BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer Local man qualifies through wild card tournament BY TIM MORRISStaff Writer Belmar Beach is open to the best volleyball players in world. This weekend, Belmar will be hosting the Association of Volleyball Players (AVP) 2005 Nissan Series Belmar Open Friday through Sunday. As always since the AVP began making its stop in Belmar 15 years ago, the best AVP players will be trading blocks, digs, kills and service winners on the beach. On the men’s side, Jake Gibb and Stein Metzger, who have two wins to their credit on tour this year, currently lead the Nissan Series standings with Dax Holden and Jeff Nygaard, who have three titles, close behind. There will be a local connection in Belmar with Freehold Township High School grad Brian Soldano, who now lives in Middletown, competing with partner Jim Walls. They qualified for Belmar through the AVP wild card tournament that was held at Point Pleasant Beach, June 24-26. Soldano gives the locals some one to cheer for. Soldano and Walls competed in Belmar last year. The men’s field is wide open, with 10 different teams having made it to the semifinals this year in just five tournaments. On the women’s side, it’s not close with the world’s best team, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, sitting by themselves atop the standings. They have won the first five tournaments of the season and nine straight going back to the end of the 2004 season. The streak, 39-straight matches, includes their gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. An injury to May-Treanor last year prevented them from competing in Belmar, and they will be motivated to add the popular Belmar stop to their streak. The Colorado Connection of veteran Elaine Youngs and Rachel Wachholder are the No. 2 team on the tour. They would like nothing more than to snap the May-Treanor/Walsh win streak this weekend. They have been to two finals this year and in all five tournaments were beaten by the Olympic champions. They must feel they are overdue for a win. Jennifer Kessy and veteran Holly McPeak are challenging Youngs and Wachholder for second. Brazilians Samirames Marins and Tatiana Minello bring an international flavor and the samba to Belmar. They were runners-up to May-Treanor/ Walsh in their most recent tournament in San Diego. History could be on the challengers’ side this weekend. Belmar is one tournament that May-Treanor/Walsh didn’t win last year. Of course, it took a pulled abdominal muscle that sidelined May-Treanor to break up the team. Walsh teamed up with Jennifer Meredith for the weekend on the Jersey Shore. They reached the Sunday final, but lost to Youngs and McPeak. On the men’s side, the 2004 Belmar Open was won by Casey Jennings and Matt Fuerbringer. It was the first-ever AVP win for the tandem who became a fan favorite during the tournament. Pro volleyball action will start on Friday on Fourth Avenue with qualifying matches from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday will feature Main Draw Competition from 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Sunday’s action will showcase the semifinals and finals with action starting at 8:30 a.m. and concluding at 5 p.m.