LIFE'S A BEACH MARLA O'HARA, WHO WON THE MANHATTAN BEACH OPEN 14 YEARS AGO, IS STILL KICKING SAND AT 45.
MANHATTAN BEACH - It's 9:30 on Friday morning as the main draw for the women's bracket of the AVP's Manhattan Beach Open is about to get underway. As a decent crowd filters into the portable stands on Court 1, most recognize Holly McPeak, the second seed and one of the game's legendary figures, warming up partner Nicole Branagh.
On the other side of the net, most are hardly even aware that Agoura Hills' Marla O'Hara -- with the wild blonde-tipped bush of hair, gold hoop earrings and turned-up old-school black cap, whipping the ball around with partner Lisa Marshall -- is something of a beach legend herself.
That the 45-year-old O'Hara actually won this event known as the Wimbledon of beach volleyball 14 years ago and has her name on a plaque at the nearby pier is probably lost by these onlookers, along with the fact she has competed in more pro tournaments worldwide than all but three other women in history.
But then, even most opponents who are less than half O'Hara's age aren't up to speed on the player known affectionately as ``Cavewoman'' for her rep over the past 18 years as a screamer and grunter.
``I should just build a sand igloo on the beach and live here, I've been around this place so long,'' O'Hara says to a couple of old-time beach fans who recognize her.
For a mother of two teenagers itching to move out and a varsity coach for the boys' team at Agoura High and the girls at Calabasas High, O'Hara admits that whatever income she scratches together now from volleyball goes toward family snowboarding vacations each winter. An L.A. Sheriff's pension left from her late husband since 2000 is enough financial security.
So why bother still getting sand kicked in your face just for a couple of hundred bucks a season?
``It's always been a lifestyle and a passion of mine and always will be,'' said O'Hara, the mother of 18-year-old Kellie, who plays volleyball at Ventura College, and 16-year-old son Michael, an incoming senior at Agoura High. ``The real difference now is I can enjoy it all more. When I was younger, everything was `Win, win, win.' I see the game, and myself, so differently now, and I'm very realistic.
``And after being through so many tours folding and others sprouting up, I'm just grateful there's a play.''
A three-sport athlete at El Camino College, Cal State L.A. and Cal State Dominguez Hills with a brown belt in karate, the hard-body O'Hara was first coaxed out to the beach by former college teammate Marie Stilo.
But the then-27-year-old, who trained at the time with tour stars like Jackie Silva, PattyDodd and Linda Chisholm, didn't have a handle on the two-player game.
As her boisterous, aggressive nature took over, O'Hara found playing as a way to escape a difficult environment created by an alcoholic husband.
She earned the WPVA's most improved player award the year before winning the Manhattan Beach Open in 1992 with Dennie Shupryt-Knoop. Top-eight finishes with dozens of mix-and-match teammates were more common for O'Hara through the '90s.
Now, O'Hara scrambles to survive through a grueling daylong qualifier just to get to the main draw at each AVP event, since she lacks enough points for a regular Top 25 seeding.
With 60-plus teams trying to get in during Thursday's Manhattan Beach prelim, O'Hara and Marshall grinded out two nasty come-from-behind wins -- three in all -- to nab the 31st spot in the 32-team main bracket.
Friday, after some moral victories in a 21-9, 21-13 loss to the second-seeded team of McPeak-Branagh, O'Hara-Marshall were bounced out by 15th-seed Angie Akers and Heather Lowe, 21-9, 21-6.
Committed to a full season to nurture new partner Marshall, a 32-year-old from Ohio who has been inconsistent on the tour the past five years, O'Hara's teaching skills have been an asset. The two also use former beach star Liz Masakayan as a training coach for workouts at nearby Zuma Beach.
``I feed off her energy and she gets me riled up,'' Marshall said of playing with O'Hara.
Last weekend, O'Hara and Marshall split a $5,000 winner's check at a FIVB invitational satellite event in Korea, and they have three more AVP events to figure out if they'll play together again next season.
McPeak, who has butted heads with O'Hara for three decades and will probably end up listed with her as Nos. 1 and 2 for most domestic tournaments played by a pro beach woman, marvels at the effort these days from O'Hara, eight years her senior.
``We know she's always going to play with a lot of passion, and to go through qualifying week after week, you know she's a diehard,'' said McPeak, who finished third in the Manhattan Beach Open. ``It's great that she's still around.''
O'Hara, who has stayed injury-free all these years, figures the only way she'll leave the beach is kicking and screaming. Just as she is on it during a match.
``I'm sure there are kids we're playing who look at me and say, `Who's this lady?' '' O'Hara said. ``They think they're just going to roll over us. No way.
``As long as I believe I'm going to win and get it done, I'm here. Those `W's will come. And I still want to win.''
7 photos, 4 boxes
(1 -- color) "I should just build a sand igloo on the beach and live here, I've been around this place so long." -- Marla O'Hara
(2 -- color) Marla O'Hara of Agoura Hills competes in the Manhattan Beach Open. O'Hara, who coaches the Agoura High boys' volleyball team and the Calabasas High girls' team, continues to play competitive beach volleyball at 45.
(3) A plaque on the Manhattan Beach Pier commemorates Marla O'Hara's victory in the 1992 Manhattan Beach Open.
(4) At 45, Marla O'Hara of Agoura Hills still is active on the AVP Tour. She celebrates a point with teammate Lisa Marshall during a qualifying match Thursday for the Manhattan Beach Open.
Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
(5) JAMIE GOLD
(6) ROGER GOODELL
(7) MAURICE CLARETT
Box: (1) TOURNAMENT TESTED
Source: AVP, bvbinfo.com
(2) FANTASY BASEBALL
- Bryan Fowler
(3) SUNDAY PUNCH
(4) The Pop Quiz
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 13, 2006|
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