Made For Each Other How in tune are Misty May and Kerri Walsh, who are dominating the women's pro tour? Let us count the ways

June 06, 2004

Ask half a dozen beach volleyball veterans why Misty May and
Kerri Walsh are the most dominant pro duo in history and heavy
favorites to win a gold medal in Athens, and you'll get six
answers: It's their quickness, their range, their balance, their
teamwork, their versatility, their killer instinct. Adds their
coach, former world champion Dane Selznick, "Their personalities
are perfect for each other."

May, 26, and Walsh, 25, were discussing this last opinion as they
sipped coffee in a hotel bar on the eve of an AVP Tour event in
Huntington Beach, Calif., last week. "Misty and I are both
relentless, but she has this quiet focus and determination when
she plays," said the 6'3" Walsh. "When she's pissed off, I can
see her talking to herself, and I feed off that. Then when I
freak out--I get all anxious and fired up--I just look at her,
and she calms me down."

The 5'9" May turned and, as still as a koala, regarded her
partner. Before she could speak, Walsh said preemptively, "I'm
spastic. Go ahead, you can say it!" Then Walsh added, "This is
our fourth season together. I know what she's thinking." So you
can add near telepathic communication to the long list of
attributes that give May and Walsh an aura of invincibility. That
aura, Selznick estimates, gives them as many as seven points
anytime they walk on the court.

Of course, nothing demoralizes an opponent like incessant
winning. A 21-12, 21-13 victory over Barbra Fontana and Jennifer
Kessy in the final at Huntington Beach on Sunday gave May and
Walsh their 86th straight match win, their 15th straight title (a
pro beach record for both women and men), their 26th overall and
$14,500, which brought their career total to $813,990, second on
the women's alltime list.

"I've never seen a women's team like them--the way they move and
how quickly they back off the net from blocking to play good
defense," says Karch Kiraly, the winningest player in beach
volleyball history. "Kerri reaches higher than I do, but she is
playing on a net that is eight inches lower than the men's net.
What she does at 6'3" would be like somebody 6'11" moving like a
cat on the men's net. That's why it's all over on the women's
side."

Like great power couples of yore, May-Walsh was a match made by
parents. At the Sydney Olympics, Walsh, a four-time All-America
and two-time NCAA champion at Stanford between 1996 and '99, was
a starting outside hitter for the U.S. indoor squad (which would
finish fourth). May, a two-time All-America who had led Long
Beach State to an undefeated season and the NCAA title in 1998,
was partnered with Holly McPeak in the beach event. (They would
place fifth.) While hanging out at the Olympians' family
hospitality tent, Barbara and Butch May half-jokingly said to Tim
and Margie Walsh that Kerri "should come outside" and play with
their daughter.

As it turned out, both young women wanted a change. A torn
abdominal muscle and the stress of trying to qualify for the
Olympics during her rookie beach season had made May want to
"step back and really learn the game at a slower pace," she says.
Walsh, meanwhile, had burned out on the indoor game. The parents
talked, the daughters e-mailed each other, and in January 2001
Walsh, who had never played the beach game, scrimmaged with May.
"That first weekend Kerri looked like a human turnstile, getting
all turned around," says Butch May, a beach pro legend who played
on the '68 U.S. Olympic indoor team, "but her talent was
obvious."

Playing on the international FIVB tour during their first two
years together, May and Walsh were ranked fifth in the world in
2001 and first in 2002 and earned $320,890 in prize money. Last
year they added the AVP Tour to their schedule and started their
winning streak--which, they say, they never think about. "Our
goal has always been to be at the top of the podium in Athens,"
says May. "We feel the only team that can beat us is ourselves.
If we do what we need to do and prepare the way we can...."

Walsh finishes the thought: "We're a bitch to play."

COLOR PHOTO: HOLLY STEIN/ICON SMI BEACH PROPERTY Walsh's height and her ability to dig out saves are two reasons she and May (top, left) own the women's game. COLOR PHOTO: DANNY MOLOSHOK/GETTY IMAGES (INSET) [See caption above]

Who's Number Two?
Competition for the second spot on the U.S. women's team is tight

Kerri Walsh and Misty May sewed up their Olympic berth several
months ago, but the race for the second U.S. spot will go down to
the wire. By beating their rivals Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson
Jordan in the final of a World Tour event in Shanghai last
weekend, Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs regained the lead, but
their margin is thin--2,734 points to 2,702--and the duos plan to
compete in three more international qualifying tournaments. "They
are both great teams," says Walsh, "so either way the U.S. will
be very well represented." --K.A.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)