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The skeptics came out of the woodwork. The naysayers banded together. Even her own father thought it was a bad idea.

But on Jan. 11, Cindie Valeriano moved to Manhattan Beach, Calif., to pursue a professional career in beach volleyball.

A risky move? More like an unprecedented one. There isn’t a single player from New York City who regularly qualifies for Association of Volleyball Professionals tournaments, like the one held last weekend in Brooklyn. Valeriano, a Forest Hills native and former volleyball star at Francis Lewis HS, plans to be the first.

“Next summer, it’s definitely happening,” Valeriano said.

The 25-year-old was a nursing student at Queensborough Community College, but decided last summer that if she was going to take the risk and move to California, it had to be while she was still in her athletic prime. So in the winter, she and longtime boyfriend Michael Boosin, a pilot for JetBlue, migrated out to the left coast. Valeriano trains and plays volleyball every day while still taking nursing classes and Boosin has changed his home base from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Long Beach.

“When I first got there, I was like this is kind of scary,” she said. “But now it’s my home. I want to stay there.”

Progress has been slow, though, for a number of reasons. Players from California have the advantage of growing up playing volleyball in all seasons. Valeriano didn’t even think about playing on the sand professionally until after high school.

“When I was at Francis Lewis, I played in beach volleyball tournaments and I was awful,” she said. “I didn’t even dream about it.”

Worse still, her partner, Hilary Pavels, still lives on Long Island and is a student at Adelphi. Their practice has been scarce, but they were still able to qualify for the AVP Belmar Open last month. Two weeks ago, they won the Parks Department citywide tournament in Brooklyn for the second year in a row. Last year, though, the winner gained a wild card berth into the AVP Brooklyn Open.

Pavels does plan to move to California next year and Valeriano believes that if they play so well together now with limited training together, they could be regulars next summer on the AVP Tour.

“I want a sponsor and to be good enough to be qualifying for every tournament,” Valeriano said. “If I can be a 19 seed in the AVP every tournament, that would be amazing.

“Next year, we won’t need the qualifier. I know that for a fact.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 6:40 pm, October 10, 2011
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