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They're Back by Popular Demand : Volleyball: Many of the players who laid the foundation for today's successful pro beach tour will compete in the Legends tournament at Manhattan Beach.

August 15, 1991|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ron Von Hagen would love to compete in the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour if he could turn back the sands of time.

"I miss the game," he said. "I'd still play if I could, but I got old. I've stayed in good enough shape where I'm sort of competitive."

Nonetheless, Von Hagen, 52, is looking forward to showcasing his skills on the same beach he spent so many years playing his favorite game.

On Saturday, he will relive part of his heydays by competing in the Legends volleyball tournament, next to the Manhattan Beach Pier.

Von Hagen is among 32 former pro beach volleyball greats scheduled to participate in the annual event, which will feature eight four-man teams.

Nicknamed "The Legend," Von Hagen won 62 of 100 career tournaments, a pro beach volleyball record for 10 years. (In 1987, Sinjin Smith broke the record.) He also placed second in 22 events and won five Manhattan Beach Open titles.

Von Hagen still loves competing, but now spends most of his time "overlooking family investments" from his home in Sun Valley, Idaho, a small resort city.

Among those expected to participate in this year's tournament are: Jim (Jungle Jim) Menges, Gene (Monster Geno) Selznick, Mike (The Jumping Jack) O'Hara and Ron (2x10) Lang.

During a 13-year career, Menges won 48 events, including five Manhattan Beach Opens and two World Championships. The former UCLA All-American still holds a pro beach volleyball record for winning 13 consecutive tournaments.

Selznick was considered the Karch Kiraly of his day. A solid all-around player, he won an estimated 50 tournaments from 1950 to 1966. He also played for the U.S. National volleyball team for 17 years.

O'Hara was a 14-year member of the U.S. National team and an All-American at UCLA in 1953 and 1954. He won 33 pro beach tournaments, including five consecutive Manhattan Beach Opens with Mike Bright (1960-64).

Lang, a former USC All-American, played 20 years of pro beach volleyball. He won 56 tournaments from 1956 to 1976, including three Manhattan Beach Opens (once with Selznick and twice with longtime partner Von Hagen). In 1984 Lang was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, Mass.

The tournament was the idea of former volleyball standout Chris Marlowe. In 1987, he put together the first Legends tournament in Redondo Beach. It was a two-man event that year as well as the 1988 and 1989 tournaments at Hermosa Beach.

"(Marlowe) felt that this could be the senior Olympics of volleyball with all of the past champions," tournament director Dave Heiser said.

Last year's tournament was canceled because organizers couldn't find a sponsor, according to Heiser. Marlowe decided to change the format of this year's tournament from two-man to four-man, causing mixed reactions among players.

Von Hagen isn't happy with the change. He says he is in good enough shape to be competitive in a two-man format.

"It's not as much fun this way," Von Hagen said. "It just isn't the same. It's real different."

Menges, 40, welcomes the new format. He believes it will create better balanced teams than in previous years.

"I think four-man is better because you get all the guys to play," Menges said. "You get better rallies and you don't rely on just one guy. It's good because playing two-man makes it difficult on the older guys, 50-plus, which is about half the players."

The players are still playing for pride. This year's winning team will receive only $400, and the runners-up will get $200.

Players must be at least 34 years old to participate. Marlowe, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, selects the teams but won't reveal who is on them. He won't play in the tournament because he is in Cuba at the Pan American Games working as a television commentator.

As a pro, Marlowe won two Manhattan Beach Open titles and a World Championship with Menges in '77.

Menges retired from pro beach volleyball in 1982, but is trying to make a comeback in the AVP tour this year. He says the game has changed tremendously.

"It's much different now," Menges said. "There's over-the-net blocking and jump serving. When we played it was a straight serve. Now it's more of a power game. Everybody wants to win fast. I'm still trying to learn how to play this game."

Von Hagen believes the quality of athlete has also changed. He says today's players are not as dedicated as he was.

"When we played we didn't have sponsors," he said. "We just wanted to see how good we could be. Now the guys have other things going on, the sponsors, commercials. . . . They get cramped up. It takes away from their practice time."

Von Hagen also says players had to work harder when he competed. Teams had to win two out of three games in a tournament final. Today's format varies from a championship game to 15 points to a double final. But even when a team goes into a double final, the second game only goes to seven.

"The way we played was a truer test," Von Hagen said. "But they're not in as good a shape to do that. Guys now are doing so many other things that they're not practicing enough to be in the shape required to come up from the loser's bracket."

Menges, who recently moved to Santa Monica from San Clemente, says it will be a pleasant break from the brutal competition he plays in the AVP.

"It's really a lot of fun," he said. "Everybody always has a great time. It's good to see all those guys."

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