It was a page out of beach volleyball history, players staying on the sand until the sun went down, the remaining spectators trading their T-shirts for turtlenecks as the ocean breeze got colder and stronger.
Sinjin Smith can relate. The volleyball legend, now 44, won several tournaments in similar conditions throughout his 25-year career.
But a fairy-tale finish didn't materialize for Smith in his final tournament Saturday at the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals Michelob Light Manhattan Beach Open. Smith and partner George Roumain were eliminated by Todd Rogers and Dax Holdren in the fourth round of the losers' bracket. The match--and Smith's career--ended at 7:26 p.m.
Smith, whose name is synonymous with the sport, finished with 139 career victories, second most in history.
"All game I realized that the light was getting darker," said Smith, who signed autographs for a gaggle of fans from a courtside beach chair after the loss. "I had flashbacks of 15 years ago when we played into the night. It's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful."
Smith waited until the crowd of 1,000 had filtered out and then dived into the ocean for a solitary swim in darkness. "It's what I always do at Manhattan Beach," he said.
Smith, who won two national championships at UCLA, turned his indoor skills into international fame and fortune on the beach, dominating the sport with Randy Stoklos and winning 113 tournaments from 1982-1993.
He did not, however, win his sixth Manhattan Beach Open. Holdren and Rogers defeated Smith and Roumain, 21-19, 24-22. Smith hit a ball wide to end the match.
Smith and Roumain, seeded 19th, were almost finished in the previous round of the double-elimination tournament, but rallied for a 16-21, 21-16, 15-7 victory over Carl Henkel and Nick Hannemann.
"I hope I've got enough juice left," Smith said afterward.
Holdren and Rogers had more, parlaying their ball-control skills into victory. Holdren and Rogers open today against Albert Hannemann and Sean Scott in the quarterfinals of the losers' bracket.
"To be the team that retired him is bittersweet," Rogers said. "His whole life revolved around volleyball. He's been playing at an elite level for almost 30 years."
Said Smith: "I know it will be strange not preparing for another season. It'll hit me then."
Smith and Roumain started the day well enough, defeating Andy Witt and Larry Witt, 27-25, 21-19, but lost to Canyon Ceman and Mike Whitmarsh, 25-23, 21-17, and were knocked into the losers' bracket.
Smith's longtime rival, Karch Kiraly, was also eliminated in the fourth round of the losers' bracket, coughing up a 5-1 lead in the third game and losing to Adam Jewell and Ian Clark.
"We were in a great position to win that match, " Kiraly said. "We just kind of let things slip away."
On the women's side, top-seeded Elaine Youngs and Barbra Fontana had little problem advancing, sweeping matches in the second and third rounds after a first-round bye.
Second-seeded Holly McPeak and Lisa Arce also advanced to the fourth round and settled down nicely after nearly two months of travel. McPeak and Arce have played in seven international tournaments since winning She Hermosa Beach Open June 10.
"This is the first normal week I've had," Arce said. "We scrimmaged against two younger teams [this week], quality practices we haven't had on the road because it's hard to find time. I think we're feeling a little bit better."