Trials serve up an upset Top women's team falls to losers' bracket

June 05, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It may take a few more days for Baltimore to warm up to beach volleyball, but the first session of the U.S. Olympic team trials -- which opened yesterday at the Inner Harbor -- may have provided enough intrigue to pique fan interest in the remaining sessions of the five-day event.

The 4,500-seat temporary stadium that has been constructed near HarborView was far from packed, but the light first-day attendance was not unexpected. Bigger crowds are anticipated this weekend, when four men's teams and four women's teams reach the qualifying finals and compete on network television for four Olympic berths.

"How many people can come out on a Tuesday morning?" said two-time Olympic indoor gold medalist Karch Kiraly, who, with teammate Kent Steffes, easily won an opening match. "It's awfully early in the week to expect big crowds. Our tour events recently expanded to Friday, and we don't get good crowds on Friday morning. I really don't expect the larger crowds until the weekend."

That didn't stop the heavily favored "Killer K's" from waltzing past ninth-seeded Jim Nichols and Mike Schlegel, 15-7, and into a critical match today against the fifth-seeded team of Scott Ayakatubby and Brian Lewis, who also scored a one-sided victory in their opening match.

The women's draw was not quite so predictable. The top-seeded team in the preliminaries -- Karolyn Kirby and Lisa Arce -- was upset in its first match by eighth-seeded Janice Harrer and Gayle Stammer, who fought off a match point at 14-15 and went on to score a 17-16 victory.

"This was a huge steppingstone for us, beating a highly seeded team," said Harrer, who has finished no better than seventh in a tour event since teaming with Stammer this year.

Harrer and Stammer came out on top yesterday, even though they had come out on the wrong end of a seeding mix-up the night before. They arrived in Baltimore seeded seventh for the competition, but found out Monday night that a mistake had been made in the International Beach Volleyball Tour (FIVB) point totals and that they were being moved into the eighth spot, which pitted them against the top seeds.

"At the technical meeting last night, they made the announcement that we would be moved into the eighth seed, which meant a totally different [situation]," Harrer said. "I felt it wasn't fair to have it seeded improperly and then make the announcement at the last minute. . . . But it was actually the correct seed, so we decided to accept the situation because it was accurate."

It worked out in their favor, because they were able to take advantage of the fact that Kirby -- the all-time leading FIVB money-winner -- and Arce have played together only once since pairing up for this competition.

"We felt that there would be some extra pressure on them," Stammer said. "We're the underdogs. We have nothing to lose."

Kirby and Arce, who also were not thrilled with the change in seeding, didn't leave anything to chance in their first match in the loser's bracket, rushing out to an 11-0 lead on the way to a 15-8 victory over seventh-seeded Krista Blomquist and Wendy Fletcher. But they still have to win three more matches to reach the qualifying round of four that will send two women's teams to Atlanta.

"We have to have more of a fighting spirit," Kirby said. "We were very lethargic today and played sleepy, especially in the first match. We just have to wake up and play our butts off. It's going to be a long day."

The third-seeded men's team of Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh are in a similar situation. They scored a victory by default when 14th-seeded Tim Hovland and Jon Stevenson withdrew from the competition, but were upset in their second match, 15-13, by sixth-seeded Brent Frohoff and Ricci Luyties.

That means that Dodd and Whitmarsh must win three straight matches out of the losers' bracket to reach the double-elimination final four that will contend for the two men's berths.

The center court match today between Kiraly/Steffes and Ayakatubby/Lewis is not do-or-die for either team, but the winner goes right into the final four.

"They are a good team," Kiraly said. "We are undefeated against them, but I don't think we've ever beaten them by more than three points, so you know it's going to be tough."

(Results, 6D)

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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