Back on the Beach
Sean Rosenthal in action during the 2012 Swatch FIVB World Tour Beijing Grand Slam Final.
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- U.S. Olympians Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal showed the depth of the reborn Association of Volleyball Professionals beach volleyball tour by winning the AVP Championships at West Beach in Santa Barbara on Sunday.
Gibb and Rosenthal, the sixth seed in the tournament, swept the No. 4 seeded team of Brad Keenan and John Mayer in the championship match before a packed grandstand — a modified version of the same grandstand used in August at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“It’s the best the U.S. has to offer,” Gibb said. “Everyone was here and everyone was supporting the event. I think that tells you how us players feel about the AVP. We want to support it and run with it.”
The AVP is under new ownership and is planning to have four to six events in 2013. Donald Sun, the new owner of the AVP, scheduled two events for 2012, one in Cincinnati over Labor Day weekend and the AVP Championships, which just wrapped up in Santa Barbara on Sunday.
Sun said he wanted reestablish and reinforce the reputation of the AVP with fans and potential sponsors.
“If I waited until next year, I don’t know if the brand recognition or the fans would be as receptive,” Sun said, referring to the post-Olympic bump. “This has been what we’ve been able to produce in the last two months, imagine what we could do in a year. Now we have a showcase.”
The AVP was formed in 1983 and became the most popular pro beach volleyball tour in the United States. However, the owners of the AVP filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and held only one event in 2011.
Sun took over ownership of the AVP last year and decided to proceed with some ambitious plans and some conservative strategies in organizing future schedules. One of the more ambitious plans is to attract the biggest names in pro beach volleyball. Olympians and former AVP MVPs participated in the two events in 2012.
Also planned is a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the AVP in 2013, which would include a tournament called the Classic. Sun anticipates that tournament incorporating some of the retro stylings of the early years of the pro beach volleyball tour, such as incorporate sideout scoring and larger courts.
The tournament in Santa Barbara definitely drew stars. Four-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings reached the championship match with her new partner, Nicole Branagh. Walsh formerly competed with partner Misty May-Treanor until May-Treanor retired after the two earned their unprecedented third gold medal at the London Games.
Branagh and May-Treanor were teammates for a time on the AVP tour in 2010.
Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, the Olympic silver medalists at the 2012 Games, swept Walsh and Branagh in two sets to win the AVP Championships in Santa Barbara.
Kessy said the new ownership has some big ideas and is headed in the right direction.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect because they aren’t people who have been in the business,” Kessy said. “I was very hopeful. As soon as we got to Cincinnati, I knew it was going to be good. They are doing the right things. The players have an air-conditioned bathroom. Never had that before. Different things like that, I was pleasantly surprised.”
Sun plans on returning to Cincinnati and Santa Barbara in 2013. He wants to add at least two more events, possibly four more, for next season.
“I think it’s a realistic plan,” Sun said. “I don’t know if it’s conservative or not. It’s definitely manageable. We got two already, Cincy and Santa Barbara. We got to figure out four more.”
Kessy said she plans to play in international tournaments as well as the AVP events in 2013.
“It’s going to be tough,” Kessy said. “A lot of us who have been here forever, have been through a lot of things, been through a lot of owners. So we all have a little bit of a guard up. We want to play at home as much as we can. We want to be here, we want to play in front of our families. We’re going to play internationally, but we’re going to play here too.”
She added that six AVP tournaments are plenty. She would rather see the AVP rebuild slowly and proceed with a plan that will endure.
“I think six is enough,” Kessy said. “If they’re big money tournaments, and all the players are there, I think that’s a good start. You don’t want to start too big. I want a long, sustainable tour. I don’t want something that’s 16 events next year and the year after it’s nothing. I want a long career.”
Kessy’s teammate Ross said she likes the way the AVP tour is planning for the future.
“I think they’ve come up with some new and exciting ideas,” Ross said. “It’s hard to get used to, but I think they’re going in the right direction, trying to make our sport exciting to watch and new for the fans. The players do appreciate it, they appreciate them being here. We all love the AVP.”
For Rosenthal, the tournament in Santa Barbara was like visiting old friends.
“It was like the AVP never left,” Rosenthal said. “It was done really well with the stadium, with the fans, with the crowd, with the players and the management did a good job. We’re excited to have it back.”