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BEACH VOLLEYBALL / SEAL BEACH OPEN : For Dodd, It's Not the Years, It's the Titles


SEAL BEACH — What is it that makes the sand here so magical for ageless Mike Dodd, considered the old man of the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals?

At an age when most men would have hung up their beach shorts, Dodd, soon to be 38, and teammate Mike Whitmarsh are the leading money-winners on the pro tour, which continues at 9 a.m. today with the $100,000 Seal Beach Open.

Play resumes at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and again at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the final slated for 1 p.m.

Dodd has dominated opponents in this quiet, seaside community, winning five tour events here, including three in a row with two partners.

Five times? That's five more times than the grand guru of the pro beach game, top-ranked Karch Kiraly, has won here. Kiraly and partner Kent Steffes, who returned to action last week after a three-month layoff because of shoulder surgery, have dropped Seal Beach finals the last two years to Dodd and Whitmarsh.

No surprise, then, coming off a victory last week in Milwaukee, that Dodd and Whitmarsh are top-seeded for this weekend's tournament.

Dodd, who lives in El Segundo, can't put a finger on why he's been so outstanding in the only Orange County tour event. As a kid growing up in Manhattan Beach, he never visited Seal Beach, choosing instead to make pilgrimages to Laguna Beach or San Diego for fun in the sun on southbound travels.

"More than anything, I just like being home in Southern California," said Dodd, who has been living out of a suitcase this season, traveling to such exotic beach cities as Minneapolis, Baltimore and Atlanta. "I love to play in California in front of my friends and family, more so than anywhere else."

Family has played an important role in the rebirth of Mike Dodd, written off three years ago as too old and too slow after a series of injuries.

The birth of his daughter, Dalas, 2, gave him a new reason for living, he said. Then the death of his father, Charles, six months after Dalas was born, made him realize how special each moment in life really is.

"This sounds kind of hokey, but those two events made me realize that there is a circle of life. They taught me how special each moment is playing volleyball and earning a living doing it."

After an on-again, off-again association with longtime partner Tim Hovland, Dodd hooked up with Whitmarsh for good in 1994. The pair won three tournaments and finished second in nine more last year.

This year, they have taken first four times, including the $250,000 Cuervo Crown in Clearwater, Fla., in April. Dodd is back on his game.

"Mike is such a smart player," Whitmarsh said. "He doesn't waste a lot of energy out there. He's very calm and doesn't make a lot of errors. He's a very fluid player and that has helped his career."

Those same people who once wrote off Dodd, now wonder what keeps him going. Secure in his ability, happy to have a family behind him, Dodd scoffs at the rumors.

"Everyone says I'm on a special diet or some kind of special training. Special this. Special that. I don't have anything special except that my mind is fresher," he said.

"My goal is to win one tournament this year and I've already won [more than that]. Next year my goal will be the same and if I do great, fine. If I don't, I won't really be too worried about it."

Dodd says he has no plans to quit any time soon, not as long as there are stops such as the one in Seal Beach where he can dominate on the sand.

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