Aspen’s MotherLode draws top players |

Aspen’s MotherLode draws top players

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
In this handout image provided by National Volleyball League via AP Images, Adam Roberts slams the ball past Joaquin Acosta during the National Volleyball League's Malibu Invitational match on Sunday, July 24, 2011 in Malibu, Calif.

ASPEN – Top-flight volleyball players have been flocking to the Colorado high country for decades, but there’s never been anything quite like this.

As many as 16 of North America’s top 20 professionals – Including 2008 Olympian Sean Rosenthal and Casey Patterson, who teamed with Ty Loomis to win here in 2010 – are expected to be among the more than 1,000 participants in Aspen this week for the 39th MotherLode Volleyball Classic, event producer Leon Fell confirmed Wednesday.

For that, he can thank an old friend and a new partnership.

This year, the Classic will be a featured site for the National Volleyball League, a fledgling circuit former pro Albert Hannemann developed to replace the now-defunct AVP Tour, which folded last August because of a lack of funds and an inability to secure investors.

“We’re all upset about what happened [to the AVP]. We could either sit around and complain about it, or do something,” Hannemann said Wednesday. “I had an opportunity to get this tour off the ground, so I took it.”

Hannemann set out to produce tournaments in conjunction with large-scale lifestyle events in an attempt to showcase the sport to both new and existing audiences. (The NVL made the first of its five scheduled tour stops this year in May outside Baltimore, where semifinals and finals were played on the infield at Pimlico Race Course prior to the running of the Preakness Stakes. The season slate wraps up with a trip to Miami later this month.)

As soon as funding began pouring in late last year, Hannemann contacted longtime friend Fell.

“I was thinking of top promoters in the U.S., and Leon is no. 1,” Hannemann said. “As I was putting the schedule together, Aspen was one of the top three spots I wanted to be able to lock up right away.

“It’s just kind of the epitome of the lifestyle of the sport, people from the beach and grass coming together to celebrate the sport. You don’t have that in a four- or five-day period in any other event. … And the MotherLode is packed every year. It’s not up to us to get the crowds, which is a lot easier financially.”

For Fell, the attraction was obvious. He and his team could provide production assistance and a reputable venue and event – The MotherLode is the country’s largest pro-am tournament. In turn, the NVL could offer better competition, more prize money and increased visibility, an obvious boon for both the tournament and the community, he said.

The MotherLode organizers had discussed possible partnerships with pro tours for past events – a plan that Fell said finally appeared to be coming to fruition last summer, before AVP’s undoing. This time around, he knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“They bring the money in and we do the production – it’s a very good, symbiotic relationship. This almost doubles our marketing,” Fell said. “When I took over in 1981, my goal was to take a sport I loved and produce it in a town I loved and make it into one of the top events in the country. … We’re already voted the no. 1 pro-am in the country, but this just takes us to a whole new level. It elevates our status.

“The benefit isn’t specifically about me, in reality it is for Aspen. What it does is bring in many more spectators. I talked to a few lodges, and they’re already filled up. … This is going to put Aspen in the minds of all people involved with volleyball, making it a destination for many [players and spectators] from all over the country.”

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people are expected to attend this weekend’s festivities, Fell said. A total of 100 teams in the men’s and women’s open divisions, which begin play Saturday, will vie for their share of a $75,000 prize purse.

For Hannemann, who finished as high as second while competing at the MotherLode, Aspen and the NVL is a winning combination that he expects to endure.

“Everybody wants to come here. It’s so beautiful, so much of a different atmosphere than the beach, which makes it more appealing,” he said.

“I love it there. We’ve got to be a part of this. To be a part of volleyball in general, you have to be a part of Aspen.”

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