ATLANTIC CITY - The Atlantic City Alliance's main goal is to offer the unique and spectacular to the region's residents and tourists.
The Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) is here for the weekend, bringing a group of world-class and Olympic volleyball players to put on a show.
"It resonates very well with people," said Liza Cartmell, president of the ACA, which is a casino-funded marketing organization. "It's a part of our history to do those kinds of really high-level things that people can't really necessarily get elsewhere."
With four courts located in the once-barren land between the Showboat Casino Hotel and Revel Casino-Hotel, the AVP event is free to spectators walking along the Boardwalk or looking for something to do during the day today and Sunday.
"I think this spot is killer," 2008 and 2012 Olympic participant Jake Gibb said. "It's right next to the Boardwalk, so you get a lot of (passers-by) and they go, 'What's going on there?' We always say that once you watch an event in person, you fall in love with the sport."
Spectators can watch Olympians such as Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross, Whitney Pavlik, Gibb, Sean Rosenthal and Todd Rodgers compete in action on the sand. Admission is free, and there are numerous opportunities to take photos of the athletes as well as the possibility of autographs.
Walsh Jennings is arguably the biggest draw to the event. The three-time Olympic gold medalist (2004, 2008, 2012) is one half of what has been considered the greatest beach volleyball team of all time with Misty May-Treanor.
But like the rest of the participants, Walsh Jennings, who is now partnered with Pavlik, is new to Atlantic City and very excited at what the city has to offer for the players and fans.
"I think it's very interesting to hear that the people from the state of New Jersey talk about how they're rebuilding (after last year's Hurricane Sandy) and they want to bring new attractions here to Atlantic City and more recreational activities," Walsh Jennings said. "And the AVP is relaunching and rebuilding, so I feel like it's such a good fit and there's a lot of good symmetry there. ... Hopefully we can just grow together and every year this will be a mainstay."
Donald Sun, the owner of AVP, is hopeful that the tournament has staying power in Atlantic City. He also added that he was taken aback at how different the scenery was from the West Coast.
"It's totally different from California beaches. It's a cool vibe. At the same time it's really weird not being able to see the sunset into the water," Sun said with a laugh.
"We're used to seeing the sun rise from the mountains, which is cool, and a sun set into the water, but it's reversed. So I've never seen a sunrise from the oceanside, so maybe I'll wake up real early and check it out."
Both Gibb and Walsh Jennings said they feel strongly about being a part of the AVP. Gibb even went on to describe it as "our NBA."
"This is a big league for us," Gibb said. "This is where we want to play and we love playing in it and we want to blow up so that's how we feel about it."
The AVP also provides the players with top competition every week to stay focused for the next Olympics. After taking a break from August 2010 to October 2011 due to financial struggles, the AVP resumed, and the players are happy to have it back.
"The stature of USA dropped a little bit because what the AVP provides is constant growth because you're being challenged every single weekend by the best in the country which equates to the best in the world," Walsh Jennings said.
"So having a strong AVP is absolutely huge. It's certainly our NBA, and every single tournament on the weekend there's a championship. That's pretty exciting too.
"You're not playing a whole season to see one winner. It's every week and you're fighting for a championship. The stakes are very high and this is our livelihood, we love it."
Seven pairs got automatic bids to the main draw, while 15 male pairs and eight female pairs competed Friday for the eighth seeds.
Coming out of the men's bracket were Adrian Carambula and Stafford Slick, the top-seeded team in the qualifier. They beat Kevin McColloch and Ed Ratledge, 21-12, 21-17.
In the women's qualifier, top-seeded Emily Day and Summer Ross beat second-seeded Lane Carico and Heather Hughes, 19-21, 21-19, 15-10.
Action resumes today at 10 a.m.
Quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will be held Sunday, with action starting at 9 a.m.. The men's final will be at 2 p.m., the women's at 3.
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