Beach volleyball and Sinjin Smith returned to their natural environment this weekend. After nine weeks on the road in such places as New Jersey, Maryland and Chicago, the professional beach series came home to Southern California for the Orange County Open at Seal Beach.
"It's such a pleasure to be back," said Smith, a native of Santa Monica who kept busy Sunday posing for photographs, signing autographs and receiving kisses from women.
Oh, and playing volleyball.
Smith and partner Randy Stoklos, the top-seeded team, won their 14th tournament of the year, defeating No. 3 John Hanley and Jon Stevenson, 15-12. The victory earned Smith and Stoklos $3,200 each, bringing their combined 1987 winnings to $117,850, tops on the professional tour.
The two former UCLA players had to battle for their weekend earnings. Hanley and Stevenson, fresh from last week's victory in San Francisco--their first tournament win of the year--scratched their way back from a 14-7 deficit before finally losing to the bigger and more powerful team of Smith and Stoklos in front of a crowd of about 3,500.
Smith and Stoklos had already defeated Hanley and Stevenson once earlier in the day, in the winners' bracket semifinals. Smith and Stoklos then had a 2 1/2-hour break before the championship match, while Hanley and Stevenson moved into the losers' bracket, where they knocked off the tournament's defending champions, Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd, 15-10.
Just twenty minutes after beating Hovland and Dodd, last year's professional series champions, Hanley and Stevenson took the court again for the final.
"We were a little tired," Stevenson said. "We came back with a second wind, but against these guys, you've got to be ready right from the gun. They got a big lead and we couldn't afford to make one mistake."
Stevenson and Hanley split a $3,200 second prize; Hovland and Dodd received $2,400 for third place, and Pat Powers and Dane Selznick finished fourth, earning $1,800.
Smith was also involved in the day's one unfortunate incident. U.S. national volleyball team captain Karch Kiraly sprained his ankle during a quarterfinal match when he landed on Smith's foot after going up for a block. Kiraly described his sprain as light to medium and said that, though he would miss some practice days with the national team, he hopes to play in next weekend's beach volleyball championship tournament at Manhattan Beach.
Because of the injury, Kiraly, who had never been injured in beach play before, and his partner, Ricci Luyties, withdrew from the tournament and finished in fifth place.