WHEN THE sports-and-entertainment agent Leonard Armato bought and consolidated the men's and women's pro beach volleyball tours in 2001, he thought he was just making a sound business decision. And maybe he was, but he was also inadvertently becoming a matchmaker. The blending of the divisions inevitably led to fraternization, and there are now 10 couples on the AVP tour. "I liken it to movie stars who spend a lot of time working together," says Armato. "Like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie after doing Mr. & Mrs. Smith." He ought to know: Six years ago Armato married Holly McPeak, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist who is now a member of the tour's 12th ranked team. As the AVP heads into the Brooklyn Open at Coney Island this weekend, here's a look at how love is shaping the world of beach volleyball.
Ranking: 12. 2003's top defensive player
Ranking: 1. Two-time AVP MVP
WHEN THEY first met at a training session, recalls Walsh, "he tried to slam a ball in my face." Now, they've become homebodies, even when they're on the road. Says Walsh, "We are big fans of room service."
MARRIED TWO YEARS
Ranking: 11. 2006 Rookie of the Year
Ranking: 8. 2006 Rookie of the Year
"SHE HAS the lead in mini golf; I have the lead in chess and H-O-R-S-E," says Keenan. Competitive? Their favorite stop while touring was Savannah, where they wound up at a dive bar playing darts against locals. Alas, Ross laments, "they won."
DATING FIVE MONTHS
Ranking: 13. Five-time event champ
Ranked No. 5, second straight year
BOTH WERE coming off relationships when they met at a players' party in Montreal. "Everyone was dancing, drinking," says Wacholder. "We were shy, but as we were leaving, a friend got us to exchange e-mail addresses." A month later they went out.
DATING SINCE 2002
Ranking: 18. Five years on tour
Ranking: 9. Fourth in aces in 2006
THEY'VE DATED for 18 months and last week Medel proposed on the sand outside their oceanfront home in Hermosa Beach, Calif. "We're beach bums," said Medel, explaining his proposal spot. "It seemed fitting."
ENGAGED LAST WEEK!
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (CASEY)
JOHN BIEVER (WALSH)
KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES (ROSS)
MELISSA MACATEE/BEIMAGES SPORTS (KEENAN)
NICK DOAN/GETTY IMAGES (SCOTT)
HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES (WACHOLDER)
WARREN WIMMER/ICON SMI (LEWIS)
KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES (MEDEL)