MotherLode continues to nurture talent |

MotherLode continues to nurture talent

Dana Camacho, right, goes up for a spike against Dave Smith during the 2004 MotherLode Men's Open final last year. Camacho and his teammate, Chris Hannemann, went on to win the match. (Aspen Times file photo)

The MotherLode Volleyball Classic, with its roster of more than 750 two-person teams competing in 18 divisions, hypes itself as the biggest beach volleyball tournament in the country.

There’s something else, however, that sets the Lode ” now in its 33rd year ” apart from other pro-ams. More than any other beach tourney in the United States, the annual classic has repeatedly proven itself to be a springboard for hungry beach players to make the jump to the big time.

The most recent example is Nicki Fusco. Last year on Labor Day, the Denver resident won the Women’s Open title with partner Gina Kirstein. This year, the second-year beach pro will be in Chicago competing in the AVP’s National Championship.

“She used this tournament to get there,” said MotherLode producer Leon Fell, who has been with the classic since 1981. “She’s just one of the many names who have done well here and then gone on to big things.”

That list of names is long and distinguished.

Rachel Wacholder, the former CU star who won last weekend’s AVP Boulder Open, is on it.

Dax Holdren is also on it. The Santa Barbara, Calif., native was already on a steady rise as a pro when he won the Lode’s Men’s Open title with partner Ian Clark in 2000, following a second-place finish in 1999. He was the AVP’s rookie of the year in 1997 and had notched at least one tour win in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Holdren’s biggest career wins came after his MotherLode days, however. He won the hallowed Hermosa Beach title in 2001, then the Manhattan Beach title in 2002 ” wins equivalent to winning the Masters and the U.S. Open in golf.

Current AVP players Mike Whitmarsh, Canyon Ceman, Adam Jewell, Albert Hanneman, Linda Hanley, Leanne Schuster, Nancy Mason, Danalee Bragado and Liz Pagano have also played in the MotherLode in years past.

Indoor players from the men’s national team, both past and present, have also been lured to Aspen throughout the years. The most notable name on that list is Pat Powers ” the Olympic co-MVP who led the United States to a gold medal at the Los Angeles Summer Games in 1984.

Considering that history, there is no denying the MotherLode’s prestige in volleyball circles. The fact that a number of players who are eliminated early from the AVP event in Chicago this week will actually jump on planes to try and make it to Aspen in time to play in the Open divisions on Sunday and Monday is maybe the best example of the MotherLode’s magnetism.

Last year, California beach pros Jimmy Nichols and Dave Smith did just that, and made it to the Men’s Open final before losing to defending champions Chris Hannemann and Dana “Macho” Camacho.

“Talking about the MotherLode as a fan, it’s been some of the best AVP players that have won this thing,” said Hannemann, whose wins in 2003 and 2004 came after his retirement as a pro. “I always dreamed about playing here, but for some reason it never actually happened until I came here because of one of my sponsors. Having won it the last two years, it’s pretty exciting. This is a volleyball tournament that everybody loves.”

There is the definite possibility of new stars emerging from this year’s Open divisions, considering Fusco won’t be in Aspen to defend her crown, nor will Camacho.

Hannemann, who will be playing with California pro Kjell Nillsen, said he still feels good about his chances of repeating for a second year, but admitted, as is the norm at the MotherLode, that anything is possible.

A pair of established pros may take the crown, or a pair of upstarts ” like Fusco and Kirstein last year ” may surprise the whole field.

“I think it works on both ends,” Hannemann said. “The guy I’m playing with in the Masters division, Sean Fallowfield, he won the [Men’s] Open in ’86 and ’89. A lot of the older guys like myself, they come back to play in it because they love [the event] so much. Then, absolutely, there are the younger guys who have used this as a springboard. It’s a great big mix.”

Nate Peterson can be reached at

Check-in for this year’s MotherLode is at Koch Lumber Park, which is also the site of Open division play. Wagner Park, Rio Grande Park and other locations outside of town will host the grass divisions throughout the tournament.

Women’s Masters (35-over); Men’s Seniors (45-over and 50-over) divisions. Finals are on the same day in the afternoon.

Men’s Masters (37-over) division, with finals scheduled for 11 a.m.

Co-Ed Open, A, BB, and B divisions with finals scheduled on the same day in the afternoon.

Men’s and Women’s Open (sand); Men’s and Women’s A, BB, and B divisions.

Men’s and Women’s B, 9 a.m.; Men’s and Women’s BB, 10 a.m.; Men’s and Women’s A, 11 a.m.; Men’s AA, noon; Women’s Open, 3 p.m.; Men’s Open 4 p.m.

For more info, go to the website at or call the official event hotline number at 720-851-7953.

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