The May/December tandem of Randy Steele and E.J. Lee made history Sunday when they were crowned champions of the Inaugural PTI Reverse Co-ed Grass Volleyball Tournament held under the sunny skies of Navy Hill's baseball field. The unique tournament format, where the guys could not jump in front of a chalked ten-foot line on each side of the court, provided some great volleyball action with 14 other teams joining Steele and Lee in the one-day competition sanctioned by the Northern Mariana Islands Volleyball Association.
The morning started with three pools of five teams each playing a round-robin format to determine the seeding for the double-elimination play later that day. Three teams emerged unscathed from pool play; frisbee/soccer guy Dale Roberts and big-hitting Heather Kennedy earned the first seed, Pacific Games player Mark McDonald and Queen of the Beach Champion, Linda Anastacio-Roberts, were the No. 2 seed, while Steele and Lee were seeded third. Once the double-elimination play started so did the competition, with the top two seeds losing their first games in elimination play. Only one team played with an unblemished record going through pool play and to the winner's bracket finals with a perfect 8-0 record, as Steele and Lee showed great ball control and court coverage to advance to the championship round. “I have to hand it to my partner E.J., she was on fire! I just tried to stay out of her way and let her do her thing,” Steele supposedly said.
Meanwhile, the rest of the field battled it out for the right to play Lee and Steele in the finals. The top seed of Roberts and Kennedy fought their way back to the semifinals to face the powerhouse team of Pacific Games veteran Nina Mosley and Marino Pungiulug. Mosley and Marino proved to be fresher, having played fewer games than Roberts and Kennedy. The semifinal went to a score of 11-9 with Mosley and Pungiulug earning the right to face Lee and Steele in the finals.
As the sun began to set on the perfect day of volleyball, the crowd cheered with anticipation of an exciting finals encounter between the two teams. Randy and E.J. were well rested, but Nina and Marino were firing on all cylinders and eager to knock out the undefeated team into the losers' bracket to force a final game. And that is just want they did. Mosley enjoyed the solid surface of the grass that allowed her to crush the volleyball on several spikes. “Wow! That was great. I can jump so much higher off of grass! My partner was setting me great and I got into a hitting zone,” said Mosley after she and Pungiulug won 15-11 to force a final game.
Steele, a longtime player on the beaches of Saipan, however turned back the hands of time once more. Despite stepping on a rusted, metal stake that would later send him to the ER for cleaning and a shot, he and Lee raised their game to a new level and defeated Mosley and Pungiulug in the final game, 15-13.
The final results were; Steele and Lee in first place, Mosley and Pungiulug in second and Roberts and Kennedy in third. Rob Eply and Morgan Rose won the most inspirational team award, as they knocked Pacific Games veteran Tyce Mister and partner Kelly Butcher into the loser's bracket and then beat the eventual third-place team of Kennedy and Roberts. The organizers would like to thank the generous sponsors that helped make the event a success; Pacific Telecom, Inc., Pacific Trading Co., Pacific Islands Club, and Triple J. Special thanks also go to Beautify CNMI and Whispering Palms School as well as Russ, tournament director E.J. and those who arrived early to mow the grass and set up the courts.