LONG BEACH — Playing despite pain that could not be concealed behind her mirrored sunglasses, Karolyn Kirby found something to fight for at the Long Beach Open this weekend--her pride.
Kirby and teammate Angela Rock defeated Lisa Arce and Patty Dodd, 15-11, to win the Evian Women's Professional Volleyball Assn. tournament at Belmont Shores. With the victory, a bit of Kirby's pain subsided.
Kirby, arguably the best female beach player ever, failed to qualify for the Olympics last month at the U.S. trials. So while the U.S. delegation was in Atlanta this weekend preparing for the competition, which begins Tuesday, Kirby struggled with her frustration at not being there.
"It's like [when] someone dies and you think you can't go on, but you do. You find a way," Kirby said. "The human spirit is incredible. You deal with what you have to deal with. There was no lamenting, there was no wishing I was someplace else," Kirby said.
Kirby's renewed partnership with Rock helped her maintain focus. Kirby, who has won a tour-record 58 tournaments, attained much of her success with Rock--they won 17 tournaments together in 1991 and 1992 before splitting.
"It was very healing for us to come together. There's nothing like success. It's the best medicine in the world," Kirby said. "We both knew that if we didn't win it was because we chose to dwell in sadness."
Kirby won 26 tournaments with Liz Masakayan from 1993-95 before Masakayan sustained several knee injuries, leaving Kirby in a transition phase between partners before the trials. Kirby chose Arce and the pair was top-seeded, but they were upset twice and eliminated. Rock competed at the trials with Masakayan and also failed to earn an Olympic berth.
The Long Beach Open was the third consecutive WPVA tournament that Kirby and Rock have played in together this season. They placed second at Newport, R.I., last month and fourth at Chicago July 14.
"Our partnership, when it ended in 1992, was on kind of a bad note, so it's kind of nice to come full circle," Rock said. "It's really comfortable. We're good friends and we have an easy time communicating with each other."
Top-seeded Kirby and Rock didn't give up more than seven points in any of their five games before the final, but Arce and Dodd gave them some tough competition. With the score tied, 6-6, there were 15 sideouts before Rock earned a point with a kill. Kirby and Rock then scored four more points to make it 11-6.
Second-seeded Arce and Dodd went on a 3-0 run to bring it to within two points, 11-9, but got no closer than that. Leading 13-11, Rock served an ace to bring up game point and Kirby won it with another ace.
The teams that missed the Long Beach Open because of the Olympics were Nancy Reno and Holly McPeak, Barbra Fontana Harris and Linda Hanley, and Gail Castro and Deb Richardson.
"We're really happy for the three that are going. We're ready to go support them. The disappointment is gone," Arce said.
Several teams at the Long Beach Open benefited from the absence of some of the top players.
"It really shakes up the seedings," said Pat Keller of Lake Forest. "It's refreshing. It's kind of a nice opportunity."
Keller made her first appearance in a final four with partner Marie Andersson. Andersson made her third appearance in a final four. Fourth-seeded Karrie Poppinga and Christine Schaefer also advanced to the semifinals for the first time as a team. Kirby and Rock defeated eighth-seeded Andersson and Keller, 15-6, and Arce and Dodd defeated Poppinga and Schaefer, 15-4. Poppinga and Schaefer won the third-place game, 15-5.