MotherLode returns to Aspen for 40th installment | AspenTimes.com

MotherLode returns to Aspen for 40th installment

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Published: Bob Blackburn special to The Aspen Times

ASPEN – News of a hastily planned, high-profile Labor Day weekend tournament in Cincinnati likely was perceived as unfortunate news for most MotherLode Volleyball Classic fans.

Leon Fell, longtime director of the venerable Aspen competition, is staying optimistic, however. He sees this as an opportunity for the ‘Lode to return to its roots – just in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

“It’s going to take some of the top players away, but that’s all right. We’re going to be what we’ve always been: a great pro-am event,” Fell said this week.

“The reality is that our bracket filled in quickly with extremely talented, young up-and-comers who want to be in Aspen. This is a great proving ground, and they will provide an exciting show.”

Fans were treated to quite a show here last year.

In 2011, the Classic was a featured site for the National Volleyball League, a fledgling circuit former pro Albert Hannemann developed to replace the AVP Tour, which folded in August 2010 because of a lack of funds and an inability to secure investors. Many of North America’s top professionals – including 2008 Olympian Sean Rosenthal and Casey Patterson, who teamed with Ty Loomis to win here in 2010 – made the trip to the Rockies.

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Patterson and Rosenthal pulled out a tense, three-set victory in the open-divison final against Eyal Zimet and Russ Marchewka. They will not be back to defend their title.

Why? The AVP is up and running again. The circuit will be staging tournaments in Cincinnati and Santa Barbara, Calif., the next two weeks that will feature the top 12 men’s and women’s pro beach volleyball duos.

In order to compete in Santa Barbara, teams will have to qualify in Cincinnati.

“Some players are up in arms about this – they want either time off or the opportunity to pick and choose what they do over Labor Day weekend,” Fell said. “(The AVP) seems to have no concept of tradition. They’re trying to force the players’ hands, and they don’t have to do it.”

Despite the setback, the MotherLode is soldiering on. An estimated 550 to 600 duos will be competing here this weekend – a number on par with last year, Fell said. Among those are 96 men’s and women’s open-division squads that hail from all over the country, and beyond; fresh off their appearance in the Summer Olympics, Canadians Joshua Reader and Martin Reader will be looking to secure a title on the Koch Park sand.

“This is their first trip, and we’re very excited to have them here,” Fell said. “We’re going to have a lot of players that we didn’t have last year.

“There has been a lot of infighting among pro beach tours trying to fill the old AVP’s gap – including the owner of the new AVP. It’s been kind of a sponsor’s dilemma, ‘Which direction should we go?’ This is the best direction for us. We’re the country’s No. 1 pro-am, and Volleyball Magazine called us the social event of the outdoor volleyball season.”

Such will be the case again in 2012, as the tournament celebrates its 40th anniversary.

To commemorate the occasion, winners of the previous 39 men’s and women’s open titles have been invited back to the high country, Fell said. Brothers Steve and Chester Goss, who triumphed in the inaugural Classic, were among those honored Thursday at a reception at Aspen Square Condominiums.

“People come here not just to play volleyball. They come here to have reunions with old friends from all over the country, to make this their summer vacation,” Fell said. “We’re looking forward to having an incredible weekend where everybody has a lot of fun.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com