When the men's pro beach volleyball tour rolls into Seal Beach this weekend for the 21st event of this year's circuit, the main question for a change won't be who is playing with whom.
Instead, it could be who isn't playing at Seal Beach at all.
Despite one of the year's biggest purses--$100,000--six of the tour's top pros will miss the event, which gets under way Saturday at 9 a.m.. The finals are scheduled for about 3 p.m. Sunday.
* Tim Hovland and Kent Steffes--who have a first- and a second-place finish to show for their first two tournaments--will be playing in Italy for an international event.
* Karch Kiraly--Brent Frohoff's regular partner--is skipping Seal Beach to work the volleyball competition at the Goodwill Games in Seattle as a color analyst for the Turner Broadcasting Network.
* Veteran teammates John Eddo and Sean Fallowfield are also playing in Italy this weekend.
* And Scott Ayakatubby of Hermosa Beach didn't enter the tournament because of a sore back--a recurring injury that has sidelined him several times in the past three years.
As usual, Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos are top-seeded at Seal Beach. Smith and Stoklos came from behind last weekend in Chicago--from out of the losers' bracket--to topple Hovland and Steffes in a sudden-death tiebreaker for the championship.
But the depleted field behind Smith and Stoklos means that some new names could find themselves advancing deep into the tournament.
The second-seeded team is Frohoff and Hovland's ex-partner, Mike Dodd. Frohoff is Dodd's fourth different teammate in as many weeks, following Hovland, Dan Vrebalovich and Ayakatubby. Next week Dodd might have to take on a fifth when Frohoff returns to action with Kiraly.
Defending champion Jon Stevenson--who won the Seal Beach event last year with Steffes--is paired with Mike Whitmarsh this time around and is 10th-seeded.
Of course, Seal Beach wouldn't be an Assn. of Volleyball Professionals event if there wasn't at least one breakup beforehand.
Larry Mear and Scott Friedrichsen, teammates for the past three years, called it quits this week, with Mear siding with Wally Goodrick and Friedrichsen shuffling off with Craig Moothart.
On the Hovland-Dodd scale of volleyball breakups, this news rates about a "3"--but it's not entirely insignificant because Mear and Friedrichsen have consistently been among the top eight seeded teams this season.
The men seem to have taken the reins from the women in the soap opera on the beach as both seasons wind down.
Amazingly, there wasn't a single major partner change on the draw sheet for this weekend's ladies' Pismo Beach Open--a $25,000 event.
That is good news for Manhattan Beach's Patty Dodd, who has had to shuffle partners this season almost as often as husband Mike.
In last weekend's action in Tokyo, Dodd and new partner Rita Crockett-Royster placed a respectable third.
Dodd and Crockett-Royster were knocked out in the losers' bracket final, 15-13, by red-hot Janice Opalinski and Lisa Strand.
Opalinski and Strand had eliminated top-seeded Jackie Silva and Karolyn Kirby in the previous match, leaving Silva and Kirby with a season-low fifth-place finish. Opalinski-Strand then swept on to the title with a victory over Nina Matthies and Elaine Roque.
Chris Frohoff's early round successes at the Op Pro surfing championships in Huntington Beach left South Bay surf watchers with a local boy to cheer on as this week progressed.
Ted Robinson of Manhattan Beach advanced to the second round, but was out-surfed on Wednesday, 82.3-63.5, by Australian veteran Barton Lynch.
Hermosa Beach's Scott Daley was ousted in the trial round.