beach in March to earn AA rating. Shayna is the wife of former AVP player Chris Guigliano and an East Beach regular. Sanchez, when she’s not playing volleyball, is an artist who specializes in oil painting.

Sammie Brown-Emily Rottman (Q42): High school rivals and champions, Brown was on the 2009 Dos Pueblos CIF championship team and Rottman played on the 2008 CIF title team at Santa Barbara High.

Stephanie Dunn-Amy Lawson (Q46): Westmont College athletes from Hawaii. Dunn played on volleyball team and Lawson was a star forward for the women’s soccer team a couple years ago.

Jake Kelly-Melissa Maggiore (Q49): The 5-8 Kelly was a volleyball and basketball standout at SBCC. She was all-conference in both sports.