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<b>BALLS OF FIRE:</b> Passionate volleyballers Vladia Vignato (left) and Marla O’Hara spiked and set in the sand of East Beach.

Paul Wellman (file)

BALLS OF FIRE: Passionate volleyballers Vladia Vignato (left) and Marla O’Hara spiked and set in the sand of East Beach.


On Women Athletes and Semana Nautica

World Cup and Beach Volleyball Tourney Grow Respect for Women’s Sports


When a female sport achieves genuine stature — such as the Women’s World Cup of soccer — some fans of the male persuasion can’t handle the truth. So they attempt to belittle the events. It’s a sign of progress that the wise guys no longer go unchallenged.

Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated carelessly tweeted that women’s sports are “not worth watching,” and he found himself the target of a “Really?” routine conducted by former Saturday Night Live sidekicks Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler. That’s like playing tennis against a mixed doubles team of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Small wonder Benoit tweeted an apology over his remark.

In one of my favorite lines, Meyers asks if watching the NFL Draft — “a full day to find out if your favorite college player is going to have to go mansion shopping in Jacksonville or Tampa Bay” — is really a guy’s idea of excitement.

For my money, the Women’s World Cup has been highly entertaining. Soccer matches don’t get much more intense than the Germany-France quarterfinal, which came down to the final penalty kick after both teams beat each other to exhaustion. You like blood and guts? Kheira Hamraoui of France was clamoring to get back on the field even though blood was streaming down her face. Likewise, Kelley O’Hara of the United States spewed blood after a collision against China.

There was an outstanding display of competitive spirit in the final women’s match of the California Beach Volleyball Association Masters Championships at East Beach last Saturday. Santa Barbara’s Jackie Campbell and Ilga Celmins of Aptos paired off against Marla O’Hara of Oxnard and Vladia Vignato of L.A.

Campbell, 51, has been hitting balls on the beach since 1986, when she graduated from UCSB. She and Celmins, a frequent partner, were quietly in sync as they won the opener of the best-of-three match, 21-19, and moved out to an 8-2 lead in the second set.

O’Hara, 54, was a boisterous presence. Her energy belied the years she pursued the sport: 239 events in the old, cash-poor women’s pro tour and only one title (Manhattan Beach 1992) to show for it. She refused to go down without a fight Saturday. “It’s all good. It’s all good,” she shouted. “We got this. Let’s get one back right here. One at a time. Just chip away.” Vignato, a fresh 40, got the message. She and O’Hara seemingly took over the second set with a 19-14 lead. “Time out while I empty the sand out of my ears,” said O’Hara, who had flung herself freely around the court.

Campbell and Celmins came back with a run of their own and went up 20-19, a chance to serve for match point. They had two more chances, at 21-20 and 22-21 — the latter when Celmins’s long hit barely caught the back line and O’Hara assured her, “You got it” — but each time they were denied the winning edge. Instead, O’Hara and Vignato prevailed, 24-22, to force a deciding game, and they won that one, too, 15-10, scoring the last five points when O’Hara’s serves swerved crazily into a stiff wind.

“It was fun, and painful,” said Campbell. She and Celmins settled for second place for the fourth consecutive year. But in a magnanimous gesture, O’Hara presented Campbell with the spoils of her victory: a Yater surfboard valued at $1,000.

The beach volleyball tournament was an early event in the 78th Annual Semana Nautica Summer Sports Festival, a parade of participatory events on land and sea. It resumes Thursday, July 2, with the Reef & Run ocean swimming series off the Cabrillo Bathhouse at East Beach. Two races for people with strong minds and bodies are the Fourth of July 15-Kilometer Run, starting at 8 a.m. at San Marcos High, and the Six-Mile Ocean Swim, from Goleta Beach to Hendry’s (Arroyo Burro) Beach, starting at 9 a.m. Sunday, July 5.

NATIONAL TRACK CHAMP: Barbara Nwaba of the Santa Barbara Track Club (SBTC) joined some elite company last weekend at the U.S.A. Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. In winning the heptathlon, she became the sixth highest-scoring American woman in the history of the event. She accumulated 6,500 points, also the fifth highest score in the world this year.

“Fifth in the world? That’s amazing,” said Nwaba, who will lead the U.S. contingent at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, starting August 22.

Entering the final event, the 800-meter run, Nwaba had a slim eight-point lead over three-time champion Sharon Day-Monroe. “Sharon needed to run a half-second faster to outscore me,” Nwaba said. She also knew that she had a chance to hit 6,500 points — obliterating her previous best of 6,342. “Coach [Josh Priester] told me I had to run 2:07.12,” she said. “I ran 2:07 twice this season [best 2:07.37], so I knew I could do it with a little more adrenaline. I was pretty much running scared. In the last lap, I thought, ‘I’d better not lose this.’ Coming toward the line, I still felt strong. Nobody was in front of me. I knew I had it.” Nwaba was timed in 2:07.13, just enough to hit her scoring target. Day-Monroe, the only active U.S. heptathlete to score higher (6,550 in 2013) trailed by two seconds and finished with a total of 6,452.

Nwaba was runner-up in the nationals last year and also in the 2012 NCAA Championships, when she was a UCSB senior. She set two other personal bests in her victorious competition, sprinting to a time of 23.76 seconds in the 200 and exceeding 20 feet in the long jump for the first time with a leap of 20′5¼″.

Two other Santa Barbara athletes placed fifth on the final day of the nationals at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field: heptathlete Lindsay Lettow of the SBTC with a barrier-breaking score of 6,023, and former UCSB half-miler Ryan Martin in the men’s 800 in 1:46:04.

BIG-LEAGUE BUZZ: Goleta’s James McCann is creating quite a stir as a rookie catcher for the Detroit Tigers. He slammed a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday to give the Tigers a 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox. It was his second walk-off home run in 38 days and the third round-tripper of his career. His first also was unusual — an inside-the-park home run.

McCann, who starred at Dos Pueblos High and Arkansas, has a .254 batting average and is solid behind the plate, throwing out more than 50 percent of attempted base stealers (13 of 25), the best performance of any major league catcher.



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