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Beach volleyball pros embrace revamped Manhattan Beach Open

The Manhattan Beach Open, returning this year after a debacle last year, is a hit with players and even a previously critical local.

August 27, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • Joaquin Acosta hits around the block of Kevin Wong during the Manhattan Beach Open on Saturday.
Joaquin Acosta hits around the block of Kevin Wong during the Manhattan… (Harry How / Getty Images )

Sean Scott loves this year's reincarnated version of the Manhattan Beach Open.

But the pro beach volleyball player wanted to prove he's not alone in that opinion, so he asked a random nearby player for his two cents.

Eyal Zimet, who has played in 58 pro tournaments, happily shared them. "This is the first real tournament this year," he said.

John Hyden, Scott's partner on the open's top-seeded men's team, said when players first saw the stadium seating, sponsor village and fans start pouring in, the reaction was simple: "All right, we're back."

It returned from its shoddy form last year after its organizer, the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals, shut down its tour two weeks prior, killing momentum for all domestic pro beach volleyball tournaments.

Then IMG, Jose Cuervo, and USA Volleyball came together to form the Jose Cuervo Pro Volleyball Beach Series, which includes the open, because, officials say, they had to help revive the sport. "It's our duty," said Dave Williams, USA Volleyball's managing director of beach programs.

Since IMG is known for producing beach sporting events, such as the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing, and Jose Cuervo was among the sport's first corporate sponsors three decades ago, Scott said they, along with USA Volleyball, the sport's governing body, can make the series work.

"If anyone can do it, those guys can do it," Scott said.

Williams and other officials have received many thank-yous as the tournament heads into the final round Sunday, including from the open's most vocal critic for decades: Bill Victor.

In 1980, Victor, a lawyer, bought a triplex just four blocks from the Manhattan Beach Pier, where the open is held. He rents that place out, but the open's raucous nature in past years made it difficult.

"I was losing tenants because they couldn't stand the noise," he said.

He's created petitions, led efforts and argued to city officials that the event was a rambunctious party, not a volleyball tournament.

But this year, he's changed his tune. "This is the classiest volleyball tournament I've seen in Manhattan Beach," he said.

Its success bodes well for the series, which has two more events planned this year — in Miami and in Hermosa Beach in September. But James Leitz, the open's executive producer and senior vice president of IMG Action Sports, said he's seen a lot that can be improved.

Still, for 2012 Leitz said they'd like to do six major events and four smaller events called shootouts in which they invite four men's and four women's teams for $30,000 first-place prizes.

He said the stops would be all over the U.S., but it won't be easy luring sponsors or players from overseas.

"We have a long way to go to regain the confidence to rebuild the engine to make this sport go on a professional level," he said.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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