Interest in volleyball spikes with weekend’s MotherLode |

Interest in volleyball spikes with weekend’s MotherLode

Tim Mutrie
Aspen's Chris Goss, foreground left, slams a shot at Andre Mpitsos during a pickup game at Koch Lumber Park in Aspen Tuesday evening. The 32nd MotherLode Volleyball Classic runs Thursday through Monday, and for a 32nd year a Goss will be represented in the men's open field. Goss' father, Chester, and uncle Steve won the first event in 1973. Aspen Times photo/Devon Meyers.

When the 32nd annual MotherLode Volleyball Classic opens Thursday – with approximately 700 teams and 18 divisions spread out over some 80 courts around Aspen – the local landscape will be studded with the tall, tan and talented players that make up America’s elite.Sorry, 2004 Olympic darlings Misty May and Kerri Walsh are not slated to play.But there will be a handful of Athens Olympians, including the fourth-place U.S. men’s outside hitter, Riley Salmons of Houston, and a few more to be named later, as well as two-time defending women’s open champs Krista Swartzendrubber of Glenwood Springs and partner Angela Knopf. And Pat Powers, the co-MVP of the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s team of 1984, is playing in the over-45 men’s senior division.And, of course, there are a select few teams to watch that haven’t attained celeb status. Not yet, at least. The first on that list, according to Aspen’s Leon Fell, the MotherLode’s producer since 1981, is a pair of Samoans from Salt Lake City: Cori Kamanao and Jumpin’ Joe Samuela.”These guys are my odds on bet to win the men’s open this year,” said Fell. “They’re quite a duo. They’re a look of what future beach volleyball is turning into – these guys don’t block, they stuff.”Kamanao is 6-foot-5, 285 pounds “and lightning quick,” said Fell. “And both of ’em have over 40 inches of vertical leap.

“They’re gonna be quite a show.”But seeded above Kamanao and Samuela in the men’s open bracket are a couple of teams that should not be taken lightly. Defending men’s open champs Dana Camacho of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Chris Hannemann of Santa Barbara, Calif., own the No. 1 seed, ahead of last year’s runners-up, Olympian Salmons and partner Randy Meador, also of Houston.An undersized player by professional standards, Camacho makes up for his small frame with omnipresence on the court. “If he were 6 inches taller, he’d be the best player in the country – with that kind of talent, absolutely,” said Fell.”Most of your big guns are exactly that – bang away, bang away, bang away, and they actually call the style that,” he continued. “But Dana uses the whole court. He’s probably got the most deft touch of any pro player. He’s just a wizard, and that’s really, really frustrating for the big guys.”Hannemann, meanwhile, a pro beach tour veteran known for his consistency, comes from a heralded volleyball family. Camacho, on the other hand, is something of a wild card. “Let’s put it this way,” said Fell, “besides his volleyball skills, he is definitely a colorful character, his tattoos notwithstanding.”The men’s and women’s open action starts Saturday, with intense elimination rounds slated for Sunday and the finals on Monday.Additionally, former men’s champs Ryan Post and Jamie Martin will be in the bracket, along with 18-year-old sensations Andy Northness and Connor Hastings.

“It’s a solid field and it’s gonna provide for an awful lot of excitement. Sunday afternoon and all day Monday is just gonna be rockin’ and rollin’ over at Koch Lumber Park,” said Fell.All the men’s and women’s open matches, and masters and seniors division matches, will be played on the five sand courts: three at Koch and two at Willoughby Park near the base of Lift 1A. The grass-court division matches will be staged at Wagner, Rio Grande, Iselin and Rotary parks.In the women’s open, Swartzendrubber and Knopf enter as the No. 1 seed, with Aspen native and pro beach player Catie Vagneur and partner Kelly Rowe slotted second.Swartzendrubber, Knopf and Vagneur played together at Colorado State University, a team that finished sixth in the nation when the two valley girls were seniors (and Knopf, originally from Oregon, was a junior).Vagneur and Rowe, who both live in the Los Angeles area now, play together on the AVP (or Association of Volleyball Professionals) Tour.”The relationships between those top two seeded teams run deep,” said Fell. “It’s going to be interesting.”

Adding to the field in the women’s open is three-time former champion Belinda Hillary, the great granddaughter of Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary, of Santa Monica, Calif., is playing with another AVP veteran player, Jeannette Hecker.In Thursday and Friday’s opening action, including the men’s senior and masters classes, as well as women’s masters division, the caliber of play is not exactly lost, Fell said.Longtime Stanford coach Don Shaw and all-around beach legend Jon Lee enter as the three-time defending (50-plus) senior division champs.Men’s senior divisions play on Thursday at Koch Park along with the women’s masters division, while the men’s masters and coed divisions take over the sand on Friday.”It’s the strongest fields we’ve ever had in the [men’s] over-45 and over-50 senior divisions,” said Fell. “So for those folks who want to come play hooky Thursday afternoon, it should be a solid show, not to mention the women’s masters.”For more information, check out http://www.motherlodevolleyball.comTim Mutrie’s e-mail is

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