Todd Rogers fondly recalls playing in amateur tournaments at Pismo Beach and the people he met there as a teen.
That was well before the Santa Barbara native and Solvang resident went on to become a pro beach volleyball star and Olympic gold medalist.
Now 40 and still playing as a pro, Rogers has begun to accompany his kids on the drive north for their own matches, and he found that some things never change in the tight-knit Central Coast beach volleyball community.
“The first time my daughter and son played, I think it was two years ago, when we were going up there, I was like, ‘I wonder if Ernie Santa Cruz still runs the tournaments up there,’ ” Rogers said, “and sure enough, we got up there, and he was like ‘Hey.’ ”
Yes, Santa Cruz, also the longtime Arroyo Grande High girls volleyball coach, continues to host events for the City of Pismo Beach, and Rogers is returning once again to support that community by playing in Saturday’s DiG Pismo Beach Men’s Open, a 16-team, one-day event honoring the memory of Glen Ray.
Ray died while his single-engine vintage plane crashed into the Oceano Dunes in January. A volleyball enthusiast known for his sense of humor and “heart of gold,” Ray will have a trophy named after him and a $500 award to the top-placing local team given out in his memory.
“He was just a recreational player but a good player,” said San Luis Obispo’s Jon Hastings, whose DiG Magazine is helping sponsor the event. “He just had a great attitude. He would play with anybody on the court. I personally would play with him when my son was 10 or 11. He was one of those guys where nobody could say a negative word about him.”
The overall tournament winners will take home $2,500 of the $7,500 of prize money awarded by the Open, which Hastings said he hopes will be held annually.
Rogers is partnering with AVP Tour pro Theo Brunner, a former collegiate standout that Rogers recruited to UC Santa Barbara when Rogers was an assistant coach with his alma mater from 2000-05.
Though they have yet to play a tournament together, Rogers and Brunner form the top-seeded team in the bracket.
Rogers split with former partner Phil Dalhausser after a dominant partnership that engineered AVP Tour points titles and FIVB World Championships in addition to the gold medal in the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
After Rogers and Dalhausser failed to defend their gold medals in London last summer, they moved on and Rogers began teaming with 7-footer Ryan Doherty.
Nearing the end of the current beach season, Rogers and Doherty are mixing up with different partners, and Rogers is happy to team with Brunner, someone he’s seen develop from the high school level.
The duo might not normally play in a small pro event, but Rogers feels comfortable enough with the organizers to plan the stop around a trip to Denver for a USA volleyball board meeting, the type of business opportunity Rogers is embracing as his playing career winds down.
“I don’t have a desire to play as long as I can,” Rogers said. “A lot of people say that, but I’d like to be playing at a high level when I call it quits. I’m still playing at a high level. I’ll play next year, at least domestically, and then — I don’t know.”
Rogers and Brunner will see competition from second-seeded Russ Marchewka and Derek
Olson, who placed fifth at the AVP Santa Barbara Open two weeks ago.
Third-seeded Andy McGuire, another UC Santa Barbara product, and Jeremy Casebeer of UCLA won the Seaside Open in Oregon earlier this year.
The top-seeded local team is No. 10 Mark Foos and Brock Hutchings, but there is a higher-seeded team with a local tie.
Hawk Hatcher was a freshman setter for the San Luis Obispo High varsity team in 2006 before transferring out of the area for his sophomore season. Hatcher and teammate Trevor Crabb, formerly of Long Beach State, are seeded seventh.
No matter how much longer Rogers plays, his family is sure to continue making memories in San Luis Obispo County. Daughter Hannah, 14, is a freshman on the junior varsity team at Santa Ynez High, and son Nate, 12, is not far behind.
“The beach volleyball scene is really starting to blow up with the advent of sand volleyball in college,” Rogers said. “It’s kind of cool. I’m excited to go up there to Pismo. I have lots of fond memories there with my personal family and then myself from a long time ago.”