Ex-basketball stars net place on Atlanta beach Duo rebounds to grab U.S. volleyball berth

June 09, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

They were not among the favorites coming into this week's U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials. And when they lost one of their preliminary-round matches at the HarborView complex, most figured that an Olympic berth wasn't in the future of either Mike Dodd or Mike Whitmarsh.

But Dodd had other ideas.

"The history of our team has been facing adversity and working through it," he said.

Dodd and Whitmarsh, a couple of former college basketball players talented enough to be drafted by NBA teams, didn't face many obstacles after that early defeat. In fact, in becoming the first men's team to qualify out of the trials for Atlanta, Dodd and Whitmarsh went from pretenders to solid medal contenders. Maybe even solid gold.

For those who considered their victory Friday over top-seeded Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes a fluke, Dodd and Whitmarsh backed it up yesterday with an equally impressive performance. Seeded third, Dodd and Whitmarsh got off to a quick start and routed second-seeded Randy Stoklos and Adam Johnson, 15-7.

Whitmarsh, 6 feet 7, used his long arms to block shots at the net, helping him and Dodd run off the game's first six points. They also made some impressive plays all over the sand. Leading 12-6, Whitmarsh chased down a shot on his knees in the corner to set up a winner by Dodd.

It was all over but the sweating.

"I think that took the wind out of them," said Whitmarsh, who looked like he finished working a day on a construction crew.

But the confidence of Stoklos and Johnson might have been shaken even before the match began. While practicing his jump serve during warm-ups, Stoklos landed on a stray ball and went down with a shriek. He appeared to have twisted his right ankle, and after receiving treatment, was heard muttering, "This is unbelievable."

Stoklos, who has a history of ankle problems and was later diagnosed with "a moderately severe lateral ankle sprain," declined comment after the match, as did Johnson. But Dodd and Whitmarsh didn't think it affected Stoklos, or the outcome of their match. Nor did it change the winning team's strategy. "We kind of went at both of them," said Whitmarsh.

And, inexplicably, Stoklos and Johnson kept going right at Whitmarsh. The former University of San Diego basketball star blocked attempted kills for three of his team's first four points, and four of its first six. It seemed fitting that he stuffed Stoklos to end the match as well.

"It's like basketball, when you get in a zone and feel like you're going to hit every shot," said Whitmarsh. "I felt really big out there."

Said Dodd, "The defense comes a lot easier when there's fear on the other side of the net. It's pretty scary when you think the ball's going to come back on your nose."

It has been a long, bumpy road for Dodd and Whitmarsh to the Olympics. For both, it began after their respective basketball careers ended. Dodd, who shared the backcourt at San Diego State with a future baseball Hall-of-Famer named Tony Gwynn, was cut by the then-San Diego Clippers in 1979. Whitmarsh was drafted and cut by the Portland Trailblazers in 1984, played three years in Germany and was the last cut of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989.

"If the Minnesota Timberwolves called," said Whitmarsh, "I wouldn't pick up the phone right now."

Said Dodd, "I haven't picked up a ball in 16 years."

Dodd, 38, started playing volleyball shortly after getting a telephone call from the coach at San Diego State, who found out that Dodd had been cut and invited him back to compete as a fifth-year scholarship player. Whitmarsh, 34, started playing 10 years ago but had problems with cramps and bouts of dehydration early on.

They started playing together four years ago, won six times last year but came into the trials in the midst of a slump. Then after losing to sixth-seeded Brent Frohoff and Ricci Luyties in a preliminary match, Dodd and Whitmarsh came back to beat them, 16-14, to escape the losers' bracket. Next came their 15-8 win over Kiraly and Steffes.

Now it's on to the Olympics.

"It feels great," said Whitmarsh. "I can hardly speak. Mike and I picked a great time of the year to play our best. We haven't played very well all year."

Said Dodd, "This is something I put behind me a long time ago, so the significance of it will hit me as we get closer to Atlanta."

It probably won't hit Kiraly and Steffes until after the final Olympic qualifying match today. After beating second-seeded Jeff Williams and Carlos Briceno yesterday, 15-7, Kiraly and Steffes will meet Stoklos and Johnson this afternoon.

Third-seeded Gail Castro and Deb Richardson will meet their respective former partners, fourth-seeded Elaine Rocque and Dennie Shupryt-Knoop, at noon for the final women's berth.

"It's going to be very emotional," Castro said after she and Richardson eliminated seventh-seeded Janice Harrer and Gayle Stammer, 15-4, yesterday morning. "The more times you play against a former partner, the easier it gets, the less emotional it gets."

Men's contenders bracket -- Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes def. Carlos Briceno and Jeff Williams, 15-7.

Men's qualification match -- a-Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh def. Adam Johnson and Randy Stoklos, 15-7.

Women's contenders bracket -- Gail Castro and Deb Richardson def. Janice Harrer and Gayle Stammer, 15-4.

a-qualified for Olympic Games.

U.S. trials

What: U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials.

When: Final day today.

Where: HarborView complex, Key Highway.

Tickets: $30. Call (410) 481-SEAT.

Schedule:

Noon, stadium court: Gail CastroDeb Richardson vs. Elaine RoqueDennie Shupryt-Knoop, women's Olympic qualifying match.

1: 15 p.m., stadium court: Adam JohnsonRandy Stoklos vs. Karch KiralyKent Steffes, men's Olympic qualifying match.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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