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Publish Date: 8/27/2005

Kristen Ursillo prepares to spike a set from Noel Forhman, to her right, while Jenny Griffith attempts to block during a qualifying round at the AVP Boulder Open pro volleyball tournament. The tournament lasts all weekend at Boulder Reservoir and features some of the best beach volleyball players in the country. There is $175,000 worth of prize money on the line during the tournament.Times-Call/Douglas Crowl

Pro volleyball comes to Boulder

BOULDER — Pro volleyball player Lisa Gathright smiled as she walked up the beach at Boulder Reservoir on Friday.

“Only one more,” the 34-year-old said.

She and teammate Jenny Griffith had just won their second volleyball match and needed a third win to join only four of 29 women’s teams to qualify for the AVP Nissan Series Boulder Open tournament today.

The tournament returned to Boulder Reservoir this weekend for the first time since 1996.

In the world of professional beach volleyball, those relegated to the qualifying tournament Friday just want to stay alive until the next day.

There’s $175,000 worth of prize money on the line. But players who don’t get past Friday don’t see much compensation.

The four teams that make it through Friday’s qualifying will face 20 more teams already qualified through point and money totals from other tournaments.

“It’s just a blessing to be able to do this,” said Gathright, who was on the 1991 UCLA national championship team and is trying to make a comeback this summer.

Some of the world’s best players in men’s and women’s beach volleyball will play in this weekend’s tournament, the 11th stop in the 14-event series.

But not all make a living at the game. They see the tournaments as a fun pastime.

“A lot of the players work, so you have to fit it in around your schedule,” said Jon Gubera.

The 32-year-old Californian plays a few tournaments each summer, working his pro volleyball habit around his teaching career.

He’s been competing for several years and loves the atmosphere.

“It’s great. Just look at the weather,” he said. “When we are done playing, we definitely plan on going out in Boulder.”

That good-time lifestyle, in which pro players are spotted sipping beers courtside, is part of the lure of the volleyball series, said Leonard Armato, commissioner of the Association of Volleyball Professionals.

“You have this festive atmosphere; it’s almost like a beach party,” he said.

Armato and the AVP staff don’t mind hyping the attractive swimsuit-clad players and laid-back times at the tournament, which includes plenty of promotional side attractions.

But the volleyball on eight courts, including one with stadium seating, remains the center attraction.

“This is just fun to watch,” spectator Kevin Rieder said while watching a match. “There’s some real competitive matches here.”

Noel Frohman and her teammate, Kirsten Ursillo, both 24, are making their first tour this year and are taking it seriously.

Though they lost their second match to Gathright and Griffith on Friday, they’ve qualified in other tournaments.

“It’s been great,” Frohman said. “I feel like we’ve done good. You end up seeing the same people over and over again.”

Gathright said it indeed is a small world on the tour. Many of her teammates from UCLA play in the tournaments, for example.

“Everyone pretty much knows each other,” she said.

Fortunately for Gathright, she’ll be hanging around her friends for another day. She and Griffith won their third match and will play today.

If you go

Read in text Text text text

What: The AVP Nissan Series Boulder Open

When: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday (finals)

Where: Boulder Reservoir

Cost: $15 general admission, $25 courtside, $50 beach club; free general admission for all children under 12; $5 general admission with valid student ID

Information: www.avp.com

Douglas Crowl can be reached at 303-684-5253, or by e-mail at dcrowl@times-call.com.

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