It was 2:30 on Saturday afternoon and the intensity in the seventh annual Kim Haeg Beach Volleyball Benefit Tournament was building at the Breakwater Beach courts in Mattituck.
Ahmed Rahman was signaling behind his back to his teammate, Jon Hoffman, which way he was going to go after the serve. They were a well-oiled machine the way they reacted to each other. Christine Knox and her teammate, Janna Jachniewicz, were both diving all over the court to keep points alive.
As the drama played out in the sand, Haeg, paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a car accident, sat in her motorized wheelchair under a tent, thoroughly enjoying this day at the beach.
“This means the world to me,” Haeg said quietly. “It is so inspiring. It makes me feel so grateful to the people who come here.”
The tournament organizer, Mike Ryan, said the goal isn’t just to help with fundraising, but to also increase awareness.
“There are so many good causes, but this helps someone who is still with us,” Ryan said. “Kim enjoys this day. She marks it on her calendar. It is a day at the beach that she spends with friends.”
After pool play in the Men’s Open Division, Rahman and Hoffman were 4-0, while Pat Santiago and Sean Symanski were 2-1, Brad Vallet and Ron Amet were 2-1, Fernando Benito and Chris Denigris 1-3, and Joe Style and Pete Style 0-4. Santiago and Symanski then reached the finals by outlasting Armet and Vallet, 21-15, 14-21, 15-13.
But in the finals, the dynamic duo of Rahman and Hoffman defeated Santiago and Symanski, 21-19, 21-10.
“We know each other so well,” Rahman said. “I’m hot and he’s calm. We push each other forward. It’s a good partnership.”
Hoffman said: “I have a partner who hustles for every point and I do the same. We really support each other.”
In Women’s Open Division pool play, Knox and Jachniewicz were 6-0, as were Susanne Hoffman and Sharon Bunting. Barbara Olsen and Kathy Seitz were 4-2, followed by Christine Bergmann and Bernadette Mearini at 3-3, Grace Chilton and Joanna Ott at 2-4, Christine Box and Michelle Munro at 2-4, Kelly Urbanik and Robin Jaeger at 1-5 and Davi Yakaboski and Jessie Quinlan at 0-6.
In the semifinals, Knox and Jachniewicz edged Bergmann and Mearini, 28-26, while Bunting and Hoffman topped Olsen and Seitz, 28-21. Knox and Jachniewicz then triumphed over Bunting and Hoffman in the finals, 21-18, 21-12.
Knox said the key for her and Jachniewicz’s success was “playing at our normal level and maintaining our focus.”
Mike Carrieri and Jon Polistena were 5-0 in the opening round pool play of the Men’s AA Division, followed by Joe Green and George Adams at 4-1, Daniel Elitharp and Rich Shore at 3-2, Seth Haugland and Mike Inga at 2-3, Ryan Wilsberg and Matt Wyncoop at 1-4, and Brian Barton and Andy Limjoco at 0-5. Adams and Green beat Elitharp and Shore, 28-22, to advance to the finals against Carrieri and Polistena. Adams and Green won the first set, but Carrieri and Polistena rallied to win the match, 24-26, 21-16, 15-5.
It was a day of fun and camaraderie, but also beach volleyball played at a high level. “We’re all friends,” Joe Style said. “I’ve been coming here for five years. It has become a real tradition. These are the best players on Long Island. You’d have to travel a long way to see better players.”
The tournament raised $1,685 for the Friends of Kim Haeg. “It is great to play beach volleyball on a day like this, especially to help a good cause,” Vallet said. “This tournament is a lot of fun. We all really enjoy it.”