It has been nearly two decades since the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) Beach Volleyball tour came through Milwaukee – 16 years to be exact – and the organization is marking its return to the shores of Lake Michigan this week at Bradford Beach.
Founded in 1983, the AVP has endured its shares of financial difficulties, including a hiatus from 2010 to 2012 before AOS Group, LP purchased it. The current edition started up again late in the summer of 2012, and this season it scheduled just 13 events.
With locales such as Salt Lake City, Utah, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Manhattan Beach, Calif., it might seem odd that Midwestern cities like Cincinnati and Milwaukee were part of the tour’s focus for a return, but Milwaukee has long proven to be a supporter of beach volleyball.
"It’s great," said 2008 Olympic Gold medalist Todd Rogers, who is the only active player on the tour to have played in Milwaukee. "I like Bradford Beach, it’s a great beach to play at. Milwaukee’s a cool town. It’s been a while and I’m looking forward to getting back there and seeing how we do.
"There’s been a long history from beforehand, back in the '80s and '90s where they were going there year in and year out pretty much. I think that a lot of people can remember there and I’ve been there many of time and there are a lot of great beaches along the coastline there of the great lakes and people don’t really think about that – they just think east coast-west coast. There’s a lot of great beaches to play beach volleyball and Milwaukee and Bradford Beach is one of many, really."
Rogers has been on the AVP tour since 1995 and when he last played in Milwaukee, finished fourth in both 1997 and '98.
"I remember (1998) – it was raining, and that time I hadn’t had Lasik yet and I had to take my glasses off because I didn’t have contacts in and we were terrible," Rogers said with a chuckle. "It was a white background, it was a white ball and I couldn’t pick it up. I actually remember that very distinctly."
As a gold medal would indicate, Rogers is accustomed to success, and he won five straight AVP championships with Phil Dalhausser from 2007 to '11.
He returns to Bradford Beach with a new partner however, and with him comes a little bit of "home beach" advantage. Theo Brunner will be alongside Rogers, and Brunner’s father, Tim, is from Cross Plains, which is just west of Madison.
"I was just fired up – I’ve always loved Wisconsin," said Brunner, recalling summer trips back to his dad’s home town. "I just remember everyone there is super nice and there’s just a good atmosphere always. I was extremely excited. I actually haven’t seen my dad’s family in a bunch of years so it’s going to be great. They’re all going to come out to the tournament and we’ll get to hang out. I couldn’t be more fired up about it."
As a duo, the pair are No. 52 ins the world and No. 5 on tour, but they are coming in to Milwaukee with high expectations.
"We’ve had some ups and downs but I really think we’re capable of beating everyone and I told Todd a while ago that we’re going to win this tournament – so I’m kind of calling that right now," Brunner said. "Just having my family there and everything, I’m going to be super fired up and I think Todd is going to be great. We’re doing a lot of good things in practice so I think we’re going to win. I’ll e disappointed with anything less."
They are also hoping to capitalize on a busy weekend along Milwaukee’s lakefront, with the tournament stretching over the long holiday weekend and the final days of Summerfest.
"Everyone is kind of feeling Milwaukee is going to be a great place and we’re hoping it’s going to become a regular thing and it gets a good reception," Brunner said. "We definitely care where the tournament is, how the weather is, where the location is and how the fans are. It’s really important."
"Absolutely," Rogers added. "Whenever you can combine; there’s going to be a lot of people there that are there for the volleyball but when you add something like a music festival or anything similar like that, I think there will be a lot of people that are going to be ‘Oh, what’s going on over there?’ and come check it out. Then all of a sudden they’re like, oh, wow, cool, this is awesome and watch a gold medalist or Kerri Walsh (Jennings) or whoever playing and the hope would be you create fans out of that."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.