King of the Mountain volleyball tournament returns to Vail | VailDaily.com

King of the Mountain volleyball tournament returns to Vail

VAIL — It's the largest beach doubles volleyball tournament in North America, and this year is poised to be the biggest event in its 41-year history.

Last year, Vail's annual King of the Mountain tournament hosted 555 doubles teams, and there wasn't a three-time gold medal Olympian on hand.

This year, with Kerri Walsh Jennings putting on clinics and signing autographs at the King of the Mountain, the event should make it a year to remember.

"We already have more teams than last year signed up," event organizer Leon Fell said on Wednesday. "And that doesn't include on-site registration."

A popular father/son and father/daughter activity, Fell says having the event take place Father's Day weekend always spurs its popularity. On-site registration for the Sunday father-child divisions will be available today, along with registration for masters, co-ed, junior A, B and BB divisions.

"It's such a special father-child activity; people see it happening and want to join in," said Fell. "This year should be huge."

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More support

And the reason this year should be huge is mainly due to funding, said Fell.

"We received a lot more support from the town this year, that's for sure," he said.

Margaret Rogers with the Vail Town Council said despite the amazing participation Fell has brought to the tournament in the last decade or so, the event has never received the same attention as some of the other events the town of Vail helps put on.

"It's always so well run, and it really seemed the time to take it to the next level," said Rogers.

That next level was actually about three and a half times the King of the Mountain's previous level, in terms of funding.

According to numbers from Vail's Commission on Special Events, the event received $25,000 this year as compared to the $7,000 it usually receives.

"That really helps," said Rogers. "Something the CSE's been trying to do with events is to try to bring some vitality into town, even if the event is located at the soccer fields or someplace else, simply because it's very synergistic. People will see things going on in the town and say 'I want to see more,' and then they'll make the effort to go out to the sand volleyball courts, where they may not have known it was there before."

Walsh Jennings will be signing autographs at Solaris Plaza from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday and 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Professional help

Walsh Jennings will be joined by a selection of all-stars from the Association of Volleyball Professionals Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, beach volleyball's equivalent of the NBA for basketball.

"Outside of California and Florida, Colorado is the third largest state for competitive beach volleyball doubles tournaments and players in the U.S.," says Fell. "So it makes a lot of sense for the AVP to be here."

Monica Lee, a spokesperson with AVP event operations, said the tournament is well known in the world of beach volleyball, and is a natural fit for them.

"A lot of our future players come from grass-roots tournaments like this one," she said. "We're really excited to be here, to support the event, see the level of play, help out where we can and enjoy a weekend in beautiful Vail."

In addition to Casey Jennings — Kerri's husband and a top player on the AVP world tour — on hand will be Dax Holdren, who won silver at the World Championships in 2003 and competed in the 2004 Olympics for the U.S.; and Angie Ackers, who won AVP Rookie of the Year in 2002.

The AVP All Stars will be putting on a juniors clinic, which is free for kids to enter, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday at the Ford Park fields, and a special exhibition match on Saturday from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Vail Athletic Fields.

And the marquee attraction from years past, the Open Division tournament — which culminates with finals on Sunday afternoon/evening at the Ford Park sand courts — will always be worth checking out in its own right. Just remember to keep your eye out for wayward skyball serves.

"We expect it to be fun and competitive, as always," said Fell.