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Manhattan Beach Open on comeback trail

Beach volleyball's crown jewel tournament was affected last year by Assn. of Volleyball Professionals difficulties. 'We're hitting a reset button,' a volleyball official says.

August 25, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • A view from above a men's volleyball match at the Manhattan Beach Open.
A view from above a men's volleyball match at the Manhattan Beach Open. (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )

Manhattan Beach Open officials just want a second chance, that's all.

Sure, they know fans, sponsors and players were burned by pro beach volleyball a year ago when the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals shut down its tour and took the sport's credibility with it.

But they hope the reincarnation of the sport's crown jewel tournament, which begins Thursday with qualifying rounds and holds its finals Sunday, will be such a smash hit for the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series that the scorned fall back in love.

"We want people to come back and say, 'There's my volleyball,'" said James Leitz, the Open's executive producer and senior vice president of IMG Action Sports.

That's what they're after, because the sport has been nothing if not lost lately.

When the AVP tour folded two weeks before the Open last August, the event was bankrolled at the last minute on a shoestring budget: just a few nets, volleyballs, players and $4,000 first-place prizes.

They called it old school, but it was really ragtag.

This year, IMG and USA Volleyball teamed up to produce the event. There will be a 3,000-plus seat stadium, a sponsor village and a record field of 64 teams in each gender competing for $200,000 ($100,000 to each gender). It's the largest domestic prize purse in 2011.

Admission to the double-elimination tournament is free.

"We're hitting a reset button on the Manhattan Beach Open," said Dave Williams, USAV's managing director of beach programs, "and we're going to build it up one sponsor at a time, one fan at a time, but we're going to build it back to where it needs to be."

Leitz said it was "horribly difficult" attaining sponsors and players, and several big names — gold medalists Todd Rogers, Phil Dalhausser, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh — will be absent, though former UCLA star Kevin Love will put his NBA lockout free time to good use by making his pro beach volleyball debut.

Hermosa Beach native Aaron Wachtfogel, who won the men's side with Sean Rosenthal last year, will be there, and he likes the series' potential after playing in its first event in Milwaukee last month.

"In terms of the IMG-USA Volleyball partnership, everyone's really excited," Wachtfogel said.

If it goes well, it could bode well for the future of a domestic pro beach volleyball series, the idea of which appears grim currently as many U.S. players flee to more stable and profitable tournaments overseas.

"The Manhattan Beach Open was always a good mirror for where the sport is in that time," Williams said.

After Sunday, they'll have a better idea of where they are, and where they might be able to go.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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