Professional beach volleyball returns to Santa Barbara this weekend, with a homecoming and a comeback as two of the main attractions. Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, just back from a brilliant triumph in the heart of Brazil, will be the hometown favorites in the Santa Barbara Open, the second event of the 2010 AVP Nivea Tour, at West Beach. On the women’s side of the competition, all eyes will be on Misty May-Treanor as she resumes a career that was interrupted for a year after she tore an Achilles tendon while training for Dancing with the Stars.
Since the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) made its last appearance here in 2008, it has undergone a management change and returned to its roots, primarily the beaches of California. “Santa Barbara is one of the greatest traditional locations for volleyball,” said Mike Dodd, a former player (he won a Santa Barbara Open title in 1982) who is the new commissioner of the AVP. “I played at East Beach when the crowds were spilling onto Cabrillo Boulevard.”
Trying to become part of the tradition, dozens of two-person teams will be beating their brains out Thursday in an effort to qualify for a precious spot in the main draw, where the proven performers await them Friday.
THE MEN: Rogers and Dalhausser shared the title at the AVP season opener in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, because torrential rains washed out the men’s final. Then the Olympic champions launched their international campaign in Brasilia, where they drummed the natives into silence and became the first U.S. men’s team to win a gold medal in Brazil in 14 years. “The heckling was pretty gnarly,” Rogers said. “In the finals [a 21-16, 21-12 demolition of Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti], we took the crowd out quickly and never let them get back in it.” Along the way, they swept Germany’s world champions, Jonas Reckermann/Julius Brink; American rivals Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal and Matt Fuerbringer/Nick Lucena, the pair that tied for the Florida title; and three highly ranked Brazilian teams.
Rogers, 36, the cagy “Professor” who was inducted into the UCSB Gaucho Athletic Hall of Fame last weekend, forged a powerful partnership with the 6’9” Dalhausser, now 30, in 2006. “Phil is the most dangerous and dominant player I’ve ever seen on the beach, including Karch Kiraly, Randy Stoklos, and Sinjin Smith,” said Dain Blanton, the 2000 gold medalist who is the color commentator for ESPN’s beach volleyball telecasts. “He is the complete package—tall, quick, and athletic.”
Rogers and Dalhausser won the last two AVP Santa Barbara titles in 2006 and 2008, memorably coming back from a 14-9 deficit (quintuple match point) in game three of the latter championship, finally prevailing 20-18 over a shell-shocked John Hyden and Brad Keenan. Hyden is now paired with Sean Scott.
Former Santa Barbara High and UCSB teammates Ben Koski and Jeff Minc, who last played in 2007, are said to be ready for a shot at qualifying, as is former San Marcos star Anthony Medel, only five months after rupturing an Achilles tendon.
THE WOMEN: May-Treanor is playing without longtime partner Kerri Walsh (expecting her second child soon), but in her first outing with Nicole Branagh, she won her 106th title at Fort Lauderdale. “Misty is arguably the greatest women’s player ever,” Dodd said. “She never seems to lose her youthful exuberance.”
May-Treanor and Branagh settled for ninth place in Brasilia. Two other U.S. teams did better—Jen Kessy/April Ross (fourth) and Brooke Hanson/Lisa Rutledge (fifth).
Hanson, 29, was an All-American player at UCSB and served as Kathy Gregory’s assistant coach for three seasons. A three-set loss to Brazilian sisters Maria Clara and Carolina Salgado kept her and Rutledge out of the final four in Brasilia. An hour before the match, Hanson learned that her father, Randy Niles, had died. “I wasn’t thinking about the match at all,” Hanson said. Her father had been in failing health for years. “He came to all my college matches,” Hanson said. “I know how proud he was of me.”
COLLEGE WOMEN: The American Volleyball Coaches Association will hold the fifth annual Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship in conjunction with the AVP tournament. Teams from 16 different schools—including UCSB’s Rebecca Saraceno and Lauren McLaughlin—will compete Saturday and Sunday. The popularity of the sport has caught the attention of the NCAA, which will sponsor sand volleyball for women on an experimental basis beginning in the summer 2011.
The beneficiary of the event is Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nationwide effort to fight breast cancer, which is affiliated with the Santa Barbara Open.
• Thursday, April 29—Qualifying rounds, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
• Friday, April 30—Main draw, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
• Saturday, May 1—Main draw, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
• Sunday—Main draw, 9:30 a.m.; men’s final, 2:30 p.m.; women’s final, 4:30 p.m.; college women’s final, 1 p.m.
• Daily—Youth (older than 5)/ student, $10. General admission, $20. Courtside, $30.
• Two-day—General admission, $35. Courtside, $55.
• Three-day—General admission, $50. Courtside, $75.
Discounts will be applied to tickets purchased at avp.com before Friday.