Frohoff Gets Game Into Shape

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Brent Frohoff put himself through boot camp in the spring in hopes of becoming a lean, mean volleyball machine this summer.

What a difference some pain makes.

Frohoff and his new partner, Karch Kiraly, are the hottest team on the pro beach tour right now. They have reached the final of all five events they've played together this season--winning two of them.

Going into Sunday's final at the tradition-rich Manhattan Beach Open, they have their sights set on winning another championship.

Especially Frohoff, a Hermosa Beach native who has never won his home beach's marquee tournament.

"Even if I wasn't from this area, I'd want to win this one," Frohoff said. "This tournament has always been so prestigious. It meant everything to the pioneers of the sport to win here. For us to win this one in my hometown--well, that'd be something."

This time around, however, Frohoff is in fighting shape to do it.

"My body feels so good in some of these events that I want to keep going, even after the last point is played," Frohoff said.

For the first time in his six-year pro career, Frohoff can beat opponents by outlasting them.

Frohoff has always had the talent. Kiraly, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, saw that as long ago as 1982, when the two first met in San Diego. He saw Frohoff's devastating jump serve, his crisp setting and his powerful spike.

Kiraly was impressed enough that he asked Frohoff to join him in his quest to unseat Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos as the kings of the beach.

For a while, they were on their way. Frohoff won $114,000 in prize money last season, playing mostly with Kiraly. The tandem captured four titles.

But there was a downside, too. Frohoff would tire in crucial matches.

"It got to the point where teams would try to serve to Brent to wear him down," Kiraly said. "It became a disappointment for both of us."

Last year in a classic championship match in Seattle, Kiraly and Frohoff were leading Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd, 13-8, but the title slipped away when Frohoff's legs cramped.

Speculation was rampant this year over who Kiraly--considered in some circles as the world's best volleyball player--would choose as his right-hand man.

Kiraly swept over Frohoff and picked Kent Steffes, a prodigious young talent from Pacific Palisades.

"I was a little disappointed," Frohoff said. "But Karch said he had to get it out of his system to see if he and Kent could dominate. So I was kind of put on hold for awhile."

Instead of sulking, Frohoff, 26, went to work.

He went back to Scott Ayakatubby, his partner for most of the previous seven years, and began winning again. Frohoff and the injury-prone Ayakatubby finished ahead of Kiraly and Steffes in several tournaments and won an event in Dallas.

Frohoff also hired Steven Bauer--who lives in the same Redondo Beach condo complex--to serve as his personal trainer.

"We ran intervals on the track, we ran the same intervals on the sand and we ran hills in Palos Verdes," Frohoff said. "Actually, it was me doing all the running; he was just coaching."

After the 10th event of the season, Kiraly realized Steffes wasn't his dream partner and called Frohoff back.

Kiraly and Frohoff were back together for the Venice Open in May. In the final, they hammered Smith and Stoklos, 15-2, in a match that showcased the team's frightening potential.

"We played absolutely out of our minds at Venice," Kiraly said. "But a good test of a team is if it can still win when it's not playing unconscious volleyball. So far, I like our consistency."

Kiraly also likes Frohoff's best weapon--the jump serve.

"When a man serves the ball as hard as Brent does, there's no way even the two best passers in the world can cover all the ground," Kiraly said. "The beach court is the same size as the indoor court--you could land a helicopter over there."

Instead, what Frohoff lands are a lot of aces and near-aces. He's also a deluxe setter, which means that when Kiraly comes up with a dig, Kiraly usually finishes off the exchange with a kill.

Since whipping into shape, Frohoff has tired only once this season--in the stifling humidity of a final in Indianapolis, which Smith and Stoklos won.

Kiraly and Frohoff come into Manhattan with a victory over Hovland and Ayakatubby on West Dennis Beach in Cape Cod, Mass.

Frohoff and his brother Chris, a professional surfer, spent most of their youth playing on the South Bay beaches.

Doug Frohoff, a Redondo Beach firefighter of German ancestry, and his wife Diane--who is of Cherokee Indian descent--always had their sons in tow on trips to the beach.

"Mom and Dad are both dedicated beach people," Frohoff said. "The beach was our back yard. Both Chris and I took one sport in hand and went with it."

Frohoff spent his youth at Manhattan Beach's legendary Marine Street, an area that has produced many of today's top beach volleyball players.

He played volleyball for Mike Cook--California's winningest prep coach--at Mira Costa High, then attended El Camino College and Loyola Marymount. Frohoff played a year of pro indoor volleyball in Italy before heading back to the beach.

Frohoff was 20 when he turned pro with Ayakatubby. The two had explosive jump serves and a lot of good times.

"We were young," Frohoff said. "We didn't train much, but we went out a lot."

Frohoff's sobering experience with Kiraly last summer has forged a change for the better.

"Brent finally realized that he could make a living on the pro tour," Doug Frohoff said. "Not just a living, but a comfortable living. Now he approaches it like a job--just like a normal business person would."

Which means working harder. But Frohoff said that hasn't taken any enjoyment out of the game for him.

"The old days were a lot of fun," he said. "But it's a lot more fun now, winning and being in great shape."

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