Kiraly, Steffes head to Atlanta Castro, Richardson grab women's berth

June 10, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The reaction by the teams that advanced from the final qualifying matches at the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials to Atlanta next month were as different as the matches they played yesterday at the HarborView complex.

Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes, the top-seeded men's team, seemed more relieved to beat the system than they did in routing second seeds Randy Stoklos and Adam Johnson, 15-3. Gail Castro and Deb Richardson, the women's third seeds, seemed elated to have beaten the odds after their 15-13 comeback victory over the fourth-seeded team of Elaine Roque and Dennie Shupryt-Knoop.

"It's a much different situation than it was in 1984 and 1988, where you had to make the team," said Kiraly, a member of two gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic indoor teams. "Once I became a starter, it wasn't a whole lot of stress."

Though the match that ultimately got them into the Olympics wasn't very stressful -- after a 2-2 tie, Kiraly and Steffes ran off 11 straight points -- the rest of the week in Baltimore was.

Not only did it mean going through a qualifying process of which most players, Kiraly in particular, have been critical, but it also included coming out of the losers' bracket after a semifinal-round defeat to eventual Olympic qualifiers Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh.

"It seems like we were here for about 10 years," said Kiraly.

Their victory was nearly assured when Stoklos stepped squarely on a stray ball while practicing his jump serves before Saturday's match. Diagnosed with a moderately severe lateral sprain of the right ankle, Stoklos spent several hours getting treatment at the Bennett Institute immediately after the match and again yesterday morning.

"As far as playing, I felt good. A couple of Advils can do wonders," said Stoklos, 35. "I jumped great, but my movement from side to side wasn't there. . . . I couldn't move my feet."

If mobility was a problem for Stoklos, motivation wasn't. When told Saturday of his upcoming opponent's injury, Steffes said, "Good. Maybe he broke it." Stoklos, who heard about the remark before the match, took the kind of a shot at Steffes that he rarely could get off on the court.

"I don't know what kind of tact he has, but when he gets older, he's going to learn that every dog has his day," said Stoklos. "His day may be now, but he'll find that in the future it might be different. It's disturbing, but coming from Kent Steffes, it's not surprising."

Steffes was given a couple of opportunities to retract his statement and apologize to Stoklos, but he didn't flinch. Kiraly was a little more diplomatic: "It's really unfortunate that luck ran against them like that. That's terrible timing. It's unfortunate because of a qualification system I still don't agree with. I think they would have been a wonderful third representative for the U.S."

The controversial qualification process already sent Stoklos' former longtime partner, Sinjin Smith, and partner Carl Henkel to Atlanta with an automatic berth because of their status as the No. 1 U.S. team on the FIVB (international) tour.

In warm-ups yesterday, Stoklos happened to pick up the same ball that he had landed on Saturday. It was decidedly lopsided, and Stoklos took it as a sad memento of the trials. "It was a 1-in-a-billion chance to do that," he said. "It's something I'll remember the rest of my life. I just hope it doesn't give me nightmares."

Roque and Shupryt-Knoop might have their share of disappointing memories, too. They lost to top seeds Barbra Fontana-Harris and Linda Hanley, 16-14, in Friday's semifinal. Then came their narrow defeat to Castro and Richardson, their respective former partners.

After falling behind 8-4 and 11-8, Castro and Richardson called a timeout. They ran off five straight points and, after seeing their lead trimmed to 14-13, needed five match points to close out things. Unlike their male counterparts, the last of the three women's teams to make it to Atlanta wasn't expecting to get there.

"The way we played last week to the way we played this week isn't really comparable," said Richardson. "We haven't really talked about the trials. In the back of our minds, we both really wanted this."

It was after a loss last week at a regular tour stop in Texas that Castro and Richardson talked about what to expect in Baltimore. Castro, 38, remembered thinking during that match, "What I am doing out here? I'm ready to have another child. She forced me to say, 'If I'm going to be out there, why not go for it?' "

After their match was over, the two women's teams met briefly, yet emotionally, at the net. Shupryt-Knoop, 40, barely could speak at a news conference 30 minutes later. Roque, 36, said that she'll retire after this season.

"What we're both feeling is the sheer disappointment of a dream that won't be fulfilled," said Roque.

It wasn't difficult to tell what Steffes was feeling. Relieved for making the Olympics. Happy for beating the system. And not a bit sorry for the guy with the gimpy ankle on the other side of the net.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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