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Money Rolls In, Even If Fame Doesn't : Despite Big Winnings, Beach Volleyball Pro Is Overshadowed by His Famous Partner

June 25, 1989|DAVE HALL

In making a point, the beach volleyball promoter reeled off the names of the dominant teams on the men's pro circuit: "Smith-Stoklos. Dodd-Hovland. And Karch Kiraly and whoever he's playing with. . . ."

At least Brent Frohoff can laugh about it. He's the partner of Kiraly, America's most famous volleyball player, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and, in the opinion of many, the most talented beach volleyball player in the game today.

Frohoff is the other guy. The player to be named later. Whatshisname.

"Everybody knows what good friends I am with Steve Timmons," Kiraly said of the powerful redheaded hitter he played with on the 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams. "So these people will come up after Brent has played another incredible match and they'll say, 'Why aren't you playing with Steve?' "

"I mean, come on! We just won. What does the guy have to do?"

But Frohoff can live with it. "It's really no big deal to me. I kind of expect it," he said as he sat in the sand after an afternoon practice at the foot of Marine Avenue in Manhattan Beach, the place volleyball players call Marine Street.

"I'm just having a lot of fun. I don't have a problem with people not knowing who I am. My time will come."

In many ways, Frohoff's time is here. Last year, at age 25, he became the youngest player to earn $100,000 in his career, winning nearly $63,000 in the sport's richest season. This year, he has almost matched that ($57,587) with 10 events to go this season, the fifth-best total in the individual money standings. (Mike Dodd and Tim Hovland have each earned $93,225 and Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos have won $69,187 apiece.)

Kiraly-Frohoff have won three tournaments this season, but more significantly, they made the finals in the last four tournaments they played in together before Kiraly left the tour for three weekends to finish his commitment to the U.S. National team. They won the last two, beating Dodd-Hovland to win the Venice Open on May 28 and outplaying Smith-Stoklos for the Santa Cruz Open championship on June 4.

Though his fame will probably always pale next to that of Kiraly, whose television exposure has made him as well known in Kansas as he is in California, Frohoff has made a name for himself with the people who count--his fellow players.

"Brent has always been a really good player," said veteran player Jon Stevenson, who also trains at Marine Street and, like Frohoff, prepped at Mira Costa High. "Karch is Karch, but Brent is probably playing the best volleyball on the tour right now."

It's a level of play that Frohoff has always been capable of, Stevenson said, but has only started to realize with Kiraly as a partner. "Brent is easygoing, carefree, the kind of guy you like to have around. He epitomizes how beach volleyball players used to be (before the big money).

"But playing with Karch, he has found the missing key: a serious devotion to winning."

Frohoff acknowledges that having Kiraly on his side of the net has done a lot to improve his playing.

"I think it has raised my game up a level, just playing with Karch, with his status and the aura that he has," he said. "I think I'm concentrating more. I know I have to keep my game up, I can't have any lapses. I'm making fewer mistakes."

His biggest improvement, he says, is his defense, which he believes is getting better with age. "I've been out here for six years now," Frohoff said. "With experience comes defense and with defense comes winning ballgames."

Also, with Kiraly comes winning ballgames. But Frohoff stresses that Kiraly couldn't win with just any partner. If you play with a superstar, he points out, you get the majority of serves. That means you're passing to the star, who sets you , then you spike. That means a lot more diving, jumping and running for you.

"I have to carry my weight," said Frohoff, who lives in Redondo Beach with his brother Chris, a top pro surfer. "I have to do the job just like everybody else."

To hear Kiraly tell it, Frohoff has often carried more than his own weight--especially after Kiraly has finished a long week of workouts with the National team on the hard court.

"Brent has really been carrying us," he said. "The last two tournaments we played, I started slow on Saturday morning after playing with the team all week. I was really struggling, but Brent took up the slack."

In particular, Kiraly recalled Santa Cruz, where the duo was on the verge of going directly into the losers' bracket with a first-round loss. "We were down 13-12, but Brent earned us the last three points and we won it," he said. "He has just played spectacularly. I'm surprised he hadn't won much before."

Mike Dodd recommended Frohoff when Kiraly was looking for a partner for his return to the beach this year after spending 1988 with the Olympic team. His telephone had been ringing off the hook and he asked Dodd for a recommendation.

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