It’s not every day you get a chance to play your favorite sport with—or against—some of the world’s top athletes. Yet for more than two decades, the Marianas Cup Beach Volleyball Festival has been inviting some of the top international and Japanese beach volleyball pros to the island of Saipan to play alongside amateur players in a friendly pro-am competition. A raffle is held the night before the tournament, and a few lucky players get to go into battle with a pro at their side.
This year, the organizers moved the beach volleyball festival to neighboring Guam. The Beach Bar at beautiful Gun Beach hosted the weekend tournament, which included round-robin pool play on Saturday and a double elimination winner’s bracket on Sunday. The atmosphere at the event is fun and festive, but it gets more serious the more you advance into the tournament; winning teams take home US$3,000 cash and a free trip to next year’s event.
The Marianas Cup, however, is more than just a pro-am tournament. The organizers have worked hard to include a number of grass roots events to help grow the sport. This year a Junior Cup was held in Saipan, and kids events on both Saipan and Guam. This year’s pros, from Japan, USA and Canada, visited local schools and held clinics to promote the sport to the next generation of volleyball athletes.
There was also an exciting exhibition match with the men and women pros from North America taking on the Japanese teams. The American men and the Japanese women each won decisively.
The setting could not have been better for the pro-am tournament – there was plenty of sun, sand, spikes and saves, while the crowd sipped on cold drinks and enjoyed the action.
On the women’s side, former teammates, and cup champions, Miki Oyama and Miyuki Matsumura squared off in the final, with their new partners. It was a tight, hard-fought final but, in the end, Miki and partner Angela Ishida proved too strong, winning 21-18 and preserving their undefeated run in the tournament.
Guam local Manny Guarin paired up with American pro Tri Bourne and carried one loss into the men’s final against the undefeated Japanese team of Yoshinori Nakatani and Yuto Watanabe. Bourne and Guarin needed to beat the Japanese twice to take home the trophy.
As a beautiful Micronesian sunset faded into the evening, so did the hopes of the Japanese team. Bourne seemed to get stronger as the matches wore on and, with Guarin finding his groove, the pair walked off the beach with the win and the cash.
“The Marianas Cup was really cool. I love that there are so many people who care enough about the sport here and keep it alive, for themselves and the younger generations. I feel fortunate to have been invited and I hope I can help to promote the sport in the same way once I'm done playing,” said USC graduate Bourne.
While the crowd enjoyed the high-level of competition of the final day’s matches, what makes the Marianas Cup special is the fun, friendly atmosphere of the event. The tournament attracts a wide range of players, from weekend warriors, high school and college kids, to more seasoned veterans.
Spectators and participants equally enjoyed the weekend, with parents cheering on kids, teams cheering on one another and lots high-fives and smiles all the way around.
The Marianas Cup is the longest running beach volleyball tournament in the region, and it is put on with the support of United Airlines, the Guam Visitor’s Bureau, the Marianas Visitor’s Authority, Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan, The Beach Bar & Grill, Docomo Pacific, Miller Lite and many local sponsors.
The organizers would love to see more teams come from Japan to enjoy a fun, active weekend in the sand. Next year’s event will head back to Saipan, so grab a partner and practice those sets and spikes this summer, so you’ll be ready to go.