Fun-loving players spike and volley on the `beach'

Toyota pro volleyball comes to the Inner Harbor

Outside

August 18, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

Playing volleyball on the beach is harder than playing the sport indoors. It is a slower game that involves a two-member team, compared with its indoor counterpart, which takes place on a tougher surface (usually a wooden floor) and with a team of six.

Players in the indoor game jump high and move quickly; on sand, players touch the ball more often.

This weekend, players who love the game and the beach are showing off their skills in the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tournament at the Inner Harbor.

Most of those competing in this weekend's tournament play either professionally for money or recreationally for love of the sport. The former, a much smaller pool of people, use the tournament as a training ground for Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) events. The latter just play, hoping they can bag enough loot to cover the cost of the trip.

Todd Strassberger, 22, is playing in the tournament for the sport of it.

"It's a little more exciting for me [to play on the beach], and I guess for most people," said Strassberger, who is studying mechanical engineering at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "It takes a more talented player to play on the beach, in my opinion," he said.

Strassberger said that if he could throw all his time and energy into the sport and play for a living, he would.

"Really, the problem is you have to play in the AVP events, you'd have to win every Toyota. You'd have to win every single local event that you played in if you didn't play on the AVP to even come close to making a living."

Even on the AVP tour, a player must finish in the Top 13 consistently to make a comfortable living, Strassberger said. The money is just not there.

Jason Robertson was in Strassberger's position in 1992. Fresh out of George Mason University, where he played collegiate volleyball, Robertson entered a doubles tournament in Syracuse, N.Y., with his former college roommate Rob Baily. Robertson and Baily took first place and decided to stick together.

"It was a lot of fun," said Robertson, now 35. "Especially just figuring out, `Hey, we can do this -- we're pretty competitive, we can travel to some of these tournaments and be competitive.'"

About 130 tournaments and 13 years later, Robertson and Baily are still a team, though they don't tour as much. They've both had jobs since they started playing together and were never big on going pro.

"It was a lot of fun to just travel around and be competitive and play," Robertson said. "Generally, the volleyball players are just nice people. You go into these volleyball communities, travel to wherever, people are nice to you, and we return the favor when people come to play in areas near us."

This weekend, Robertson and Baily and Strassberger and his partner, Matt Ogin, will be two of the tournament's 24 teams. The format is double elimination, best two of three games. Prize money payouts start at $2,000 a team for first place and trickle down to $200 for seventh.

At the recent Toyota tournament in Ocean City on Aug. 6 and 7, Strassberger's team placed fifth, trumping Robertson and Baily's seventh-place finish. But neither team is too worried about its rank. As long as the teams stay competitive and keep having fun, that's all that matters, the players said.

The Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tournament starts at 4 p.m. tomorrow and continues through Sunday at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field. Bands such as Whisky Train and the Fabulous Skunkpuppie Band will perform throughout the weekend. Free. Call 410-605- 9381, Ext. 238 or visit www. toyotaprobeach.com.

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