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Women's Volleyball Tour Returns

OCEANSIDE, Calif. (AP) — California sand has never looked so good to American women's pro beach volleyball players.

Basically left orphaned the last two summers after their old tour disappeared under a wave of debt, the top two-woman U.S. teams will gather Saturday and Sunday for the first tournament of the Beach Volleyball America Tour at the Oceanside Pier.

The BVA Tour won't have any bearing on qualifying for the Olympics, which begin in four months. But for seven weekends this spring and summer, players won't even have to cross the state line to rev up their game in hopes of making it to Sydney.

``It's wonderful,'' said Holly McPeak, who's a long shot to make it back to the Olympics. ``We're going to push each other every weekend. We're all going to be playing better during the Olympics because of the tour.''

Only two American teams will qualify for Sydney, and they'll do so based on points accrued on the FIVB international tour through mid-August.

``Rather than having no competition, at least we can work through things and work out the kinks before we show up against the foreigners,'' said Liz Masakayan, who with Elaine Youngs is ranked No. 1 in the United States and third internationally.

Four years ago, the foreigners sandblasted the American women during beach volleyball's Olympic debut at Atlanta. While the American men won the gold and silver medals, the women's medals were won by Brazilians and Canadians.

McPeak and Nancy Reno, favored to win the gold medal, melted down and finished fifth, and Linda Hanley and Barbra Fontana lost the bronze-medal match.

After the 1997 season, the Women's Professional Volleyball Association folded, $1.2 million in debt. The women played a handful of tournaments in conjunction with the men's tour and picked up some other domestic tournaments as part of the Olympic Challenge Series, which continues this year.

Otherwise, their only other option was to play on the international tour. And a lot of younger players can't afford the high travel costs.

Now the women are back in business, thanks to software multimillionaire and volleyball aficionado Charlie Jackson, who owns and operates the BVA.

It's Jackson's money that launched the BVA, and each of the seven tournaments will have a $75,000 purse, with the winning team splitting $15,000.
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