New-Look Beach Tour Kicks Off

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This won't be the beach volleyball of a generation ago.

The bury-the-keg-in-the-sand ritual probably won't make an appearance at the Hermosa Beach Open, where the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals will debut new rules, a new owner and a slightly more serious tone today through Sunday.

Rally-scored matches, smaller courts and heavier volleyballs will be in play when player agent Leonard Armato's recent acquisition kicks off its eight-stop tour.

The rules have been part of the international tour for a couple of years and were used in the Sydney Olympics, but the AVP's adoption of them shows an improved effort in helping U.S. players train for the Olympics.

Change isn't a bad concept for the AVP, which has fallen on hard times since its mid-1990s heyday.

Armato, who represents Laker center Shaquille O'Neal, is the latest designated savior of the sport.

He has brought together old rivals Sinjin Smith and Karch Kiraly, though they won't play each other this weekend.

Kiraly suffered a strained muscle in his left calf Tuesday and is sidelined until the June 15-17 Huntington Beach Open.

With a potential Kiraly-Smith showdown delayed, the spotlight falls on Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana's return to the AVP.

The Sydney gold medalists fought bitterly with AVP management several times last year and planned to play for the year-old Beach Volleyball America tour until it folded last week.

The duo signed with the AVP last Friday, with Armato preaching togetherness.

"All of us must settle our differences," he said. "My message to all the players is to put the sport ahead of yourself."

Holly McPeak, who split with up-and-comer Misty May earlier this year, will team with Lisa Arce in the women's division.

In a somewhat surprising move, May has decided to play solely on the international tour with former Stanford All-American Kerri Walsh.

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AVP Hermosa Beach Open

* Where: North side of Hermosa Beach Pier.

* When: Today through Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

* Prize money: $75,000 for men, $75,000 for women.

* Admission: Free.

* Fast fact: Jose Loiola and Emanuel Rego defeated Dax Holdren and Todd Rogers, 15-6, to win the Hermosa Beach Open last year.

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