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Area players qualify for top event

May 1, 2006

They were mentored in local gyms, groomed on area beaches and have ascended to the world stage.

Ventura County will be well-represented on the courts at the World University Beach Volleyball Championship with three of the four fully-funded automatic qualifying players for the United States team hailing from the 805 area code.

Thousand Oaks High graduate John Mayer and Buena High graduates Matt Prosser and Krystal McFarland-Jackson will be heading to Protaras, Cyprus on June 14-18 in search of medals to bring back home.

"This is great for Ventura and the volleyball scene," Prosser said. "I think it gets somewhat left behind because of Orange County, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Hopefully, this can raise some awareness about the quality of players in the area."

Prosser, 27, and Mayer, 24, were the top-seeded team in the USA Volleyball World University Games qualifying tournament last Sunday in El Segundo.

They earned their free ticket to Cyprus with a 21-19, 21-16 victory over No. 4 Braidy Halverson and Sean Allstot.

McFarland-Jackson and partner Leanne Haarbaeur defeated Jen Lombardi and Rosa Masler 21-10, 21-10 in the women's final.

The twin triumphs capped a big weekend for area beach volleyball as Ventura also hosted an inaugural AVPNext event -- the Ed Whipple Pierpont Open -- at San Buenaventura State Beach.

"Ventura is definitely a beach community," said the 24-year-old McFarland-Jackson, a UCLA graduate. "I think the three of us all had good experiences playing in Ventura and going to college and pursuing volleyball after college."

The connections between McFarland-Jackson and Prosser run deeper than just sharing a love for the sand.

They were students at Buena together, and Prosser was a teammate of McFarland-Jackson's husband, Curtis Jackson, while playing at Long Beach State. Prosser even attended their wedding last October in Camarillo.

"To have two good friends marry one another is awesome," said the 6-foot-7 Prosser, who is an administrative assistant for the Long Beach men's team while finishing his degree in broadcast journalism. "We are hoping Curtis can go with us if we round up a ticket."

Prosser and Mayer met last year when Long Beach State played Mayer and his Pepperdine team, and they joined forces on the beach for the first time last summer to play in the AVP's Manhattan Beach Open.

"For us to be able to compete for the United States is such a thrill," said Mayer, who just completed his teaching credential and is an assistant coach at Santa Monica College. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and should be a lot of fun."

McFarland-Jackson felt bad about playing on Easter, because she promised her church she would paint faces on children. But her pastor told her she had the full support of the congregation.

Driving to the event, she derived inspiration from her grandmother, Kathryn Sawler, who died on April 7.

"My uncle wrote a poem saying she was our sunrise, and that morning I was watching the sunrise thinking of her," McFarland-Jackson said. "She had never seen me play on the beach, and I felt like when I was playing, she was finally able to watch me."

McFarland-Jackson, an Encinitas resident, already planned to spend her summer training for AVP events, but she now has added motivation.

"I am representing my country and that gives me so much pride," she said. "I am definitely taking care of my body and eating a good diet to stay in shape for this."

Although the location of the World Championship is a tourist destination, Prosser says the trip to the island will be all business for the county clan.

"This is only the first step to really an ultimate goal," he said. "We are not just going for vacation. We are going to represent the United States and try to win a gold medal."