Beach open for business

Professional volleyball returns to San Francisco after an 11-year absence today when the Association of Volleyball Professionals hosts its season’s final tournament at Piers 30 and 32.

The San Francisco Best of the Beach tournament marks the tour’s first visit to the Bay Area since 1996, but if you come for the chance to see toned, suntanned skin you may be out of luck. Tour players, many of whom reside in Southern California, are leery of San Francisco’s famously fickle climate and are treating the stop not unlike a trek into Alaskan wilderness.

“Get ready for the cold,” said Matt Fuerbringer, the 1997 NCAA champion at Stanford. “You just have to warm up a little and pack warmer clothes.”

Nicole Branagh, whom with partner Elaine Youngs is ranked second in the Crocs Cup standings, plans to wear long tights and a beanie on her head to cut the sharp Bay winds.

“Everyone’s bringing their warm gear just ’cause it can get cold and rainy and whatnot,” said Mike Lambert, ranked second in the men’s standings with partner Stein Metzger. “Last year, the very last event was in Tahoe by the lake there and it started to snow on us.”

But Lambert, who played at Stanford alongside Fuerbringer, and Branagh, who hails from Orinda, are used to playing by the Bay and look forward to the trip as a kind of homecoming. Lambert added: “I’m not panicking that much because the fall is really the best weather season in the Bay Area.”

The weekend is expected to be mostly sunny with temperatures in the 60s.

Climate aside, all three players with local ties say they look forward to visiting with friends, former teammates and family.

“I had a great five years of my life up there and I hope to come back as often as possible,” Fuerbringer said. “I’ve been on the tour five years and ever since I’ve been there we’ve been trying to get in the area.”

The Best of the Beach features a slim field of eight top teams from the year’s 24 events, representing what Fuerbringer called “a crowning event” but not a playoff to determine aseason champion. The tournament finals are Sunday at 1:45 p.m. for the men and 3:15 p.m. for the women.

AVP officials said a variety of factors had kept the tour out of San Francisco in the past, saying it was not for lack of volleyball enthusiasm in The City.

This year’s tournament is held in partnership with the Giants, who provided a venue and channels for marketing to a sports audience.

“We didn’t have a partner in San Francisco that we could rely on to really activate the sports community there, and the sports fan and the sports media,” AVP commissioner Leonard Armato said. “With the Giants, I think we’ve got the right partner to allow us to get together.”

Does that mean the AVP is likely to make future stops to the city? Armato responded like a volleyballer setting up a spike.

“We feel like once we get that opportunity we can take advantage of it.”

AVP San Francisco Best of the Beach

» WHEN: Today-Sunday

» WHERE: Piers 30-32

» COMPETITION TIMES: 10 a.m. for day sessions, 5 p.m. for night sessions

» FINALS: Sunday, 1: 45 p.m. (men), 3:15 p.m. (women)

» TICKETS: $15 general admission, $35 courtside seating

» MORE INFO: www.avp.com

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