AVP championships in Santa Barbara draw top talent and crowds


SANTA BARBARA -- Championship point: a capacity crowd on its feet, clapping inflatable thunder sticks and hands in sync, with music pounding, chants thundering, sunshine warming and an ocean breeze cooling.

Moments later, soaked in champagne from a finals win, Sean Rosenthal said, “It was like the AVP was never gone.”

The Assn. of Volleyball Professionals shut down in 2010 when it ran out of money, but the pro beach volleyball tour returned this year with two events, the last of which — the AVP championships — was held here over the weekend.

The environment during Sunday’s men’s and women’s final events had shades of the AVP of old, especially with strong fan support. The 1,500-seat grandstands were full, and an official estimated 30,000 people attended throughout the weekend.

In the men’s final, London Olympians Jake Gibb and Rosenthal, the sixth-seeded team, beat fourth-seeded Brad Keenan and John Mayer, 21-16, 21-16, 21-18, and won $42,500.

On the women’s side, top-seeded Jen Kessy and April Ross, who took home the silver medal in London, beat second-seeded Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh, 21-19, 21-16, and won $47,500.

Kessy said she’s excited about the AVP under new owner Donald Sun, but she added the tour still has to patch up a relationship with players.

“It’s going to be tough,” Kessy said. “A lot of us that have been here forever have been through a lot of things. So we all kind of have a little bit of a guard up, and after events like this, it starts to slowly come down.”

Sun, who bought the AVP for $2 million in April, said these events gave him confidence the AVP can hold four to six events next year.