SALT LAKE CITY -- Is Utah ready for big-time beach volleyball?
The AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour will host the Salt Lake City Open starting today, marking the AVP's first tournament in Salt Lake City in its 30-year history.
Things get started with an open qualifying tournament today at Wasatch Beach, which is located at The Sports Mall, 5445 S. 900 East in Murray.
The one-day, single-elimination tournament is open to two-player men's teams and two-player women's teams of any ability. Entrants have been seeded into the single-elimination tournament bracket based on their results in previous tournaments, and the top eight teams from each gender at the conclusion of the open qualifier will advance to play in the AVP Salt Lake City Open's main draw.
The men's qualifying group includes Ogden's Bobby Webb, who is teamed up with Troy Ketterling of Salt Lake City, and Ogden's Arlo Gagestein, who is teamed up with Timothy Cornelissen of Scottsdale, Ariz.
The women's qualifying group includes Traci Walsh of Bountiful, who is teamed with Angela Peterson of Lindon; Brenda Whicker of Fruit Heights, who is teamed up with Airial Sprague of Seattle, and several other Utah squads.
Those teams emerging from the qualifier will have an opportunity to play against the top players in the world, including three-time Olympic gld medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, Olympic silver medalists Jen Kessy and April Ross.
On the men's side, Olympic gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers as well as Olympians Jake Gibb (University of Utah) and Sean Rosenthal round out the star-studded field..
Former BYU star Casey Jennines is also in the main draw with teammate Stafford Slick.
The AVP and Staker Parkson combined to donate 1,800 tons of tournament-quality sand and professional net systems to the City of Salt Lake to refurbish three existing courts in Liberty Park and provide local recreational players a top-notch facility for years to come.
Mayor Ralph Becker attended a public ceremony earlier in the week to dedicate the courts, and pulled the lever on the back of a Staker Parson Companies dump truck to drop the first load of sand on the new courts.
"This is a great day for beach volleyball players in and around Salt Lake City," Mayor Becker said. "While we are hundreds of miles from the nearest beach, Salt Lake City has a thriving volleyball community, and our courts in Liberty Park get a tremendous amount of use."
Main-draw play will run Friday-Sunday at Liberty Park.
Tickets start at just $25 and are available at www.avp.com or at the door.
"Salt Lake City is a place where we want to be for many years to come," said Donald Sun, the AVP's Managing Partner. "Outside of some of the beach communities in Southern California, I don't know of an area that is as passionate about volleyball as the people are here. "
In Liberty Park, four courts have been constructed on a temporary tournament site just south of the existing sand courts.
Work has been under way for nearly a week in constructing a beach volleyball village that will combine thrilling athletic competition with plenty of music, great food and sponsor activities that come together to create a vibrant beach party atmosphere.
All the sand used to bring the beach to the mountains was provided by Staker Parson Companies.
"We're very excited to be involved in the AVP Salt Lake Open and thrilled that the AVP chose us to supply the sand to build their tournament courts," said Scott Parson, president of Staker Parson Companies.