The Manhattan Beach Open, the first of three South Bay stops for the Women's Professional Volleyball Assn., started Saturday with a field that lacked name players.
Because the WPVA's top eight teams are competing in the Shootout in Las Vegas, a $50,000 invitational event, the rest of tour's players are in Manhattan Beach to compete for a $10,000 purse.
With the entire WPVA staff also in Las Vegas, Dan Matthies, a player's husband, served as tournament director.
One confused fan asked, "Do you know who Jackie Silva's partner is?" Silva and other top players such as Angela Rock, Elaine Roque and Karolyn Kirby are at the Shootout.
There was, however, one name that many in Saturday's small crowd recognized and cheered for: Nina Matthies, a South Bay native, and founder of the WPVA.
Although Matthies is past her prime, she is one of the most respected athletes on the tour. At 39, she is also the oldest.
A Manhattan Beach native and Mira Costa High graduate, Matthies and husband Dan started the WPVA six years ago.
In 1987, Matthies won two tournaments, placed second three times and third on four occasions. In 1988, she made it to four tournament finals and placed third in two others. In 1989, she reached seven finals and placed third five times. Matthies won the 1990 World Championships with former partner Roque. That team also placed second in four events and third in three others.
Last season, a torn calf muscle in her left leg forced Matthies to miss four of 17 events and play in pain in several others. Her partnership ended with Roque and Matthies finished with a 42-30 record with seven different partners. Matthies' only tournament victory was at Clearwater, Fla., with Linda Carrillo.
This is the first year Matthies didn't qualify for the prestigious Shootout. Her best finish this season was fifth place at Ft. Meyers, Fla., on April 19 when she teamed with Gail Stammer.
On Saturday in Manhattan Beach, the fifth-seeded team of Matthies and Jeanne Reeves were eliminated by 13th-seeded Valinda Hilleary and Pat Keller, 15-4. Earlier, Matthies and Reeves had lost to Amy Baltus and Samantha Shaver, 17-15.
"It's getting more and more miserable," Matthies said, laughing. "At this point I've decided I've had to change why I'm playing. I'm not playing realistically to win an event any more."
Matthies is still an intense competitor and keeps in shape with a conditioning and weight-training program.
"She has lots of enthusiasm and lots of fire," said Reeves, who had her second child less than eight weeks ago. Reeves played volleyball at UCLA when Matthies was an assistant there.
"She knows the game better than anybody out there," Reeves said. "I thought this was a great opportunity so that she can help me out."
Players often ask Matthies for advice and she's glad to give it. She is after all, a successful college coach. In nine season's at Pepperdine, Matthies has led the Waves to seven NCAA playoff appearances and five consecutive West Coast Conference titles. She has been named WCC coach of the year three times.
Matthies, a mother of two boys, played on two UCLA national championship teams (1974 and '75). She also competed in the 1971 Pan Am Games and professionally in the International Volleyball Assn.
"I really love playing," Matthies said. "Having to sit out last year was my first time ever in my career.
"It's hard now. I mean it's really, really been hard for me. I could put my ego aside and say it's no big deal, but I'm not going to do that."
Matthies, who is on the WPVA board of directors, won't predict how much longer she will play. She would rather think about the present.
"I really feel great, physically and health-wise," she said. "I'm just so thankful to be able to play. I think it's made me more relaxed."