VAIL, Colorado - The King of the Mountain volleyball tournament saw its most heated moment in years Sunday when a referee scoring error in the final set brought tensions on the court to a boiling point.
Referee Ryan Ammerman, in a moment of confusion during a side out, improperly awarded two points to the eventual winners, Dana Camacho and Andrei Belov, bringing play to a stand still and causing an emotional breakdown in Camacho and Belov's opponent Dave Smith.
"I thought I had it right, so I stuck by my guns," Ammerman said after the match. "I had it in my head, but I've been told I was wrong."
According to tournament custom, the third-place team is tasked with officiating finals after their team has been eliminated and awarded third.
Ammerman, beer in hand, was officiating alone after teammate Vince Robbins left the tournament immediately following their match for third. Ammerman said between being forced to officiate alone and the wind blowing the flip-number scoreboard around, he must have made an error.
"I found out after that I made a mistake," he said.
Smith, who was on last year's winning team with Camacho, threatened to all-out refuse to keep playing after the error and let out his frustrations on one of the Paul Mitchell signs surrounding the court, dismantling it with his hands in a fit of rage.
Smith was contrite after the match.
"It's hard; that's a big difference. We were up by two, and then we're all of a sudden tied," Smith said. "They made a couple good plays after that, and then we were really frustrated. It was tough."
Camacho said after - and during - the match that he knew a mistake had been made, but it wasn't his job to officiate.
"The referee sucked, he miscounted, we got an advantage, and then we took advantage of that advantage," Camacho said. "When the guys in the NFL and NBA start being honest, maybe I'll think about it."
Camacho, who stands approximately 5-foot-10 and smokes cigarettes between matches, may not look like a dominant force on the court, but he understands the game better than anyone else out there, said Leon Fell, tournament director. Among the tricks in Camacho's bag was the "sky ball," a type of beach-volleyball-only serve that skies the ball so high in the air, it comes down in a straight line and is difficult to see, as well as retrieve. Camacho was the only player to successfully employ the crafty maneuver in the final rounds.
"Macho Camacho, if he were 4 inches taller and practiced more, would be one of the best players in the world," Fell said. "He understands the mental game out there, as well as the physical."
Camacho said as soon as he saw his opponents begin to mentally break down, he capitalized. An ante up in his trash talking was clearly audible after the confusion.
"That's mine, little boy," he said several times to opponent Skylar DelSol, Smith's 21-year-old playing partner, during the final set.
Leading up to that game, Camacho was seated at the sidelines of Smith and DelSol's semifinal match, casually smoking cigarettes and studying their play.
"Get over here and watch these guys," he told Belov. "This is who we're playing next, so study them."
After the mistake in the final set, the crowd started overwhelmingly favoring Smith and DelSol, cheering wildly during their points and remaining silent during Camacho and Belov's.
"With the crowd with us, we came back a little and had some opportunities," Smith said. "It was a close game."
In the end, those two points would have been enough to keep Smith and DelSol fighting, as they only lost by three points.
"I'm a little disappointed, but they played well, and those things happen," Smith said.
In the women's open finals, it took three close sets to determine a winner, but Abra Amwake and Amanda Wiggins finished off their opponents with determination.
The two came in from San Diego just for the tournament.
"They made some really good adjustments; they played really good," said Amwake of her opponents, Christina Shao and Ashley Kaneta. "Normally, I don't hit hard, but they kept digging all my shots."
History was made in the A Division - one division below the most competitive open division - when 16-year-old Katie Pyles, of Highlands Ranch, became the youngest person ever to be on a winning A Division team.
Pyles is living in Newport Beach, Calif., this summer to train at beach volleyball and came to town just to compete at the King of the Mountain.
"I'm going back on Tuesday," she said. "So it was a quick trip. But it was definitely worth it."
Her playing partner was 17-year-old Nola Basey, of Lyons.
The men's A Division also was won by a team that traveled from out of state to be here. Michael Wilson, of Laramie, Wyo., and George Martinez, of Albuquerque, took top honors.