Casey Jennings was introduced to volleyball at Clark High School and has been addicted to it since.
That obsession is deep into its second decade.
Jennings, who grew up in Las Vegas, returns to his hometown at 7:30 p.m. today to compete in the final event of the AVP Hot Winter Nights Indoor Beach Volleyball Tour at the Orleans Arena.
The 32-year-old Jennings, who will battle for the men’s title against Todd Rogers, Mike Lambert and Sean Rosenthal, said he fell in love with volleyball as a sophomore at Clark.
“They had just implemented it, we played and won a (state) championship, and I got hooked,” he said. “It became a huge passion of mine, and I’ve been chasing it ever since.”
Jennings, who said he was inspired by longtime Durango coach Bob Kelly, went on to win a national college championship at Brigham Young and has won five AVP Tour titles in the past four years as a professional with partner Matt Fuerbringer.
Jennings, who has won three of the six events he has played on this winter’s inaugural 19-city tour, said tonight’s favorite is Lambert, the only blocker in the men’s field. But Jennings still likes his chances.
“Obviously, I’ll have the hometown crowd. I have 40 or 50 people on my guest list here, so that should be a positive thing for me,” said Jennings, who lives in Redondo Beach, Calif.
The women’s field features Elaine Youngs, Nicole Branagh, Jenny Johnson Jordan and April Ross.
Jennings tabs Youngs as the favorite; she won last year’s “King of the Beach” event over his wife, Kerri Walsh, who won an Olympic gold medal at Athens in 2004 with partner Misty May-Treanor.
“To watch her and Misty do that was pretty special, and it’s inspired me to chase my dream of going to the Olympics,” Jennings said.
Jennings and Fuerbringer will have to raise their current No. 4 U.S. ranking to at least No. 2 through an international qualifying process to advance to this summer’s Olympics in Beijing.
“By June we’ll know if we qualified or not,” Jennings said. “We’re in a great spot.”
More than 200 tons of sand was loaded onto the Orleans Arena floor for the event, and fans are encouraged to wear swim attire tonight in keeping with a beach theme.
A round-robin format will be used to determine the men’s and women’s champions. Each player will play at least one game with each competitor, and the athletes with the best records will advance to the final.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0354.