Nestea's top duo are perfect match

June 25, 1994|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Contributing Writer

For Randy Stoklos and Adam Johnson, being teammates doesn't end when the match does.

On the court, their talents blend perfectly.

Stoklos, a 16-year beach volleyball tour veteran, remains one of the game's most aggressive players, displaying his high-powered spiking and blocking skills at the net. Then there is Johnson, last year's top defensive player on the tour, who lurks in the back for a dig that places the ball and game pressure back on their opponents' side of the net.

Off the court, Stoklos and Johnson remain in those same roles.

Just ask them about the impact of Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes, the tour's top team for the past two years, missing this weekend's Nestea Open at the HarborView Marina & Yacht Club. Kiraly, the No. 1 pro beach volleyball player and tour Most Valuable Player in 1990, 1992 and 1993, will miss his second straight tournament due to a kidney contusion suffered when he ran into a courtside banner on June 10.

"Kent said he is taking the weekend off so others can get a chance to win," said Stoklos, who has the most career tournament titles (118) among active players. "I have only one thing to say to Kent. Thanks a lot. It's not like I haven't won over 100 tournaments. Thank you for the opportunity."

As with his on-court persona, Johnson swiftly diverted the pressure of being the top-seeded team this weekend with Kiraly and Steffes out.

"Even though we will be the top-seeded team, I don't think we have won consistently enough yet to be the clear favorites," Johnson said.

Johnson knows any tournament title is crucial to shake their runner-up image. Stoklos and Johnson have finished second in five of 14 tournaments this year, and won only once in their first year together.

Stoklos said that neither Johnson nor himself have been playing at 100 percent. Last week in Milwaukee, Johnson played despite an illness.

They made the tournament final out of the losers' bracket, but lost to Brian Lewis and Ricci Luyties. Lewis was Stoklos' partner last year.

"Brian and I are great friends, but I kind of led him on," said Stoklos, 33. "I loved playing with him, but I wanted someone who could get me to the championship game every single tournament."

Last season, Johnson wanted to be that someone. Johnson said he was "on the verge of begging" because Stoklos never returned his calls or spoke to him at tournaments.

"I just began to think he didn't like me, but then I got a call from him to play some golf," said Johnson, 29. "After we finished, he asked me if I would like to team up."

Stoklos, volleyball's premier draw in the late 1980s, was reluctant to rush into another long-term partnership after ending an 11-year tie with Sinjin Smith. He hit his most frustrating point in his career last year, winning just one major tournament with Lewis all season.

Lewis wanted to take time to scout available players, and Stoklos could not pass up the opportunity to team with Johnson.

"I'm not shy about saying what's on my mind out on the court, but Adam is a professional," Stoklos said. "It is not necessary to push Adam. I had to do that with Brian and Sinjin. Adam and I are always ready to go."

For that reason, Stoklos hates getting the first-round bye.

"That's the most difficult aspect of being a top seed," Stoklos said. "We have to play a team that has come off a good win. They are now ready to go, and we get 10 minutes to warm up. How does anyone warm up in that time."

That's Stoklos at his best. Always attacking.

NESTEA OPEN

What: 32 two-person beach volleyball teams, including eight women's teams, will compete for a total purse of $105,000.

Site: The HarborView Marina and Yacht Club

When: Today, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (men's and women's tournament)

Tomorrow, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. with the women's final at 12:30 p.m. and the men's final at 3 p.m.

Tickets: $10-$20 for today's reserved courtside seating. $15-$45 for tomorrow's reserved courtside seating. General admission is $5 each day.

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