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Beach volleyball becomes an ‘event’ as World Series comes to Long Beach

The World Series of Beach Volleyball has come to Long Beach this week, bringing some of the best players in the world and promoting itself as the preeminent event of its kind.

The competition began Thursday at Alamitos Beach, and features multiple tournaments headlined by the President’s Cup, an invitation-only 16-team tournament pitting teams from the United States against top international squads. The event also includes a National Volleyball League tournament, the AAU national championships, a coed tournament open to the public, and a beach party hosted by DJ and six-time Grammy nominee Kaskade.

Leonard Armato, chief executive of the tour, has said the wide-ranging nature of the event is part of a strategy to create a sustainable business model for the sport.

“The concept behind the World Series is to make beach volleyball a pop-culture event appealing to a mass audience,” he said in an interview with Volleyballmag.com. “We want it, first of all, to be inclusive of the entire volleyball community, the best in the world, the top juniors and certainly anyone that wants to play the sport in open competition.”

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Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings was expected to be another of the event’s main draws, but her participation may be short-lived. Walsh Jennings and new partner Nicole Branagh dropped their first two matches on Thursday and are on the brink of elimination.

Walsh Jennings split from 2016 Olympic partner April Ross earlier this year over a contract dispute with the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour.

It was Ross and new partner Lauren Fendrick who swept Walsh Jennings and Branagh 22-20 and 21-18 in an opener. Later, Walsh Jennings and Branagh lost to reigning NCAA champions Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes of USC 21-23, 21-19, 15-10.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh have partnered before, but they have not experienced much success since reuniting this year.

They lost their first three matches of 2017 and advanced to the round of 16 at a FIVB event only once, at Gstaad, Switzerland, last week.

Here is a look at a few of the more formidable teams that remain:

Women

Larissa Franca/Talita Atunes, Brazil: After a disappointing 2016 in which they won two of 11 events on the FIVB tour and failed to medal on their home sand at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, there was speculation that the Brazilian duo would go their separate ways, as is common in beach volleyball.

Instead, the veteran pair is having a resurgent season. They won seven of nine events on the Brazilian tour this winter and already have captured gold medals in 2017 FIVB events in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Moscow.

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In Gstaad, they finished second to Julia Sude and Chantal Laboureur of Germany. On Thursday, they opened with a convincing win over fellow Brazilians Josi and Lili 21-10, 21-17.

Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst, Germany: The Olympic gold medalists in Rio, and winners of seven tour events last year, have been struggling so far this season.

Ludwig recently returned from shoulder surgery. Walkenhorst competed without her for the first time since 2012, placing 17th playing alongside Julia Grossner at Fort Lauderdale in February.

Since being reunited, Ludwig and Walkenhorst have a fifth-place finish and two ninth-place finishes.

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In an opener Thursday, they dominated Caleigh Whitaker and Rebecca Pavan of Canada 21-9, 21-11.

Men

Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena, United States: At 6 feet 9, Dalhausser is one of the most imposing players on tour as well as one of the best blockers in the world. In his decorated 14-year career, the Swiss-born Dalhausser has won AVP “Best Blocker of the Year” award seven times and set the FIVB record with a 40-match winning streak with former partner Todd Rogers.

Like Dalhausser, Lucena is 37, but the veteran duo has dominated since teaming up in 2015. The two have won 15 World Tour medals and compiled a record of 119-26.

In Gstaad, they won their second gold medal of the season, sweeping through the tournament without losing a game.

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They won their first match Thursday over Casey Jennings and Billy Kolinske of the U.S. 21-17, 21-19. They defeated Trevor Crabb and Sean Rosenthal of the U.S. in their second match 21-16, 16-21, 15-11.

Jacob Gibb/Taylor Crabb, United States: Gibb didn’t envision having a new teammate this season, but when former partner Casey Patterson moved from Huntington Beach to Thousand Oaks for a new job the reality of Los Angeles traffic forced him to look for new option.

Gibb, 41, took on Crabb, 25, who split with his brother, Trevor, with whom he played on the tour for two years.

In June, Gibb and Crabb won an AVP event in New York in June. On Thursday in Long Beach, they opened with a 19-21, 21-18, 15-11 win over Billy Allen and Ed Ratledge of the U.S.

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Alvaro Filho/Saymon Barbosa, Brazil: Since coming together after last summer’s Olympics, Alvaro, 26, and Barbosa, 23, have been on a tear both domestically and abroad.

On the domestic tour, they won two gold medals, three silvers and a bronze. Internationally, they captured the gold at the season-opening tournament in Fort Lauderdale and finished third last week in Gstaad.

On Thursday, they were upset in an opener 21-19, 21-15 by Alex Ranghieri and Marco Caminati of Italy. They lost their second match 19-21, 27-29 to Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira of Spain.

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tyler.blint-welsh@latimes.com


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