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New Tour, Same Story: Wins for May, Walsh

Partners have won all four tournaments they've played since joining AVP. Next stop is Manhattan Beach.

August 08, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

There was supposed to be an adjustment period, to get used to playing in front of hometown crowds, to adapt to the different style of play on the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.

It didn't take any time at all.

Misty May and Kerri Walsh have won all four AVP Nissan Series tournaments they have entered, plus their last two international tournaments, and are one of the favorites to win a gold medal next year at the Athens Olympics.

"Initially I was really nervous because it's a different game when you're playing at home," said Walsh, who lives in Redondo Beach. "You're playing in front of friends and family. Everyone knows you and they can rip on you more. But Misty and I are at the point where we know we can consistently pull matches out."

May, 26, and Walsh, 24, have placed first or second in 19 of 29 tournaments in their two years as a team. Up until this season, they had avoided the AVP and concentrated solely on the international tour.

"These are two young players that in a very short period of time have catapulted to the top of the beach volleyball world on the women's side not only for today, but for the future," AVP Commissioner Leonard Armato said. "They both have been incredibly supportive and have been enlisting new fans for the sport every day."

May was twice NCAA player of the year at Long Beach State and Walsh was a four-time All-American at Stanford.

If May and Walsh make it to the Manhattan Beach Open final Saturday, they will be part of the first AVP women's final to be broadcast live on NBC. The men's final will be live on NBC on Sunday.

Earlier this week, NBC and Fox Sports Net became financial partners with the AVP and agreed to broadcast its tournaments the next three years without charging the AVP for broadcast fees. In return, NBC and Fox Sports Net became shareholders in the AVP.

"This is a good step to where we want to take the sport, being partners with NBC," May said. "Manhattan Beach is going to be crazy, the crowd's going to be good. I have no doubt it'll be successful and maybe next year there'll be more on TV."

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Speaking of strong partnerships, the AVP tour has a new potential powerhouse on the men's side.

Eric Fonoimoana and Kevin Wong dumped their partners earlier this week and formed an intriguing team of former Olympians that should start winning right away.

Fonoimoana, a gold medalist at the Sydney Olympics, and Wong, who tied for fifth in Sydney, had struggled with their respective partners this season.

Fonoimoana and Dax Holdren won the first AVP tournament in Florida and finished third in Arizona but quickly faltered with a 17th at Hermosa Beach and two seventh-place finishes. Holdrennever fully recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery.

"He's just not healing enough to compete against the big guys," Fonoimoana said.

Wong was marginally better with Stein Metzger. They appeared to hit stride with a second place last Sunday in Austria after a slew of mediocre efforts, but it wasn't enough to save the partnership.

"[Fonoimoana] has been to the top of the mountain and it's a lot easier to get up there if you're going with someone who's already been there," Wong said. "The guy's been playing at a high level for a really long time."

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