Denver duo wins men’s MotherLode Classic, Utah duo takes women’s title

Gary Houghton finished as the MotherLode Volleyball Classic runner-up on three occasions, making it one of the few tournaments he never won. His son, Jeff Houghton, is going to remind his father of this a lot going forward after doing what his father never could on Monday by winning the men’s open division.

“I beat him,” Jeff Houghton said with a laugh. “I still can’t believe it. I can’t wrap my mind around it.”

One of the top pro-am tournaments in the country, the 47th annual MotherLode concluded with the men’s and women’s open divisions on Monday at Koch Lumber Park in Aspen, with Houghton and fellow Denverite Colin McAtee beating Adam Roberts and Lev Priima in a three-set thriller to close out the six-day event.

Jeff Houghton has competed in the Motherlode for more than a decade, and alongside fellow Colorado player Skylar Del Sol took second in 2018, losing to Jeff Samuels and Casey Jennings in the final. Samuels helped referee the 2019 final after he and teammate Dana Camcho lost to Roberts and Priima in the semifinals.

McAtee didn’t have nearly the MotherLode background, and neither he nor Houghton are professional players, unlike a lot of their competition. Roberts and Priima, for example, both compete regularly on the professional level, including the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour. Roberts even won the MotherLode once, back in 2008 alongside Vince Robbins.

“Jeff and I have slowly been working out the kinks,” McAtee said. “This has always been the tournament in Colorado. Winning this is unreal.”

The men’s final went to three sets after McAtee and Houghton took the first, 21-19, before losing the second, 21-17. The tiebreaker, which is the first to 15, win by two, was tied at multiple points before McAtee and Houghton escaped with the 20-18 win.

The women’s open final on Monday was just as entertaining, with Traci Walsh and Airial Salvo, both of Utah, winning in three sets over Cassie House and Katie Pyles. Walsh and Salvo lost the first set 21-15 and trailed early in the second before rallying for the 21-19 equalizer. They then won the tiebreaker 15-13, giving Walsh her second MotherLode title. She also won in 2013 alongside Angela Peterson.

House, from New Mexico, won the 2017 tournament alongside Liz Card.

“We are both fighters. We are the kind where you put us up against the wall and instead of feeling defeated it makes us fight harder,” Walsh said of their comeback. “I think both of us are that way. So we tried to go up a notch and be aggressive and take a few more risks. They are so good and so solid you have to take some risks to beat them.”

Walsh and Salvo are both close friends who used to compete against each other and later coached together at the high school level. Walsh, as the commentators liked to point out during Monday’s final, is the mother of five children, ranging from 1 to 13, while Salvo has a couple of young kids of her won. Both see volleyball as an outlet, but also as a way to bring the family together.

“This is a bonus for me. Volleyball is my outlet and my love, the thing I get to do for me, and the rest of my time I’m happy to give to my family,” Walsh said. “This December I just bought a home that has a sand court in the backyard though, so I get to play all the time and (Salvo) lives close so we get to play in the backyard with all of our kids playing together. We love it.”

Prior to the men’s final on Monday, a quick moment was taken to honor longtime tournament organizer Leon Fell. After 37 years, this year’s MotherLode was his last as he handed over the reins to a group that goes by MotherLode Fresh Tracks. Fell does hope to make one final cameo by helping organize the 50th annual tournament in 2022.


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