Vagneur’s got next on the AVP after breakout win | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur’s got next on the AVP after breakout win

Nate Peterson

Former Aspen local Catie Vagneur prepares for a serve at the AVPNext Championships in Marina Del Rey, Calif., last Sunday. Vagneur and partner Beth Van Fleet won the womens final in three games. (Courtesy AVP)

Former Aspen local Catie Vagneur’s sixth season on the AVP beach circuit could be titled: “From breakups to a breakout.”That’s because Vagneur, who opted to part ways with longtime partner Kelly Rowe in early May, finally found what she was searching for last weekend when she teamed up with Beth Van Fleet – her fifth partner this year – at the season-ending AVPNext National Championship in Playa Del Rey, Calif. Vagneur not only found a great partner. She also found herself in Sunday’s final with Van Fleet, whom she credits for helping her rediscover her potential as a player. The duo tore through the bracket Saturday, then won a tough three-game semifinal Sunday to advance to the final against Mary Bailey and Julia Romias.The final also went to three games. Vagneur and Van Fleet made a push at the end of the first game to win, 21-19, then dropped the second by the same score.

The tiebreaker also went down to the wire, but Vagneur and Van Fleet dug in and secured the necessary two points to win, 16-14.The win was a watershed mark in Vagneur’s career. The AVPNext Championship exists to provide up-and-comers the chance to jumpstart their careers. In year’s past, the winners of the final received guaranteed entry into the main draw at four AVP events the following season – a huge advantage for players who have been bogged down by playing qualifiers to get into the main draw.This year, AVP officials decided to up the cash prize allotted to the winners of the Next championship, but nix the guaranteed berths. While Vagneur would have preferred the guaranteed berths, and the enhanced possibility of making some real money next year, she wasn’t complaining about the prize check. In the five years traveling the pro circuit before this season, her career earnings totaled $625.For the win last Sunday, she and Van Fleet split $2,750.When reached by phone this week at her home in Culver City, Calif., Vagneur said she paired up with Van Fleet on a lark to play the tournament. She had never finished higher than ninth at AVPNext, and was already looking forward to the offseason after a long six months trying make headway while traveling the circuit.

“After we had won all our matches on Saturday, we were kind of like, ‘This is fun,'” Vagneur said. “It was like, ‘Let’s just keep going. Let’s just keep fighting on with this.’ We just kept it easy. We didn’t get uptight in the final. Sometimes when teams get in a rough spot, they start to pick at each other. We were constantly saying, ‘It’s really our first time playing together.’ We don’t know each other on the court and sometimes that makes it easier actually.”The win, more than anything, has re-energized Vagneur, a fifth-generation Aspenite. After a stellar four years as an outside hitter at Colorado State, which followed a memorable prep career at Aspen, Vagneur moved to California in 2000 with big dreams of making a name for herself as a beach pro. Those dreams, however, ran up against the hard realities of the AVP. The disparity between the best players on the circuit and someone like Vagneur isn’t that much when seen on the court, but in terms of money to be made – there’s a huge gap. When you’re not making any money chasing your dream for five seasons, it’s hard to stay optimistic.”I think I’ve had moments where I wondered if I was going to ever get any better,” Vagneur said. “I thought, ‘Is this is the best I can be?'” I love traveling and playing, but at some point, because I’m not making any money, this doesn’t make sense. Before this season, I’d been doing about the same for the past three years.”

The decision to part ways with Rowe was also a tough one. The relationship hadn’t soured, but after the first three AVPNext tournaments this season, Vagneur said “it was apparent we’d reached a plateau together.”The split led to the merry-go-round of partners, including a three-month stint with Jeannette Hecker from June to August during which Vagneur posted some of the best results of her career. The duo finished 17th at both the Belmar Open in July and the Huntington Beach Open in August.Hecker wasn’t “it”, though, and neither was Kerri Eich, with whom Vagneur paired for the Chicago Open during Labor Day weekend. After playing one tournament with Van Fleet, however, Vagneur said her dreams of AVP glory are still very much alive. For the first time in three years, she plans to only take a month off after the season before she starts training again. In years past, she said she sometimes wouldn’t be motivated to get back on the court until January.”I think I played the best ball I’ve ever played in this tournament,” she said. “That was really exciting. I think playing with Beth, her style of play allowed me to discover things about my game that I didn’t even know I could do. A whole new world opened up in my game. I feel like defensively, I was everywhere. I found myself making plays where it was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I could get to that ball.'”

Now that she’s got her first win as a beach professional, Vagneur also said it may be the momentum she needs to pick up a win in the one tournament which has hounded her the most – the annual MotherLode Volleyball Classic, held at Koch Lumber Park each year.”Ah, the MotherLode,” Vagneur said. “It’s a thorn in my side. So many people want me to win it, that it just seems like there is too much pressure every time I play it. I hope to one day win it.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com.