I’ve been to the Mexico International volleyball tournament in Rosarito, Mexico, every year since 1992.
That’s 28 consecutive tournaments, not including 2009 (when it was canceled due to cartel violence and the swine flu), and then, of course, last year when it was called off because of the pandemic.
And, yes, I am counting 2019, when I rushed back from the FIVB World Championships in Hamburg, Germany, in time to drive the 45 minutes across the border from my home in San Diego to attend the semifinals and finals.
Mexico International Volleyball is thought to be the world’s largest draw tournament,. Your partner is assigned to you via a weighted draw. The committee attempts to match levels via computer to create a competitive event.
In the end, Creede Simpson and Eduardo Valencia came out on top of the 156-team men’s tournament with a win over Troy Bailey and Curtis Kinz.
Allie Loitz and Sage Hensel won the 102-team women’s division, defeating Lacie Drennan and Kelsey Dix. Results follow, along with a photo gallery.
The Texas contingent came up big. Just 12 Texans attended this year, including Hensel. Jon Nguyen finished in the men’s semifinals, and Kim Munksgaard finished in the quarterfinals.
In a draw tournament, you could end up with an “AAA” level partner, or draw a total hack, who “just goes down to the lagoon and bats the ball around with my buddies.” That was John Sillabus, who was my 1992 draw.
This year, however, you could have drawn 2000 Olympian Rob Heidger, who finished fifth in the Sydney Olympics with Kevin Wong. Heidger had always heard of the tournament but had never attended.
“My twin sons (18-year-olds Wilson and Marcus) said, ‘Dad, I want to go play in Estero (the tournament’s former home).’ So here I am. What a great time. It’s a great setup, I love Mexico, great volleyball, great people, it’s a top-notch event.”
Heidger family bragging rights went to Wilson, who finished fifth with Kerrick Ryan, while Marcus finished ninth with Brenden Meyers. Rob didn’t advance to playoffs.
Dad Heidger enjoyed his first Mexico volleyball experience, even though he and partner Chris Cuvelier didn’t make playoffs.
“He partied better than he played,” Heidger said. “He was so-so, but we had a great time.”
Dave Skelly has attended the tournament since 1980, when the tournament was at Estero Beach. Skelly, a coastal engineer, assisted the tournament committee in planning the courts despite beach loss.
“For me and my family, this is a tradition. There are people here that I see once a year, and it’s a joy to see them.”
Every year has a bit of a different flavor, and 2021 is no exception. With COVID finally weakening in both the U.S. and Mexico, both Mex volleyball and the semi-annual Rosarito-Ensenada bike ride (normally April and October) fell on the same weekend, so Rosarito was hopping, with plenty of gringos and libations everywhere.
It’s a challenge hosting a tournament in these post-COVID times. For tournament director Dan Neiman, the key was patience.
“The idea was to wait as long as possible knowing that come summertime things would be more open. We put some deadlines in place, and asked ourselves, what is the drop-dead date to meet and finalize the tournament? We decided we could put it together in a month, June 1 if we had to, but by April things began to open up, and Papas and Beer communicated to us that they were able to secure a permit, but the Rosarito municipality had the right to pull the permit back if they wanted to.
“So fingers crossed, in April we opened up registration and we limited the tournament to 400 people, hoping that it would open up further later. We did expand it to 500 people in May and people were waiting and wanting to play, we got the signups in literally hours.”
The tournament was also able to accommodate all the walk-ons, bringing the final total to 516 players. Next year the tournament, which has accommodated as many as 1,678 players in 1997, will likely expand to a three-day format, said Neiman.
“We’re thinking about extending the tournament again to Friday play next year so we can maintain the same court numbers and add 200 or 300 more players. The response has been great, things are back to normal-ish.”
Results and our photo gallery are below. Click here to see the VBshots.com full gallery of more than 700 photos.