The World Series of Beach Volleyball starts in earnest Thursday in Long Beach, Calif., and it’s way more than volleyball.

“The concept behind the World Series is to make beach volleyball a pop-culture event appealing to a mass audience,” WSOBV founder Leonard Armato said. “We want it, first of all, to be inclusive of the entire volleyball community, the best in the world, the top juniors, and certainly, anyone that wants to play the sport in open competition.”

The FIVB-sanctioned event at Marina Green Park includes not only international pro beach volleyball — marking the first domestic competition since February for Kerri Walsh Jennings — but the start of the NVL season, the AAU junior nationals that begin Wednesday, and, on Saturday night, a concert by Kaskade.

WSOBV is the most comprehensive beach volleyball event of the year, encompassing international, domestic, junior, and amateur volleyball.

“If you look at the hierarchy of what we offer, we have the U.S. versus the best of the world, we have domestic professional competition with the NVL, we have the AAU national beach junior championships and we have open competition,” Armato said of the fourth-year event.

The main competition, the FIVB President’s Cup, features a USA versus the world format. The tournament is an exhibition event by invitation only, and as you would expect, the list is very selective given the $300,000 purse. As an invitation-only event, the competition does not count towards FIVB tour rankings.

April Ross, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Larissa Franca, Talita Antunes, Kira Walkenhorst, and Laura Ludwig will headline the 2017 WSOBV field/Ed Chan,

The field is headlined by several Olympic medalists, including Jennings, who will be playing with Nicole Branagh, and the men’s pair of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, coming off their FIVB Gstaad victory Sunday. Also in the field are Olympians April Ross of the USA, Larissa Franca of Brazil, and defending Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany.

The format begins with two pools of USA teams and two pools of international teams per gender. The top two teams advance from playoffs to a single elimination bracket with the USA on one half of the bracket and the international teams on the other side of the bracket, guaranteeing  a USA-versus-international final.

USA women: Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross, April Ross and Lauren Fendrick, Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes, Brittany Hochevar and Emily Day, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh, Kim DiCello and Emily Stockman, Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen and Lane Carico and Caitlin Ledoux.

USA men: Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner, Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, John Hyden and Ryan Doherty, Sean Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb, Stafford Slick and Billy Allen, Marty Lorenz and Mark Burik, and Casey Jennings and Bill Kolinske.

International women: Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes (Brazil), Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst (Germany), Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel (Netherlands), Brandie Wilkerson and Heather Bansley (Canada), Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre (Switzerland), Josi Alves and Lili Maestrini (Brazil) and Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes (Canada).

International men: Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira (Spain), Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk (Canada), Bartosz Losiak and Piotr Kantor (Poland), Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen (Netherlands), Alvaro Filho and Saymon Santos (Brazil), Markus Bockermann and Lars Fluggen (Germany), Alex Ranghieri and Marco Caminati (Italy) and Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter (Canada).

The tournament will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.

As mentioned, the National Volleyball League (NVL) kicks off its seventh season in Long Beach with a $75,000 purse. The NVL changed the start of its season after being invited to be a part of WSOBV.

“We’re really excited to start the season at the WSOBV, said NVL founder Al-B Hanneman. “It’s the biggest volleyball tournament in the world and it’s a special experience to share with our players and fans. We have big plans for next year with Leonard and WSOBV to showcase the sport as never before.

“The response for the qualifier has been impressive, it tells me that the players are looking for more opportunities to compete on big stages. We’re happy to provide quality opportunities for players, fans, and sponsors.”

The Long Beach NVL field includes men’s pairs Ryan Vandenburg and Andrew Mallin, Petr Doubravsky and Martin Caban, Drew Hamilton and Daniel Lindsey, Christopher Vaughan and Skyler McCoy and John-Michael Plummer and Brandon Joyner.

The women’s pairs include Raquel Ferreira and Kim Hildreth, Chara Harris and Michelle Williams, Jayna Duke and Kyra Lancon, and Kristin Heldt and Maryna Samoday.

The AAU’s junior nationals joins the WSOBV umbrella this year. The 2016 event featured 340 teams from 30 states. The tournament is so large that it outgrew Marina Green Park, so early rounds will also be conducted at the nearby Belmont Shore beach.

“It’s a great opportunity for some of the best junior beach players in the country to play right along some of the best players in the world and be exposed to the game at the highest level,” AAU beach national director Denny Lennon said.

“Given that this is our 24th year, it’s both encouraging and satisfying to see so many young people taking advantage of a great sport and travel to California to play. A lot of people forget that beyond the competition is the opportunity to meet other athletes from different states, different parts of the country, and make friends.”

Lennon said the early rounds matches are played without officials.

“It’s such a great opportunity for young people to practice honor and sportsmanship and to see it on such a big scale, spread out over 60 or 70 courts, from 30-plus states,” Lennon said.

The tournament also represents an opportunity for some athletes who might not be well known, he said.

“We’re expecting between 20 and 30 coaches at the event,” Lennon said. “It’s a great opportunity for coaches to see players from across the nation. There was a time when we were running nationals with 10 or more states represented, but nobody outside of California was winning championships. Then a Florida team would break through now and again, but over the last few years, that has really changed. Texas has come out so strong. Arizona is making a really strong stand. Northern California is sending really strong teams. You don’t know what gems are hidden out there just because of geography.

“It’s a really good opportunity for some of these college coaches to find some other youngsters worthy of an opportunity. It’s tremendous exposure for these great athletes who otherwise may not ever have had a chance to compete at the next level just because of geography.”

The WSOBV is the most comprehensive beach volleyball event of the year/Ed Chan,

The amateur arm of the WSOBV features both open and weekend-warrior men’s and women’s six-man play, plus coed four-man. Click here for more information and registration.

“Amplifying all that is that we offer everything that’s cool about beach culture,” Armato said. “Great activation by brands, we have a sold-out musical performance by Kaskade on Saturday night, so it really is a micro-festival anchored in the best of the best volleyball and beach culture.

“Not only that, but we also have a kids day. One of the anchors of what we do is to serve the beach community in ways that help the disadvantaged and the underserved, and make that part of the culture of the World Series and beach volleyball itself.”

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