Mother’s Day arrived a week early at Santa Barbara’s West Beach. The women’s final of the AVP Nivea Tour volleyball tournament last Sunday included three mothers — the championship team of Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan, and Dianne DeNocochea on the other side of the net.
Wearing hot-pink bikinis in their chance to win a second Santa Barbara title — their last AVP triumph came here in September of 2008 — Davis and Johnson Jordan put on a dazzling display of synchronicity in a 24-22, 21-16 victory over DeNocochea and Brittany Hochevar. “They played so smoothly,” said DeNocochea, the tallest (6’4”) and oldest (42) player on the tour.
The 36-year-old winners, neither topping 6’, have been volleyball teammates since 1991, when they played at UCLA, and in 1997 they began a partnership on the beach that has extended through 101 AVP tournaments and 39 international events, including the 2000 Olympics. They took the same breaks to have babies — Davis a son, Mya, and daughter, Victoria; Johnson Jordan a daughter, Jaylen, and son, Kory.
Davis lives in Valencia, and her brood was present throughout the weekend. Johnson Jordan’s children were home in Pennsylvania with their father, Kevin Jordan, the chaplain for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Religion runs in both families; Davis’s brother-in-law, David Goss, is pastor of the Light & Life Church in Goleta.
Athleticism is another strong component of both families. Davis is the daughter of a former NBA player Cleveland Buckner, and Johnson Jordan’s father is Olympic legend Rafer Johnson. He was the champion of a grueling two-day decathlon at the 1960 games in Rome, and Jenny must have inherited his ability to grind it out. With her father and mother, Betsy, watching every serve, pass, set, hit, block, and dig over three days, Jenny and Annett had to work overtime to reach the final.
Their semifinal was an epic 17-21, 25-23, 19-17 victory over Rachel Scott and Elaine Youngs. They trailed 1-6 in the third game, but with Rafer Johnson exhorting them to focus on each point, one at a time, they clawed their way back. Scott (formerly Wacholder), who gave birth to a son, Koa, a year ago, was exhausted at the end of the match.
“If I’m going to lose to anyone, I’m glad it’s them,” said Scott, one of the tour’s best defenders. “They’re the greatest girls in the world. Jenny was shooting the ball everywhere. I had trouble digging her. They deserved it.”
Meanwhile, DeNocochea and Hochevar upset top-seeded Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh in the other semifinal, signaling a shift in the AVP landscape. The women’s tour used to be dominated by May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh — who is pregnant with her second son, due this month — but the first two tournaments of 2010 have seen four different women’s finalists.
May-Treanor remains the queen of the sport, but the winner of 106 championships is revealing that her life has not been all fun and games. In the forthcoming autobiography Misty, Digging Deep in Volleyball and Life, she reportedly details her past struggles with alcoholic parents and a sexual assault in college. “I don’t want people to think I just wear a bathing suit and play volleyball,” May-Treanor said on West Beach. “The game is just a game.”
It is the men’s tour that now has the seemingly invincible team, Santa Barbara native Todd Rogers and the insanely gifted Phil Dalhausser. They have swept 18 of their 19 matches so far this year, faltering only in an early round of an international tournament in Brazil before they roared to the title. A day after dispatching Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal for their third Santa Barbara Open crown, Rogers and Dalhausser flew to China for this week’s Shanghai Open, and next they will head to Europe for two more events. They had one concern: the pinky finger on Rogers’s left hand that had been bent back by a wayward ball.
“The pinky is huge and swollen,” Rogers said Monday. But the way Dalhausser has been playing, swatting balls out of the air like a thin King Kong on top of the Empire State Building, Rogers can afford to play one-handed. Said one player when asked what it would take to beat the reigning Olympic champions: “Hit Phil on the knees with a crowbar.”
RECEIVING PLAUDITS: Amahl Thomas, one of the best football receivers to come out of Santa Barbara, relived his days with the Santa Barbara High Dons and UCSB last month. Thomas was honored at the annual SBHS Ye Ole Gang barbecue along with his 1980s schoolmate Faha Banks, who starred in softball and basketball, and Payne Green, a three-sport standout in the early ’50s. At a special breakfast on the UCSB campus, Thomas joined Gaucho football players from 1984-91 who belatedly received letterman’s jackets in recognition of their efforts.
“It was an awesome weekend,” said Thomas, who scored the last touchdown in UCSB football history. He had 13 catches and three TDs in their final game against Cal Poly Pomona. Throwing the ball to him was John Barnes, a quarterback who later transferred to UCLA and was a fifth-stringer at the start of the 1992 season. Injuries decimated the Bruins’ ranks, and Barnes found himself starting against USC in the Rose Bowl. He passed for 384 yards as the Bruins stunned the Trojans, 38-37.
Rick Candaele, UCSB’s terminal head coach, called Barnes “the last great, glorious gasp of Gaucho football.” Candaele now coaches the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team, and Thomas, who teaches at Claremont Graduate University, is the Stags’ offensive coordinator.
“BIG DADDY”: That’s how Mark French was referred to by his players when he coached UCSB women’s basketball. French was a titan of composure last Saturday when he presided over a memorial service for his son Matthew. Former Gauchos came from all over the state and, in the case of Florida State associate head coach Cori Close, from across the country, to laugh and cry at the gathering. They remembered Matthew as a remarkably sweet and sensitive kid. French declared: “He was a great son, is a great son, and always will be a great son.”
GAMES OF THE WEEK: The Channel League Track & Field Finals will feature torrid high school competition at 3 p.m. Friday, May 7, at La Playa Stadium. It will be one of the last events at the SBCC facility before it is closed May 17-
August 31 while a new synthetic field is installed and the track is prepared for renovation. …The fourth annual Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon goes off at 7 a.m. Saturday in Santa Ynez. The field of 3,000 runners (sold-out three months ago) includes defending champion Mark Batres of Rowland Heights (a noteworthy time of 1:05:44 last year) and Santa Barbara’s Andrea McLarty, women’s winner of the S.B. International Marathon in December. Rolling road closures will be in effect as the race proceeds through Los Olivos and Ballard Canyon to the finish line in Solvang. … The Mission City Brawlin’ Betties take on the West Coast Derby Knockouts in roller derby action at Earl Warren Showgrounds, 5 p.m. Saturday. … The Santa Barbara Breakers host the L.A. Buzz in a Saturday-night West Coast Basketball League game at the SBCC Sports Pavilion. The Breakers defeated the Marina Del Rey Advantage, 108-94 in their home opener last weekend. Bryce Sheldon had 28 points, Tim Taylor, 25, and James Powell, UCSB’s graduating senior, pitched in with 14.
THEME OF THE MONTH: Santa Barbara’s cycling enthusiasts devote the month of May to a series of events promoting their activity for commuting and recreation. This year it has an official moniker: CycleMAYnia (cyclemaynia.org).
Here’s wishing everybody safe riding. Don’t be like the inebriated lads who recently tried to pedal a four-wheel cycle down one of the steepest hills in Santa Barbara, with bone-shattering consequences. Title it “The Surrey with the Lunatic Fringe on Top.”