MotherLode volleyball tourney embraces stability in second year under organizers
One staff member found a bear eating G2G protein bars; the bear ate about 100 of them
The longstanding MotherLode Volleyball Classic — it goes back to 1972 — looks like a tournament that plans to be around for a lot longer, especially after a couple of rocky years as ownership changed hands.
Corey Bryndal and LetsGO Volleyball organized their first MotherLode last year and completed their second on Monday with many small changes having been made between then and now.
“We continue to invest and give back to the playing community, the players. Improving their experience every year is the whole goal. So, this year we added music, we added an announcer, we brought more pros in, and what happens was the field grew,” Bryndal said after Monday’s tournament.
“We get a lot of support out of the staff here in Aspen, whether it’s the police, the events folks, the parks and recs folks, and the community. That support has made the difference. They are jumping back in the ring. There were a lot of unknowns throughout the transition before me, and now there is pure stability and I think you are seeing the results of that.”
One of the most noticeable additions this year was the center court for the grass tournaments at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. In the past, the grass divisions have certainly been an afterthought — and held largely out of sight at Rio Grande Park — compared to the featured sand divisions, and this is something the new organization wanted to fix.
So, a featured court was set up on the heart of Wagner Park, giving the grass players a main stage of their own.
“My whole goal is to give the grass players exactly the same experience as the sand players have,” Bryndal said. “So, whether you are a B level grass player, a rec player that is learning the competitive game, or if you are all the way up through BB, A or even into the open ranks, you know we are interested in your personal experience at this tournament.”
Another equalizer for Bryndal was the pay. In the open division, the men’s and women’s entry fees were combined this year and paid out evenly between the men and women, regardless of the number of teams. The women’s tournaments also saw an increase in sponsorship this year.
“It was completely equitable,” Bryndal said. “The women were paid the same as the men. The men liked that we did that. The women loved that we did that. And it really made a difference.”
There continues to be an investment in the women’s tournaments, with Bryndal saying they plan to add a women’s 55 division next year as they have a demand for it.
On the sand courts at Koch Lumber Park, the addition of a dedicated announcer made a big difference to the overall vibe and excitement of the finals. Jason Debelius, who also is a professional coach, made the trek from California to call the action.
“We had talked on and off for a while,” Bryndal said of connecting with Debelius. “When he realized it was actually happening, he got in the car and drove 16 hours from Hermosa Beach overnight, got a condo in Aspen and nailed it announcing. So, we were so grateful to Jason for the effort of being here.”
About the check
As for the big check the winning teams usually like to pose with after the tournament, there was a small hitch this year. Well, a large, hairy one, actually.
One night during the tournament, one of the staff members found a bear snacking away at some G2G protein bars — Bryndal said the bear ate about 100 of them — before it was startled and attempted to run.
“The bear tried to escape the tent and he got caught in our fencing,” Bryndal recalled. “And part of that was he clawed his way through the check.”
This did not stop the winners from taking that picture with the destroyed check, however.
For many reasons, including lodging and available courts, Bryndal knows there needs to be a limit on the MotherLode’s growth. This doesn’t mean the tournament — which picked up a national sponsor in Mikasa this year — can’t continue to evolve and get better.
“I’d rather have people fighting to get in the door and registering early than grow to a grand scale. I want the quality high rather than the volume. If we make money, the money goes right back into the event. Right now we are about even,” Bryndal said.
“I’m just putting in a 200% effort to keep the community alive, keep the love going and just make this something people want to be a part of. It’s always been a grassroots event, and we want to continue that way.”
Basey, Carlson pull upset in men’s open division
As far as the men’s open division winners go, the Front Range duo of Lars Basey and Ian Carlson rallied back to knock off Jeff Samuels and Mark Burik in the final on Monday at Koch Park.
Samuels was attempting to win the MotherLode for the third time with a third different partner — he won as recently as last year — before the younger Colorado kids pulled the upset with a 2-1 win.
Basey, 24 from Lyons, and Carlson, 22 from Golden, lost to Samuels and Eddie Moushikhian in the 2021 finals.
“It felt amazing. They are a really good team, so it was definitely a tough win for us,” Basey said. “But we just kept fighting, didn’t give up, and some of those points went our way. Especially at the end of the third, we just got a few key breaks and that’ll do it. So a very exciting win for us.”
After losing the first set, 21-17, Basey and Carlson came back to win the second set, 21-17, before taking the third, 15-11.
Basey said he has played beach volleyball most of his life, but Carlson, who grew up playing indoor, only made the transition to beach a couple of years ago.
“It was kind of push and pull, push and pull,” Carlson said of the final. “And then there at the end of the third we sort of ran away with it.”
Pyles, Sokolowski repeat as women’s champs
In the women’s open division final, Katie Pyles and Lena Sokolowski repeated as champions after a 2-1 win over Santa Barbara’s Katie Spieler and Carly Wopat in the finale.
Both Pyles and Sokolowski now call the Front Range home, although Sokolowski is originally from Ukraine and the MotherLode organizers even flew a Ukrainian flag next to the American flag during the tournament at Koch Park, an act of solidarity for the country in its ongoing war with Russia.
Pyles said Sokolowski “just took over the game” in the final. After winning the first set, 22-20, they lost the second set, 21-13, and needed to regroup. Sokolowski’s takeover helped propel the duo to the 15-11 win in the third set and a repeat MotherLode title.