With the international Beach Volleyball community returning here next month for a SWATCH Major Series stop at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park (February 7-12), the competition will feature south Florida’s first full-field FIVB event since January 1994 when South Beach in Miami hosted a World Tour tournament.

Since the 1994 season-opening event where a total of 43 men’s and women’s teams from 19 countries competed for US$150,000 in prize money, the international Beach Volleyball scene has grown significantly in the 23 years as the 2017 Fort Lauderdale Major will feature 121 men’s and women’s entries from 28 nations competing for $600,000 in earnings.

But, Fort Lauderdale Beach Park did host an international event at the end the 2015 season during the first week of October, but the competition was for a “select” field of teams competing in the inaugural SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals where only 20 men’s and women’s teams from eight countries vied for $500,000 in prize money.

While the 1994 South Beach event featured no Olympians since Beach Volleyball did not make its “debut” in the quadrennial Summer Games until July 1996, the 2017 Fort Lauderdale Major will feature 15 teams (11 men and four women) and 24 players (nine men and 15 women) from the Rio 2016 Summer Games.

 

The Fort Lauderdale Major will begin with qualifying play February 7 to finalize the field for the 32-team men’s and women’s Main Draw brackets. The “money” rounds begin February 8 for both genders with the men’s “final four” matches being play February 11 and the women’s medal round play February 12. The winning teams in both genders will share the $50,000 first-place prizes.

Heading the Fort Lauderdale Major field will be Rio Olympic men’s champions Alison Cerutti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil and women’s gold medal winner Kira Walkenhorst of Germany, who will be competing with Julia Grossner since her Copacabana partner Laura Ludwig is sidelined after having left shoulder surgery in December.

No date has been set for her return, but the 30-year old Ludwig said that the surgery was successful and expects to compete in the 2017 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships scheduled for July 28 through August 6 at Vienna, Austria.

Alison and Bruno have dominated the men’s international play the past two seasons highlighted by 2015 world championship and 2016 Olympic gold medals along with two podium topping performances at the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale (2015) and Toronto (2016)

Walkenhorst and Ludwig assumed the leadership of the women’s competition last season as the German pair won seven of 13 events in 2016 with a 69-10 match mark and $382,375 in earnings. Walkenhorst and Ludwig closed out the campaign by winning five of their last seven starts highlighted by a season-ending gold medal at the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto.

Other Rio Olympic medal winning teams appearing next month on the Fort Lauderdale Beach Park will be men’s silver medal winners Daniele Lupo/Paolo Nicolai of Italy and women’s bronze medal finishers April Ross/Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States.

Brazilian 2015 FIVB world champions Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas, who dropped the Rio Olympic gold medal match to the Germans after defeating Ross and Walsh Jennings in the Copacabana semi-finals, will be competing with new partners in the Fort Lauderdale Major. Agatha will be paired with 2014 youth Olympic champion Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa while Barbara will be playing with 2015 world championship silver medal winner Fernanda Alves.

Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca of Brazil, the women’s gold medal team at the 2015 Fort Lauderdale SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals and the top-seeded team in Rio 2016 Olympic Games, will return to the action at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park. Talita and Larissa lost to Walkenhorst and Ludwig in the Rio Olympic semi-final before being upset by Ross and Walsh Jennings in the bronze medal match.

In addition to Lupo and Nicolai, another Alison and Bruno rival at Fort Lauderdale Major will be Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who were eliminated by the Brazilians in the Rio Olympic quarter-finals in three sets. Alison and Bruno have won three of five meetings with Dalhausser and Lucena as the two teams met twice in the 2015 SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals on the center court at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park.

Dalhausser, a three-time American Olympian and gold medal winner with Todd Rogers at the Beijing Summer Games, and Lucena defeated Alison and Bruno in pool play before losing in the finals to Alison and Bruno at the 2015 SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals.

The two other meetings between the Brazilians and Americans have been in medal round matches with Alison and Bruno topping Dalhausser and Lucena in the 2015 Long Beach finale in southern California. The Americans defeated Alison and Bruno last June at the semi-finals at the Major Hamburg event in Germany.