Reigning Kings face toughest test yet | VailDaily.com
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Reigning Kings face toughest test yet

Maisie Crow/Vail Daily Former Vail local Ryan Post spikes the ball Saturday during Men's Open action at the King of the Mountain in Vail.
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VAIL – Former Vail local Ryan Post and teammate, Jamey Martin, played like the two-time defending King of the Mountain Men’s Open champs Saturday.The No. 1-seeded team won both of its matches with relative ease, knocking off Mitch Painovich and Carey Jones in the morning, then taking care of Paige Harrington and Jason Wyrick in two games in the afternoon. Getting back to today’s final will prove to be a more difficult task. “This is the toughest field I’ve ever seen at this tournament,” Post said. “It’s definitely a better field on paper. I’ve just been out here watching and there are a lot of guys who have been playing real well, who’ve been meshing real well. It’s a solid turnout.”Proof that the top-three finishers in this year’s tourney could look entirely different than that of last year’s podium could be found on all three sand courts Saturday.Shayne Wright of Castle Rock, who was on the runner-up team in last year’s Open, was the only other only player from the 2004 podium to remain undefeated and in the winners’ bracket with Post and Martin. The men’s field started off with 28 teams, 12 of whom lost twice to be eliminated. Of the remaining 16 teams, four undefeated squads remained in the winners’ bracket, with the remaining dozen of one-loss teams set to square off in the losers’ bracket.

Neil Rooney, Wright’s second-place partner from last year, won his first match with partner, Tony Mazzullo, but then got beat by Curtis Griffin and Pete Kucera in the afternoon.The first game in the best-of-three was a close 21-19 win for Griffin and Kucera. In the second game, Griffin and Kucera found their stride, outhitting and outsmarting the duo on the other side of the net to sweep the match with a decisive 21-14 win.Kucera, who finished fifth last year, said he’s been fighting knee injuries for the past few years, but commented Saturday that he feels completely back. Griffin, until Saturday, had not played in the King of the Mountain for a couple of years.After winning all three of their matches to earn shot at the defending champs today at 10 a.m., Kucera served fair warning to everyone that he and Griffin shouldn’t be taken lightly.”Curtis and I are a little old and semi-retired, but when we want to come back, watch out,” he said.Added Griffin, “We’ve been talking about playing together this year, but it’s the first time. We played in a little King event together a while back and we thought about it. It feels like (today) we ironed some kinks out and we’re feeling more and more comfortable. Also, we don’t have to take a long road through the loser’s bracket. So, that’s good.”Big fish

While Griffin and Kucera’s streak of wins proved the duo is a bonafide contender today, the two most likely to unseat Martin and Post are tournament first-timers Riley Salmon and Chris Seifert, both of the U.S. National Team.Salmon was an outside hitter on the Olympic indoor team that finished fourth last summer in Athens, Greece. Seifert, who is a setter at the indoor level, was an alternate. The two just recently returned from playing professional indoor ball in Europe for the past six months.Seifert said he and Salmon had the week off from training with the National Team, so the two convinced their coach to let them make the trip to Vail to play this weekend with the promise they wouldn’t get hurt. “This is the first time we’ve been to Vail,” Seifert said. “Riley has played a handful of times in the MotherLode (in Aspen). This is my first day out on the beach this summer. So, we’re a little bit rusty.”Though Seifert said it, the duo didn’t look out-of-synch. Salmon looked sunburned, but that was about it. The No. 2 seed cruised through its opening slate of matches, finishing the afternoon with a 21-19, 21-12 dismantling of Adam Rubel and Loric Box.Before joining the National Team and making the life decision to play abroad, Salmon played on the AVP Tour for close to two years – thus explaining why he looked so at home in the sand. “For me, indoor is paying my bills,” he said. “I’m making a lot more money there than I can out here. As far as vibe goes and hanging out, I love playing beach. If you’re one of the top-four or -five guys on the AVP, you can make what we make overseas. But, other than that, it’s really tough every year.”

As for the possibility of playing Martin and Post in the finals, Seifert was pretty clear on the team goals for the weekend.”Riley knows them pretty well, and they seem like good guys,” he said. “But, we came to win.”Height mattersHarris, and partner, Ryan Lindstrom, came to win also.The tallest tandem at the King of the Mountain earned the right to play Seifert and Salmon today at 10 a.m., with a right to advance to the semifinals.The two won a hard-fought match against last year’s third-place team of Dave Rohn and Scott Wright after two earlier wins in the morning. Harris goes about 6-foot-4, while Lindstrom is 6-foot-8.

“We’ve really never played together before because we both play left side,” Harris said. “This time he’s playing his offside, but he’s such a big, gangly tall player that he does well there. For us to come in and understand that where our strength is probably on our defense, that’s worked well. Our defense has really stepped up. There was a lot of scrappy digging and a lot of blocks.”While Rohn and Wright were sent down to the loser’s bracket, that doesn’t mean they still don’t have a shot at the final. Along with Mazzullo and Rooney, the two have a chance to emerge from the 12 teams in the lower bracket to play for the King of the Mountain title.The crown awaits. As to whether new Kings will be crowned, or whether Post and Martin will find themselves on similar footing remains to be seen.Women’s resultsThere was a similar storyline to Saturday’s women’s Open action.While defending champs, Krista Swartzendruber and Angela Knopf, worked their way through the winner’s bracket with two straight wins, a worthy opponent was chewing up teams on the bracket’s other end.Diana Pascua, an AVP pro who finished second in last year’s MotherLode, and partner, Paige Davis, also were one of the four women’s teams to go undefeated on Day 1.

Pascua, who has family in Vail, asked Davis to make the trip out with her from San Diego, Calif., to get some added tournament experience. While Pascua is an established pro, Davis just finished up a Division I indoor career at the Univerisity of Virginia. Having just moved to San Diego with AVP aspirations, Davis jumped at the opportunity.”I have family here and I was going to come anyway, no matter what,” Pascua said. “She’s been training for AVP and I’ve played all this year. It’s been fun. She’s great. She’s so athletic, so it’s easy. I think offensively we’re both pretty versatile.”Partners Pamela Lubben and Kris Bredehoft and Dawn Tischauser and Ingrid Rooslid were the other two teams to remain undefeated Saturday.Eight one-loss teams were still alive as well in the loser’s bracket, with the field of 16 pared down to today’s 12.Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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