The 26-year-old…

by Ryan Schuster

The 26-year-old native of Copacabana Beach, Brazil raised his arms in jubilation at the beach volleyball court on the East River Flats Park as the crowd chanted, “Jose … Jose … Jose.”
Just moments earlier, Jose Loiola ended the 1996 Association of Volleyball Professionals Miller Lite Twin Cities Open with a strong jump-serve ace, that ignited the crowd.
But this was not a typical sports audience. They were dressed only in swimsuits, shorts and T-shirts and when Loiola ended the tournament, they responded by jumping to their feet and starting to cheer wildly for the fan-favorite.
Loiola’s teammate, Adam Johnson, was more subdued by the victory.
“Jose came up with a big serve at the end, and we won,” he said. “A W is a W.”
The ace polished off a 15-13 victory for the tandem over favorites Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes in the tournament’s championship game.
Loiola recorded 10 kills, four blocks, four digs and three aces in the championship match.
“(Loiola) is on fire,” said Johnson. “And when he’s on fire, it lifts both him and me.”
Johnson finished the game with 13 kills of his own to lead all players.
The team of Johnson and Loiola went undefeated during the weekend at the three-day tournament, going 6-0 to notch their third victory this season on the AVP tour.
“We, as a team, played together,” said Loiola. “(Johnson) just motivated me to play better.”
Kiraly and Steffes went 5-2, good enough for second in the double-elimination tournament, with both of their losses coming against Johnson and Loiola.
Two weeks from now, both Kiraly and Steffes will represent the United States in the summer Olympics in the inaugural beach volleyball competition.
They will be joined by the team of Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh, who finished in a four-way tie for ninth place this weekend.
Beach volleyball debuts this summer as a medal sport, skipping the usual demonstration sport process.
The U.S. figures to do well this summer, as the 1984 and 1988 indoor volleyball Olympic teams, anchored by Kiraly, both took home gold medals.
Commenting about the Olympics switch from indoor to beach volleyball, Kiraly said, “It’s awesome. I hope we have a good summer.”
The mere fact that beach volleyball has attained Olympic status so quickly only serves to further enhance the popularity of the AVP.
Formed in 1980 as a small beach volleyball league with an even smaller budget and only a regional base of players and fans in California, the AVP was simply struggling to survive.
It is now a national professional sports league with major sponsors and a strong player and fan base.
The Miller Lite Twin Cities Open proved just how far the AVP has come in those 16 years.
Back in the early 1980’s, players would compete for a pair of shorts, a free dinner and the pride of being the best on the beach for a weekend.
Conversely, the AVP gave away $125,000 in prizes this weekend, with the first-place team of Johnson and Loiola winning $25,000.
Minneapolis was the 16th stop on the 24-city tour that covers 17 states, proving that the league is truly national now. The game was also televised live across the country on Prime Cable Network.
Not bad for a league that started out by giving away articles of clothing and food, in place of trophies and cash.