Santa Barbarans stand a good chance of seeing three-time Olympic golf medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings play next weekend in the Association of Volleyball Professionals Championships at West Beach.
Walsh Jennings announced Thursday that she rearranged her schedule to play in this weekend’s AVP Cincinnati Open with Nicole Branagh. The top 12 women’s and men’s teams (9th place or better finish) at the first AVP Tournament under new owner Donald Sun will qualify for the $225,000 AVP Championships, Sept. 7-9. They are seeded fourth in Cincinnati.
Sun, a former executive at the Orange County-based Kingston Technology Co., bought the AVP earlier this year and decided to whet the appetite of the fans with a couple of events before planning a circuit in 2013.
“We could have waited until next year to do everything, but we really wanted to establish ourselves for 2012,” said Sun in an Associated Press story. “We wanted to get points on the board and make sure people don’t forget about us.”
Also expected to be playing in Santa Barbara are two-time Olympians, 2008 Olympic gold medalists and East Beach locals Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. Rogers and Dalhausser were upset in the Round of 16 at the London Olympics. They’re seeded second in Cincinnati behind Sean Scott and John Hyden.
Walsh Jennings recently won her third Olympic beach volleyball gold medal with Misty May Treanor in London. May Treanor announced her retirement following the historic title.
Branagh placed fifth at the 2008 Olympics with Elaine Youngs. She and Walsh have played together before. They won their debut event in Dubai in 2008 and also won a tournament in Phuket, Thailand in 2010.
“Both Nicole and I are happy that we were able to re-arrange our schedules and compete in this inaugural AVP event, and we’re focused on playing well in Cincinnati,” Walsh Jennings to Cincinnati.com. “A quality event in the U.S. is exactly what the sport needs. The fact that it’s happening in the backyard of my Procter & Gamble and Pampers family makes it pretty exciting.
“We’re coming ready to roll.”
Branagh said she is honored to play with Walsh.
“No one can replace a legend like Misty May-Treanor … she went out with a bang as one-half of the best team in the history of the game,” Branagh told Cincinnati.com. “We plan to go at it hard one match at a time.”
The AVP Championships will be the 16th tournament the organization has held in Santa Barbara.
“It’s always exciting to come back to Santa Barbara and play in front of my hometown crowd,” Rogers told the AVP, “but it’s extra special this year to do so at the events that mark the successful return of the AVP and AVP Tour.”
He added: “My fellow pros, grassroots players and fans are all buzzing about the Cincinnati and Santa Barbara events, increased prize purses, and we are looking forward to seeing what the 2013 AVP Tour will bring.”
The format for the Santa Barbara event is two rounds of pool play on Friday, beginning at 10 a.m.; third round of pool play and semifinal matches on Saturday (10 a.m.) and the finals on Sunday, women at 10 a.m. and men at around 11:30.
Admission is free, but AVP will be offering reserved courtside seating for $35 and an elevated, shaded private box lounge for $50. Tickets for the paid seating can be ordered online at http://theavp.eventbrite.com/.