Olympics

Under the sun and floodlights, pro beach volleyball stars return to Fort Lauderdale

United States' Nicholas Lucena celebrates winning a point during a men's beach volleyball match against Italy at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Aug. 11, 2016.
United States' Nicholas Lucena celebrates winning a point during a men's beach volleyball match against Italy at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Aug. 11, 2016. AP

The top beach volleyball players in the world, including a host of medalists from the Rio Olympics, open their 2017 season in Fort Lauderdale at the Swatch FIVB Major Series tournament Tuesday through Sunday.

Cooper City native Nick Lucena returns to the beach where he learned to play the game. He and Phil Dalhausser, who grew up in Ormond Beach, are the No. 3 seed after placing fifth at the Olympics, continuing the successful partnership they rekindled a year and a half ago.

Brazil’s Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Alison Cerutti, who won the gold medal at the wildly popular Copacabana venue in Rio, are back to defend the Fort Lauderdale title they won by defeating Dalhausser and Lucena in 2015 when the event was the world tour final.

“Fort Lauderdale is a passionate city,” Bruno said. “We also have a lot of supporters. In 2015, even facing an American team in the final, half of the people in the stands were wearing yellow and green. Many countries are very strong in beach volleyball nowadays, like the Netherlands, Italy and Russia, but Brazil and the United States have very talented teams that know each other very well.”

Olympic champ Kira Walkenhorst of Germany will join Julia Grossner while her regular partner Laura Ludwig is recovering from a shoulder injury.

“I’m not thinking that I’m replacing Laura like that. She’s an awesome player, on another level,” Grossner said. “The focus is on me and Kira during Fort Lauderdale and after that tournament the attention will be on me and [regular partner] Nadja Glenzke.”

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings returns with April Ross — they won bronze in Rio — as the women’s No. 1 seed, but for half the 24 main draw teams, the tournament will mark the start of new partnerships as they reboot in the post-Olympic year and aim for the world championships in Vienna.

Among the new teams are Americans Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner, Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, Lane Carico and Irene Pollock, Summer Ross and Brooke Sweat, and Lauren Fendrick and Sara Hughes. From Germany, Maggie Kozuch makes her beach debut with Karla Borger after excelling as an indoor player. Canada’s newest pairing is Taylor Pischke and Kristina May; from Austria it’s Stefanie Schwaiger and Katharina Schützenhöfer.

Brazilian fans can get a look at Agatha and 18-year-old phenom Duda as well as No. 2 seed and defending Fort Lauderdale champions Larissa and Talita and wild-card entry Ricardo and Harley.

Qualifying rounds start Tuesday, with medal matches scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. For the first time, 18 matches will be played under the lights, Wednesday through Saturday nights.

General admission sections at the stadium at 1100 Seabreeze Blvd. are free for spectators and paid VIP packages are available. For more information go to www.swatchmajorseries.com.

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