Linda Hanley has returned to the women's pro beach volleyball circuit full-time, but she's finding a few changes in the sport she once dominated.
Hanley, who grew up in Laguna Beach and now lives in Pacific Palisades, has played in only two or three tournaments a year since 1986, when she was undefeated on the tour.
She and Nina Matthies of Oxnard, who now teams with Elaine Roque of Santa Barbara, were the top team on the circuit in the early 1980s.
But Hanley said after her matches Saturday at the Laguna Beach Open that the tour offers different challenges than it did four years ago.
"Every single game and every single point I have to try as hard as I can," Hanley said. "Unfortunately, in the old days, other players were so intimidated by Nina and I that they made mistakes on their own. But now everyone is so good, that we have to work harder."
Hanley left the tour to concentrate on a job as a sales representative with a beachwear company. But she's back this season, with a new attitude and a new partner, Linda Chisholm-Carrillo of Van Nuys.
"Playing full-time on the tour is one of the best ways to stay in shape," Hanley said. "There's more and more money on the tour now too.
"There was a lot of switching around with partners earlier this year and I ended up with (Chisholm-Carrillo). And if that's not enough to get fired up about . . . "
Hanley and Chisholm-Carrillo, seeded sixth, lost in the second round Friday, but worked their way through the losers' bracket of the double-elimination tournament Saturday.
They defeated fourth-seeded Gail Castro of Carlsbad and Lori Kotas of Cardiff, 15-10, to advance to the losers' bracket semifinal Sunday against seventh-seeded Rita Crockett-Royster of Costa Mesa and Dennie Knoop of Miami.
Top-seeded Jackie Silva of Redondo Beach and Karolyn Kirby of San Diego will play third-seeded Janice Opalinski of San Juan Capistrano and Lisa Strand of Pacific Palisades in the winners' bracket final at 10 a.m. today.
In the men's competition, top-seeded Shawn Davis of Los Angeles and Mike Whitmarsh of San Diego defeated fifth-seeded Andy Fishburn of Los Angeles and Dane Selznick of Santa Monica, 15-9, to advance to the winners' bracket final at 8 a.m. today.
They will play third-seeded Pete Aronchick of Culver City and Mike Boehle of Santa Monica, who rallied from an 11-7 deficit to beat second-seeded Bob Chavez of Los Angeles and Steve Rottman of Santa Monica, 15-12, in the other semifinal.
The Laguna Open was a homecoming for Hanley, who led Laguna Beach High School to the Southern Section title in 1976, its only girls' volleyball championship. "This is one of the toughest spots for me to play," said Hanley, a three-time All-America at UCLA. "I'm distracted because I see a lot of old friends and I'm talking with them and not thinking about the matches."
She said her thoughts also wandered to the Manhattan Beach Open, where her husband, John, was playing this weekend.
Distractions have been few for Hanley and Chisholm-Carrillo this season. Partners only for the last month, they won their first tournament together last week, defeating Silva and Opalinski in the finals of the Fresno Open.
"That tournament just validated our feelings that we had great chemistry," Hanley said. "It was only our third week together and we're starting to play well.
"We keep each other relaxed out there. Linda's a great blocker and I'm working on my defense to try and back her up."
Pete Aronchick is closing on a possible second-consecutive Laguna Open championship. He and Mark Eller won the tournament last year. The last men to win consecutive titles were Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos (1984-86) . . . The women's championship final is scheduled for 2 p.m. today and the men's final will follow. . . . The winning men's and women's teams will each split $6,300 . . . The final for the four-player, co-ed tournament is scheduled for 1 p.m. today.