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Dumped Teammates Spike Back

After being left by their playing partners, Holdren and Metzger paired up and won Olympic spot

August 10, 2004|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

A year ago, Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger didn't know which way to turn, so they turned to each another.

Now, partly because of a unique bond they share, all signs point to Athens.

Holdren and Metzger were left behind in a high-profile partner dump when Eric Fonoimoana and Kevin Wong formed a supposed dream team.

The move left Holdren and Metzger stunned, betrayed and hurt. Also, because it was the middle of the season and everyone else already had partners, it left them with little choice but to pair up and play on.

So play on they did, and, lo and behold, look who made the U.S. Olympic team.

Holdren and Metzger finished second behind Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard among American teams during the 19-month qualifying process despite having played together for only a year of it.

Each country is allowed a maximum of two entries in beach volleyball and Holdren and Metzger won a tight, three-team race for the final berth. Among the teams they beat out? Fonoimoana and Wong.

"There's nothing more that I wanted than to keep them out of the Olympics and get in at the same time," Metzger said. "So it feels really good, to be honest."

Fonoimoana dumped Holdren, but the two have mended fences since the breakup and are again friends. The same can not be said of Metzger and Wong, whose bitter breakup was the talk of the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals Tour last summer because of how it happened, when it happened and to whom it happened.

Metzger and Wong were long-time friends. They went to high school together in Hawaii and were roommates at UCLA. Even their families are friends, but Metzger and Wong no longer speak to each another.

They joined forces on the beach in 2001, and had immediate success with two victories in five domestic events and six top-five finishes in 11 international events. Last August, they finished second in a Grand Slam event in Austria and moved into second place on the 2004 Olympic qualifying points list.

That was the last Metzger heard from Wong. After the Austria tournament, they were scheduled to play an exhibition in Prague, but Wong told Metzger he wasn't feeling well and left for home. Metzger stayed for the exhibition. While in Prague, he got a phone call from his girlfriend.

The Times had reported that Fonoimoana and Wong were teaming together in an effort to bolster their chances of making the Olympics. Metzger's girlfriend read the report.

"She said, 'I just read in the L.A. Times that Kevin is playing with Fonoi. What's up with that?' " Metzger said. "I said, 'Huh?' That's how I found out. My girlfriend read it in the L.A. Times. The whole way it went down was pretty pathetic."

Wong said he attempted to reach Metzger, but was unsuccessful because Metzger was in Prague.

"I gave him three or four messages to his voice mail," Wong said.

He said he doesn't harbor any hard feelings toward Metzger and added that he doesn't feel the need to apologize for the way he handled the breakup.

"I don't have any regrets," he said. "I don't live my life with regrets. It was a decision I made and that's it."

Holdren and Fonoimoana are on good terms now and recently carpooled to a photo shoot for a sponsor, but immediately after their breakup there was tension.

They played in the Austria tournament last year and flew home together after it. As Holdren drove from LAX to his Santa Barbara home, he got a call from Fonoimoana explaining the breakup.

"I don't know if he didn't find out until he got off the airplane or if he didn't want to tell me face to face," Holdren said. "The way it went down wasn't great, but at least I got a phone call. It's not going to end our relationship, but you definitely learn things about people by the way they handle certain situations."

Fonoimoana, who has since apologized for the way he handled the breakup, explained that Holdren was coming off of knee surgery earlier in the year and the two had not been playing well. Fonoimoana figured a partner switch would give him a better shot at making the Olympics.

"We were getting our butt kicked," he said. "From being the best team on the beach to getting your butt kicked by teams that you don't think should be beating you drives me nuts.

"I made my decision and I've got to live with it. In hindsight maybe I didn't make the best decision, but I made it and I'm paying for it now."

Fonoimoana won a gold medal with Blanton at the 2000 Olympics. Wong teamed with Rob Heidger in Sydney and finished fifth. Together, they were supposed to make an invincible duo with the combination of Wong's size and Fonoimoana's speed and defense.

Holdren and Metzger, on the other hand, had to adapt. Both are 6 feet 3 and play similar styles. They are ball-control specialists who play solid defense, but neither is a big blocker.

They rely on quickness and have a varied attack to keep opponents off balance.

"We have to scrap and claw for every point," Metzger said. "We have to grovel in the dirt and run around just to get one point.

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