The 20th Annual Marianas Cup Pro-Am volleyball tournament will showcase 10 professional beach volleyball professionals from Japan, New Zealand, and the U.S. beachside today at Fiesta Resort & Spa.
Eight of the experts represent Japanese Beach Volleyball, including reigning men’s champions Daisuke Matsumoto and Jenki Hatabe along with returning 6’6” 10-year pro Kentaro Asahi and his partner six-year pro Katsuhiro Shiratori.
Japan also fields returning women’s champs Mengumi Murikami and Hiroyo Kaneda and the pro duo of Hiroko Matsuyma and Samaa Miyagawa.
Many in the group are familiar with the traditional sand event and enjoy participating to get in some good training in preparation for their 2012 season that starts in less than two months.
Also featured this weekend is Olympic hopeful Kirk Pittman of New Zealand and U.S. pro Ty Loomis.
Pittman has played on the Federation International DeVolleyball (FIVB) pro tour for 10 years where he has seen action in Europe, Asia, and South America. He fell just short of making the 2008 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece but hopes to advance to this year’s games in London with new national teammate Jason Lochhead. This is his first visit to Saipan.
Pittman plays a rigorous nine-month schedule after adding up all of his events he participates in back home with his FIVB dates, but he decided to check out the Saipan event to put in some extra work during his off-season.
Loomis comes all the way here from Laguna Beach, California where he plays on four different beach volleyball tours. After playing volleyball for the University of California, Irvine Loomis is now entering his fifth year as a pro.
He still plays on the diminished AVP Tour and also competes on the Corona Light Tour, Jose Cuervo Tour, and in the National Volleyball League.
Loomis finished in fifth place last year and said he had plans of coming back again because he had such a great time.
During their visit the pros have been introduced to the game of Rocball and played a few sessions on Monday and yesterday with some Northern Mariana Islands Volleyball Association members and high school students at the Marianas High School Gymnasium.
The group also held a youth clinic on Thursday at Fiesta Resort & Spa for about 50 students primarily from Kagman High School, Saipan International School, and Marianas High School.
They instructed warm-up drills and some basic fundamental passing and setting drills to improve players’ ball control before cutting them loose for some live hitting.
The clinic ended with the pros joining in on some five-on-five pickup games.
They were featured in last night’s traditional exhibition match to kick off the weekend event, after which they will be raffled off and be paired with some lucky amateur players.
Organizers are hoping to field over 50 teams.
Pool play for the Marianas Cup main event starts today at 8am. The Top 16 teams in the men’s and women’s divisions will advance to Sunday’s 8am double-elimination playoffs. Then the awards banquet will be held at the Fiesta Resort & Spa garden at 6pm; all games will be played on Fiesta Resort & Spa’s sand courts.
FIVB, the Marianas Visitor Authority, Delta Airlines, Fiesta Resort & Spa, and NMIVA organize the pro-am tournament and festivities. Cash and other prizes will be awarded to the top place finishers; other various raffle prizes will also be up for grabs.
The tourney is formatted to feature a professional player teamed up with an amateur partner to compete in a double-elimination setting. Teams will be determined in a raffle format. The Marianas Cup Beach Volleyball Festival is Micronesia’s longest-running beach volleyball event.