MotherLode Volleyball Classic back in Aspen, again with new ownership

Corey Bryndal and LetsGO Volleyball now runs the show

The MotherLode Volleyball Classic returned to Koch Lumber Park on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, with the master’s and senior’s division on the first day of the annual event in Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Corey Bryndal had been jotting down notes about how to improve the MotherLode Volleyball Classic for years. It wasn’t until he created LetsGO Volleyball and bought Aspen’s famed Labor Day tournament last summer that he was able to put those plans into action.

“When this opportunity came up later in the summer, early in the fall, to buy this, it was a perfect fit because I was already building a tournament series,” Bryndal said Wednesday. “This just gave us an opportunity to use the ideas I had put together.”

The MotherLode has been around since 1972 and has grown into one of the most popular pro-am volleyball tournaments in the country. With 24 divisions on both sand and grass this year, and numerous professional players looking to make it to Monday’s open division finals, a lot has changed for an event that’s being held for the 48th time this weekend.

And that’s a good thing for someone like Bryndal, who first saw the tournament in 1991 and started playing in it a year later. As beloved as the MotherLode is, there was no reason to build a new foundation but it needed some timely upgrades.

Bryndal believed there was room for improvement and maybe a facelift.

“Having played in it for so many years, my kids have now grown up in it,” said Bryndal, who lives in Crested Butte. “There is a lot of history in this event. I’ve come to it for a long time. It pre-dates me. The event started the year I was born. I did want to make sure we were dignified and really cognizant of the history of it and made sure that stays a big part of it. So we are building on something that exists.”

The MotherLode essentially started as a barbecue and was named after the former Aspen restaurant that was housed in the same building The Aspen Times now uses. In 1981, Leon Fell took over as the lead marketer, promoter and organizer of the tournament, a role he held until a group of players, operating as MotherLode Fresh Tracks, took over ownership ahead of the 2019 tournament.

Then, last summer, Bryndal’s new LLC, LetsGO Volleyball, bought the tournament from the Fresh Tracks group to become its fourth owner in what is approaching a 50-year history. The 2020 MotherLode tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, so this weekend’s return has been a long time in the making for Bryndal.

“It’s part of my Colorado experience. I love Aspen, I love the event,” Bryndal said. “My goal isn’t to just grow the numbers. If we had 3,000 people here, the quality couldn’t be high. All the players would just go through the ringer. So my idea was to increase the quality and improve the experience for the registered teams and provide a venue that was interesting for the spectators. We’re pretty focused on player amenities.”

Outside of a few added divisions and some new sponsorships, a lot of differences are visual this weekend. Bryndal has new nets and tents around the main courts at Koch Lumber Park in Aspen, with the LetsGO Volleyball branding plenty visible. Breckenridge DJ Tropical Waffle is bringing the music, part of the beach theme that also includes 18-foot faux palm trees as decoration on the sand courts.

“The new nets are to make it look professional and feel good,” Bryndal said. “The palm trees? I have no good explanation. I came up with this idea of no one has ever built palm trees in Aspen. I just thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to put palm trees in Aspen. Maybe someone’s got one hiding in an atrium in their house, but I don’t think there are any others.”

The tournament runs through Monday afternoon and concludes with the open division finals at Koch Park. As it has for years, the MotherLode often brings in professional athletes, many coming straight over from the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour.

Spectating is free.

“To see the reaction and the energy from people that we’ve invested in the event and made it more fun, more visually interesting … it’s really satisfying,” Bryndal said. “This is a gift to the community. Our goal is not to make money, it’s to create an event that is durable for a long period of time. It’s really exciting to be out and see the response from the players.”