A fake beach, a real ball

Volleyball: A pro tour at the Inner Harbor draws a crowd for its athleticism, fun - and players' toned bodies.

August 23, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's harbor isn't exactly the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece, but it did a pretty good imitation yesterday as thousands of people cheered on a men's pro beach volleyball tournament worthy of the Olympics - including the essential buff bodies, beach music and free-flowing beer.

Organizers of the Toyota Pro Beach East tour hauled 200 tons of golf-course-grade sand into Rash Field to turn the south side of the Inner Harbor into a virtual beach.

And the timing couldn't have been better, with the international spotlight turned on volleyball because of the wild popularity of the matches - and the physiques of the players - in Athens this month.

"There's a lot of foot traffic here," said 6-foot-9-inch Phil Dalhauser, part of a two-man team that took second place in yesterday's tournament. "It's awesome."

The winners were Brian Soldano and Matt Heath, who defeated Dalhauser and his teammate Nick Lucena, 21-16, in the final match. The winners walked away with $2,400 in prize money, and the runners-up got $1,400. The match was a culmination of five summer events on the East Coast, including a weekend of play at Rash Field.

The ultimate goal for most on the pro tour is to eventually qualify for the Olympics, which might not be a far-fetched idea. Last month in Hermosa Beach, Calif., Dalhauser and Lucena defeated two teams that competed in Athens. Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger were eliminated yesterday by Switzerland, and Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard were defeated by the Swiss last week.

This is the first year a Pro Beach East championship round has been held in Baltimore, and it was met by fans who seemed happy to soak up the sun at the Inner Harbor's makeshift beach.

Organizers said they wanted to hold it in Baltimore because they could turn it into a party with music, food and drinks, something they couldn't do in Ocean City or Virginia Beach, sites of previous championship rounds, because of those cities' regulations. The group organizing the volleyball tourney, Corrigan Sports Enterprises, also puts on the Baltimore Marathon and other sporting events.

And the organizers learned that when you mix tanned, championship beach volleyball players with free admission, you get the inevitable teen groupies. Lots of them.

Beach stardom

"Can you sign the back of my T-shirt?" asked Parkville resident Stacy Caulk, 18, who approached Lucena with her sister Jacquelyn, 15.

"Me?" shot back 6-foot-2-inch Lucena. "I think you want the big guys."

But Lucena quickly acquiesced, and scribbled his name on her left shoulder blade.

"We're big fans," Stacy Caulk said.

He made small talk with them for a bit, beginning with the old standby: "So what's your major?"

Shortly after, Tori Albides, 12, walked up to Lucena with a wide smile on her face.

"I have a picture of you in my locker at school and every morning all my friends come by to look at it," said Tori, who lives in Cambridge on the Eastern Shore and traveled to Baltimore with her father yesterday.

"She drove an hour to see me," Lucena teased.

Off the beach

Lucena and Dalhauser, both 24, are pros at dealing with adolescents. In the winter months, they are substitute teachers at Myrtle Beach Middle School in South Carolina, where they live.

They said it's sometimes difficult to keep the pupils in line, but they have a method for keeping their classes under control, although they said their height might help, too.

"You give them warnings, and if that doesn't work, you yell, and if that doesn't work, you start writing detentions," said Dalhauser, who has a degree in business and wants to become a physical education teacher.

He said the common thread between being a teacher and a volleyball player is that he must command respect in the classroom and on the sand.

Plus, his friends tease him, girls think he's a heartthrob either place.

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