AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tournament 

Dig It: Beach volleyball players do it in the sand

The AVP Crocs Tour Charleston Open
June 14-17
$20-$35, $140/weekend pass
Family Circle Tennis Center
Daniel Island
Youth Clinic: Thurs. June 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
To register go to www.avp.com/hiltonyouthclinic
Tournament qualifying rounds: Thurs.
Main Draw: Fri. and Sat.
Semifinals and Finals: Sun.
Visit www.avp.com for the full schedule

The AVP Charleston Open beach volleyball tournament will bring an unprecedented level of athletic talent and achievement to the Lowcountry. For the AVP's inaugural event in Charleston, the field includes a slew of Olympic gold medalists, and any list of the greatest beach volleyball players of all time would have to include a good number of this tournament's competitors. Take, for instance, Karch Kiraly, a three-time indoor volleyball gold medalist and the winner of the first-ever Olympic beach volleyball event in 1996. Known as the Michael Jordan of beach volleyball, Kiraly is in the midst of his farewell tour in professional volleyball, as he has announced he will retire after the 2007 season.

And then there are the tour's biggest stars: Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, beach volleyball gold medalists in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Since then, the pair has dominated the professional circuit to an almost laughable degree. With their victory in last weekend's Atlanta Open, May-Treanor and Walsh will arrive in Charleston having won seven consecutive tournaments. Their only loss this year came at the hands of Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh in the semifinals of the year's first tournament.

This year, May-Treanor broke the record for the most professional titles by a female player. In doing so, she surpassed her former playing partner Holly McPeak, the previous record-holder at 72 victories. "I learned a lot from her," May-Treanor says of the beach volleyball legend. "We went through a lot."

With the victory in Atlanta, Walsh won her 73rd tournament and therefore also moved past McPeak on the all-time wins list. May-Treanor's gigantic image adorns the Family Circle Tennis Center, the venue for the tournament. She is indisputably the grand dame of beach volleyball. Her strengths as a player are her tenacity and her stunning reflexes. She has an amazing ability to cover the court — it's like she's everywhere at once. She may not tower over the net like her 6'3" partner Walsh, but she is uncannily good at diving to dig shots out of the sand and keep the ball in play. She complements Walsh perfectly, setting the ball up for Walsh's punishing spikes. And her skills are hardly limited to her defensive artistry — she has been named the AVP's best offensive player for the last three years.

She's also one of the most charismatic players on tour, as is evidenced by her hilarious entrance dances. Nicknamed "The Turtle," she once crawled onto the court when she was introduced wearing something resembling a turtle shell. Asked where she keeps her gold medal, she quips, "I can't tell you. Otherwise, I'd have to kill you."

May-Treanor and Walsh also have their sights on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. May-Treanor says they will begin qualifying competition after the Charleston event.

But the tour's star-power extends beyond the May-Treanor-Walsh supernova. On the men's side, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal have put together a streak of their own, with two tournament titles in a row. Meanwhile, Courtney Shealy, a Columbia, S.C., native, is also scheduled to play this weekend. A graduate of Irmo High School, Shealy won two gold medals in swimming in the 2000 Olympics before beginning her career in beach volleyball.

The event will also feature an instructional clinic for kids on transitioning from indoor volleyball to the beach. Scheduled for June 14, the clinic will be held on the venue's Center Court and will be taught by AVP stars Phil Dalhausser, Todd Rogers, and Sean Scott.

There is often a minor hubbub about players' uniforms that accompanies beach volleyball wherever it goes. But none of this matters once the first serve is in the air. "To really appreciate it, you have to come and see it live," says May-Treanor. Beach volleyball is compelling enough in itself; it doesn't need any gimmick or sideshow to get people's attention. The game is lightning-fast, with the action coming in furious bursts of shots between the teams. Players have to have insanely quick reflexes. A nice dig is something to see, as is a player's hustle across the sand to return a shot, improbably keeping the point alive when it seemed surely to be lost.

And the players' intensity is infectious. You might think that winning so often would get boring for May-Treanor and Walsh, but they complete every point with a ferocity to suit an Olympic finals match. It's a thrilling game, and it'll suck you in in no time.


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