Tall, tanned and talented, 31st Classic is ‘Loded | AspenTimes.com

Tall, tanned and talented, 31st Classic is ‘Loded

In its 31st year as a Labor Day weekend fixture in Aspen, the MotherLode Volleyball Classic returns Thursday through Monday along with its usual tall, tanned and talented contingent.

Some 600 two-person teams are signed up, and another 100 or so are expected to enter by service time in the 18 different divisions. With headquarters at the sand courts of Koch Lumber Park, the Classic spans out over most playable patches of grass in Aspen, including Wagner and Rio Grande Parks downtown.

Leon Fell, the producer of the Classic since 1981, said “it’s going to be bigger than last year, and that was the biggest crowd ever.”

“The party goes on, but we’re just hoping for a last bit of summertime heat.”

Growing equally older and younger at 31, the 2003 Classic will feature some of volleyball’s most decorated Masters players and its first-ever 14-under girls division. In between, of course, is the Men’s and Women’s Open divisions, which draw pros and top amateur beach specialists from coast to coast.

Since the men’s U.S. National Team is in training in Colorado Springs, several National Team players have entered the Open draw, Fell said, including Riley Salmons and David McKienzie, sons of former U.S. National teamers.

The Men’s Open field is “over-filled” with 75 teams, the Women’s Masters features its largest field ever with 27, and the Men’s Masters and Senior division fields, also with record numbers of teams, read like a who’s who of beach volleyball.

“It’s the unheralded part of the MotherLode,” Fell said. “Everybody knows about the big draw, the Opens, but the Masters will be something special because there’s so many ex-pros and ex-National Team members in this division.

“And let me tell you, they do not take this lightly.”

Men’s Senior divisions (45+, 50+) and Women’s Masters (35+) kick off the event Thursday at Koch park. The Men’s Masters division (37+) takes over on Friday.

The nation’s top-two ranked Men’s Masters pairs in the country are in the draw: Andrew Cavanaugh and Christian Larson of Santa Barbara, Calif., at No. 1, and brothers Chris and Nick Hanneman of Santa Monica, Calif., at No. 2.

However, the team to beat may be Northern California’s Kent Kitchell and Eric Anderson. The duo has won four of the last six MotherLode Masters’ titles, and Kitchell owns a record six MotherLode titles overall.

“That’s going to create an exciting Friday and a very exciting Saturday morning,” said Fell, referring to the 10 a.m. start Saturday for the Men’s Masters finals.

The defending Men’s and Women’s Open champs are back this year, however Brian Soldano of South Carolina and Texan Skyler Davis, regular partners on the AVP Tour, will be playing with different men this year.

Krista Swartzendruber of Glenwood Springs and partner Angela Knopf of Troutdale, Ore., are hoping for a better seed this time around.

Coming from the No. 26 seed (out of as many teams) last year, the former Colorado State University teammates rallied through the bracket to win their first MotherLode titles.

In another Classic first, USA Volleyball will be offering a free clinic in the basics of beach doubles volleyball for all junior (14-under) and other interested players.

John Kessel, director of USA Volleyball’s beach volleyball programs, will coordinate the 45-minute session. Interested players can sign up for the clinic at Koch park beginning at noon on Thursday.

The clinic will be held immediately before the start of play in the junior girl’s 14-under division on Saturday at Iselin Field.

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