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Envisioning a Better Open

Lisa Ruthledge hits past Sarah Pavan.

Lisa Ruthledge hits past Sarah Pavan.

Twenty two-person teams battled each other and a stiff sea breeze that whipped across Main Beach last Saturday during the 38th annual Laguna Open Women’s Volleyball Tournament. “This is probably the windiest tournament I’ve ever been in,” said Lynne Galli, after she and partner Lisa Ruthledge won their second straight title.

“You just have to work on your ball control and keep everything kind of low,” said Ruthledge of the challenging conditions that seemed to get worse as the daylong tournament progressed.

Saturday’s crowd was tiny compared to the tournament’s heyday in the mid-80s, when thousands gathered to watch the best beach players in the world compete for as much as $150,000 in prizes. In it’s 58th year, the Laguna Men’s Open, scheduled for June 5, is the second oldest in the state.

The Open fell on hard times in the early ‘90s, when the city banned sponsorships by alcohol manufacturers, driving top pros to search for big prize money elsewhere. Second-year director Kirk Morgan has a vision and a plan to turn things around starting in 2014.

Morgan envisions raising prize money through local sponsorships and a “Taste of Laguna” festival in the park near Main Beach. The City Council, which last month approved a tent and amplified sound at last Saturday’s event, urged Morgan to submit a written proposal outlining his future expansion plans. “We’re going to re-build in measured steps,” he said.

With only four courts at his disposal, Morgan had to cap the number of team entries at 20. He hopes to add more temporary courts for the men’s open. What the women’s field lacked in quantity, it more than made up for in quality, as nine of the California Beach Volleyball Association’s top 20 players and 22 of the top 100 competed.

Geena Urango tries to loft one over Lisa Ruthledge during the finals.

Geena Urango tries to loft one over Lisa Ruthledge during the finals.

Laguna Beach High’s Alexx Murphy and Beckman High’s Myranda Cunningham, both seniors, were two of the youngest in a field. The indoor prep players teamed up but failed to advance out of pool play against many pros in their 20s and 30s.

Corona del Mar resident and CVBA 14th ranked Sarah Day and San Diego’s Summer Ross rose from the 11th seed to win their pool, before falling in the quarterfinals. It was their first time playing together.

Day gave up her volleyball scholarship at Cal State Fullerton to hit the beach circuit full time several years ago. “I felt this need to switch,” she said of her decision to shun the hardwood for the soft sand.

It was Day’s second Laguna Open and a first for Ross, 20, who used to play for Carlsbad High.

Galli, who moved to Laguna at 13, learned right away that volleyball ruled the local sports culture. She ended up playing for LBHS, graduating in 1998, and is now a four-time winner of the Laguna Open.

Morgan found his way to Laguna 27 years ago by way of Kansas and Ohio. A former player at San Clemente High and San Diego State, he has competed in countless CVBA tournaments up and down the coast.

Morgan still plays when he can, inbetween teaching adult classes at Main Beach and hosting the local tournament, where he does everything from raking the courts to writing the checks. “Since I’ve played in so many tournaments over the years, I know what I like in a tournament and what makes it fun,” he said. “And I try and make sure all those elements are present.”

Champions Lynne Galli and Lisa Ruthledge, right; with runners up Geena Urango and Sarah Pavan

Champions Lynne Galli and Lisa Ruthledge, right; with runners up Geena Urango and Sarah Pavan

“Kirk does a great job of running it, so all the great players want to play,” said Ruthledge.

If anyone knows the current health of the beach game in Laguna, it’s Morgan, who marvels at the diversity of local volleyball community. “From strong, young up-and-coming players, to mature athletes in their 60s and 70s who still play, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it stronger,” he said. “Players are on the sand from early dawn until sunset.”

Morgan knows it will take a whole village to raise the Open back to where it once was. “I know the community will support it once we really get it going again,” he said

For complete tournament results, visit www.cbva.com.

 

Photos by Robert Campbell

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