Kirby can't dig out spot in quest to go to Atlanta She, partner Arce ousted with 2nd loss

June 06, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Karolyn Kirby's career as a beach volleyball player has been a mix of victories and politics. She is at the top of the list with the most wins ever on the women's professional tour, but also has been at the forefront of a number of its political battles as well.

The politics finally might have caught up with Kirby this week in the U.S. Olympic Trials at the HarborView Complex. It turned out to be a losing battle for Kirby, who saw her dreams of going to the sport's inaugural Olympic competition wiped away yesterday.

"Sometimes things work out the way you think they will and sometimes they don't," Kirby said after she and partner Lisa Arce, the top-seeded women's team in Baltimore, lost for the second time in two days and three matches in the double-elimination format. "In my storybook world, it would have been nice to go. Maybe there's a reason I'm not going."

Though she wouldn't place all of the blame for their 15-8 loser's bracket defeat to the second-seeded team of Liz Masakayan and Angela Rock on Arce's inexperience, it certainly played a factor. So did the fact that they had played only once together before the trials, at a tournament last week in Texas.

"I took a chance on a rookie, and the roll of the dice didn't come in," said Kirby, 35. "Lisa is a great player. I enjoyed the partnership. It is my own fault in not finding a partner in time. I just didn't know what my situation was until two or three weeks ago."

Since last fall, Kirby has been caught in the middle of the much-publicized on-again, off-again relationship of the game's top women's team, Holly McPeak and Nancy Reno. As the top-ranked team on the international (FIVB) tour, they received an automatic bid and will be going to Atlanta whether they like each other or not.

"I just got tangled up in someone else's story," a tearful Kirby said.

Unfortunately for Kirby, she tripped. The FIVB wouldn't change its qualification rules to allow Kirby to compete here with Reno after she already had qualified with McPeak. So Kirby wound up playing with Arce, considered a star-in-the-making on the women's tour. They finished second last week to -- you guessed it -- the suddenly reconciled Reno and McPeak.

But the pressure that finally got to Kirby in the past two days predates her involvement with Reno. It goes back to 1993, when the men's Association of Volleyball Professionals tour invited some of the top women's players to join them, and Kirby was the biggest name to remain on the Women's Professional Beach Volleyball Association tour.

"The worst thing I could have done was gotten involved in the politics," said Kirby, who reportedly was the leader of a group of players who snubbed the defectors after they returned to the WPBVA tour last season. "The biggest thing for me is to get back my innocence for the game."

Kirby's quest to play in the Olympics has long been star-crossed. She was still in college when the team going to the 1984 Games was put together, and quit the U.S. national team after two years because of a conflict with the head coach before the 1988 Games.

As a member of the FIVB Council, Kirby played a part in the game's becoming an Olympic sport. But when the first ball is struck next month at Atlanta Beach, Kirby will not be there. She probably won't be anywhere nearby either.

"I'm going to need to be in another country when the Olympics are going on," she said.

Masakayan won't be going that far, but she won't be going to Atlanta either. After coming back from two knee surgeries in the past year, Masakayan saw her Olympic dream end when she and Rock lost to fourth-seeded Elaine Roque and Dennie Shupryt-Knoop, 15-12, in the final women's match of the day.

"It was really hard to play that game," said Masakayan, who along with Rock was a member of the 1988 team that finished seventh in Seoul. "Not only physically. The first two games were draining emotionally."

Meanwhile, Karch Kiraly is planning on going after his third Olympic gold medal.

Kiraly, who was part of the winning U.S. teams at Los Angeles and Barcelona, continued on that path yesterday. Kiraly and Kent Steffes, the top men's seed, demolished the fifth-seeded team of Scott Ayakatubby and Brian Lewis, 15-2.

"I expected a real tough match out of them," said Kiraly, pointing out that their last four matches had all gone down to the wire. "Their serve wasn't what we saw [in Tuesday's preliminary match]. They can be a scary team to face. We caught them at a good time for us and a bad time for them."

After an off-day today, Kiraly and Steffes will move into tomorrow's semifinals. Though they remain critical of the qualification procedure that allowed a team that hasn't won a tournament together to receive the U.S.'s only automatic Olympic berth, both were thankful that they didn't have to play their way out of the loser's bracket.

"It's the bowels of this tournament," said Steffes.

Karolyn Kirby certainly would agree.

Men, third round

Karch Kiraly/Kent Steffes def. Scott Ayakatubby/Brian Lewis, 15-2. Adam Johnson/Randy Stoklos def. Brent Frohoff/Ricci Luyties, 15-8.

Losers' bracket

Mike Dodd/Mike Whitmarsh def. Dain Blanton/Bill Boulliane, 15-5. Eric Fonoimoana/Rob Heidger def. Jim Nichols/Mike Schlegel, 15-11. Dodd/Whitmarsh def. Ayakatubby/Lewis, 15-9. Frohoff/Luyties def. Fonoimoana/Heidger, 15-13. Dodd/Whitmarsh def. Frohoff/Luyties, 16-14.

Women, third round

Janice Harrer/Gayle Stammer def. Dennie Shupryt-Knoop/Elaine Roque, 15-12. Gail Castro/Deb Richardson def. Liz Masakayan/Angela Rock, 16-14.

Losers' bracket

Lisa Arce/Karolyn Kirby def. Karrie Poppinga/Christine Schaeffer, 15-9. Danalee Bragado/Marla O'Hara def. Marie Andersson/Monique Oliver, 15-13. Masakayan/Rock def. Acre/Kirby, 15-8. Shupryt-Knoop/Roque def. Bragado/O'Hara, 15-6. Shupryt-Knoop/Roque def. Masakayan/Rock, 15-12.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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