Monday, March 3, 2008

Baxter, Steele top Marianas Cup

Sunday, February 24, 2008, ESPN SportsCenter transcript:

"U.S. professional beach volleyball player Paul Baxter and self-proclaimed, Saipan volleyball legend Randy Steele earned another year's worth of bragging rights by topping the men's division of the 16th Annual Marianas Cup Beach Volleyball Festival held over the weekend at the Pacific Islands Club sand courts. Baxter and Steele completed their title bid with a dominating 21-13 win over deposed, defending champs Daisuke Matsumoto and Shigekazu Fujimatsu of Japan in the championship match. The Baxter and Steele tandem, champions in the 2004 edition, breezed through this year's tournament without a loss."

The Saipan Tribune article here.

The photo to the left is a personal classic and I did manage to get the ball around 6'9" Phil Dalhausser on this play. Paul and I beat Phil and my would-have-been partner, Chris Nelson 25-24 in this game early Sunday. Phil will most likely be half of the duo representing the U.S. in this Summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. This win was critical since afterward we had to win just two more games to make it to the championship. Phil and Chris however had to win five games through the loser's bracket to make it to the final. They fell two short and finished fourth and had it been us, I would have likely gassed out before five games. Saipan players also won the raffle to play with the two pro players from Japan, finishing in 5th and 7th.

I'm sure that my practice partners are shocked, and even a bit disgusted that I've now pulled out two Marianas Cup wins in the last five years. No other Saipanese has won it in the five years since the raffle-for-the-visiting-pros format began. Before you start throwing roses, I'll admit that just maybe I rode the back of my pro partner all the way both times around. But I do take pride that in the five years of this format, there have been at least twelve pro player/Saipan player partnerships and I have the only two wins. Ok, enough of that before someone regurgitates.

I was supposed to play the tourney with my buddy Kevin Carey of PIC fame. Actually, I guess that he's more famous for being married to Mieko Carey, Saipan's top triathletebabe. We finished ninth together last year, good enough for the highest finish among Saipan duos in a rather dismal Saipan showing, but we now know our limits and were planning on just playing for fun, not even bidding for a pro and maybe even.......drink beer in between games. Yeah, we're crazy like that. Well he got hurt in a bike accident and withdrew a week before the tourney. That was my first stroke of luck.

Luckily Chris Nelson was available however he doesn't play anything just for fun so now I had one week to get a serious face and a tad of conditioning in. I also knew that he would want to bid big for the pros and we did........and we got the Americanos! It was only fair that since it was one of his tickets pulled in the drawing that he get to play with Phil Dalhausser, the reigning MVP on the U.S. pro tour. I would be matched up with Paul Baxter, my partner in our victorious tourney run in 2004, the first year that he came out to Saipan. He's been here every year since. That was my second stroke of luck for Paul doesn't just come here every year for a tropical vacation. He comes here to win and he was very hungry for not winning the last three trips.

My relaxing volleyball weekend now became one of pressure and high anxiety. I didn't sleep well that night.

I also played lousy all day Saturday. Luckily we won our pool despite a few excrutiatingly close calls.

On Sunday I started to get my groove, especially with the all-important ball control and setting on two off of the serve, very important when playing with a big-hitting pro partner and when every serve is aimed at me. After beating Phil and Chris, we came-from-behind to beat a Japanese team here for the first time, practice partners of the defending champion Japanese team. Now I'm in way over my head, all three guys on the court are playing at a level way beyond mine but we pulled it out. This team later eliminated Phil and Chris then lost to their buddies to finish third.

So the championship match was a rematch of the winner's bracket final played a few hours earlier where we dismantled these guys before getting to take a rest while everyone else slugged it out in the loser's bracket. They were tired and it didn't take long before it showed that they were also intimidated by Paul's big block. They had a few hitting errors and Paul blocked a few balls to give us an early, comfortable lead. I even picked up a shot around Paul's block into my forecourt and converted my patented along-the-net cutty that got me KSPN's play of the week. Sweet! Our opponents lobbed serves to me knowing that they couldn't serve Paul but I was putting balls right on top of the net for him, he was cranking them and there was no stopping it. By the time it was done, the guy needed a massage because he carried my a.. again, just like in '04.

So my relaxing weekend of volleyball turned into sleepless Friday and Saturday nights followed by a stressful Sunday ending in a euphoric victory that I'll always remember. It was also nice that we split a $3800 first-place prize! Yet here's the kicker. I also won the grand prize in the always well-endowed tournament raffle, a three-night stay at PIC with gold card, meaning three meals daily included. That's another $700-plus value. Add the brunch-for-two at the Hyatt won in the raffle as well and it was a very memorable and gratifying weekend.

On the flip-side, a few months earlier I had lost a bet to the Devil himself, Russ Quinn and had to play my first game of the tournament in Speedos, which I didn't have so old underwear had to substitute. Many cameras and video cameras went into action during that game. I can only hope that I don't find portions of that game on YouTube someday. My apologies to our young, teenage opponents for that game who surely were traumatized by the experience.

At the tourney banquet (l-r), current U.S. #1 Phil Dalhausser, Marianas Cup champs steeleonsaipan and AVP pro Paul Baxter, Japan's newest courtroom hero, Bruce (The Chest) Berline and KSPN's Chris Nelson, the Stone Phillips of the Pacific and 4th place finisher with Phil.

2004 Marianas Cup: where the Baxter, Steele legend began.

6/23/08, Dalhausser closes in on Olympics as Americans dominate event in Paris.


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I prefer to call Nelson the Ron Burgundy of Micronesia.

Anonymous said...

This Marianas Cup double makes you, Randy Steele, a lock for the CNMI volleyball Hall of Fame. Strong work...Dougie would be proud.


Beverly Mae said...

Congrats Randy! You were awesome!=)

bigsoxfan said...

Ah, Randy. Words fail me. Your description of the tourney will live forever in my mind, when I think of humility and abject objectivity. Glad you won or I might have thought you a boaster.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Humility? Baahhh, how boring. I did say "self-proclaimed" legend, I don't assume that all others tow that line. Thanks for the congrats though....whoops, missed that one too. Oh well, for once I'll agree with Rononomics.....and Dougie is proud. Doug Mauro that is.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Via e-mail, 6/25/08:

Thanks partner!

Yeah I finally got a big guy again, so i can just play defense. I do an alright job blocking, but all my success has come from playing "d" full time. Not to mention i have pretty much been doing it my whole career.

I have you on speed-dial, so stay ready.

Hope all is well,


oraclenerd said...

I knew a Chris Nelson once who moved to Saipain about 15 years ago. Came straight from the University of Florida...

He did resemble Ron Burgundy too (hair wise anyway)...I wonder if that's him?

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Yes, same guy. We came out here together in 1994, he straight from UF as you said and myself from San Diego.

If you'd like to leave your e-mail, I'll forward it to him.