Dig this: Camacho wins third open title | AspenTimes.com

Dig this: Camacho wins third open title

Nate Peterson

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Dana Camacho heard it all. The taunts. The boos. The insults.Forget about blocking out the crowd. He wanted to sop up all the negative energy like a sponge, then spit it back out.Every time someone called him a chump, he just swung harder. When someone cracked on his tattoos, he only made them shut up with one of his amazing digs. And when the crowd booed in unison, a smile creased his lips.The smile remained late Monday afternoon after Camacho and partner Ivan Mercer downed Anthony “AJ” Mihalic and Justin Phipps in two games (24-22, 22-20) to win the MotherLode’s men’s open final at Koch Lumber Park.The win gave Camacho his third MotherLode title, Mercer his first.

“It feels good,” said Camacho, a resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. who won open titles in 2003 and 2004. “Not too many people like cheering for me, but I like it like that. I like to spice up the crowd and get them going.”Camacho, at only 5-foot-9, also likes to get in the heads of his opponents. He did so Monday when he stared down the 6-foot-4 Mihalic numerous times after hitting through his block.If Mihalic and Phipps wanted to keep serving to him, he wasn’t going to back down from the challenge of going against the much taller Mihalic at the net, he said. More often than not he chose to blast shots directly at Mihalic, just to prove a point.”I like having a challenge,” said Camacho, who possesses uncanny quickness and jumping ability, and has really long arms. “I don’t get served to too often, but when I do, it’s fun because I get to talk a little more smack and show what I’m made of. … People get a kick out of that [when I stare someone down]. I’m a crowd pleaser.”A crowd instigator might be more accurate. During a heated semifinal match against third-seeded Adam Roberts and Paul Baxter that Camacho and Mercer won, 32-30, in overtime, Camacho called for an injury timeout.Camacho argued that he had a legitimate hand injury, but it appeared he was just stalling. The crowd began to grow restless, and boos followed, as well as a lecture from the referee at the net.

Finally, when it appeared he and Mercer might be penalized a point for the charade, Camacho returned to serve up the game-winner.”He loves to be hated,” Mercer said. “It just kind of feeds him and fires him up. I’m just more of a cheerful type of guy. We’ve been friends for so long, so all of his antics and things, I’m used to them. I don’t like them all the time, but I’ve learned how to cope and deal with them in ways so that we can still win and that’s what it’s about. Off the court, we’re really good friends. On the court, it’s all business.””People don’t like him because he’s got a bad attitude,” added Mihalic, who originally hails from New Jersey but now lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif. “That’s it. I don’t know the reason for why he [acts the way he does]. I just know that [people not liking him] is the result of it. I don’t know if he does it on purpose. I don’t think he’s that clever.”In the first game, Mihalic and Phipps took an early 4-2 lead before Mercer and Camacho rallied back to tie the game at seven. The game was then again tied 10 more times up until the final two points from Mercer – the first a drop down the line, then a big block.

In the second game, Camacho and Mercer jumped out to an 11-6 lead, but then let Mihalic and Phelps get back in the game. Mihalic thought the turning point of the match came when he stuffed Camacho at the net cleanly to tie the game at 20.After Camacho had stared him down on a couple of occasions, Mihalic made sure to do the same. But Camacho had the last laugh.On the ensuing serve, he quickly dumped the ball over the net for a point when he saw Phipps and Mihalic out of position. On the ensuing serve, Phipps hit the ball out of bounds.”I thought that was going to be it,” said Mihalic of the big block on Camacho near the end that ultimately didn’t lead to a win. “I thought we were going to get the momentum and bring it back. But it was the same as the first game. We just couldn’t maintain it.”Still, making the final of the MotherLode after only playing together for the first time at the start of the weekend was nothing to be ashamed of, Phipps said.Phipps, of Clearwater Beach, Fla., has actually played with Mercer a couple of times this summer. Mihalic typically plays with Chad Mowrey, with whom he has had moderate success on the Association of Volleyball Professionals beach tour the past two summers. At the Manhattan Beach Open last August the pair finished ninth.

This year they have teamed up for five 17th-place finishes and a 13th-place showing at the Cuervo Gold Crown Open in Boulder the weekend before.Phipps, meanwhile, has only played through the qualifiers into the main draw of a tournament once in his AVP career – just last week in Boulder.”I’ve come across him in the qualifiers a couple of times,” Mihalic said. “This is the first time I’ve played this tournament, so to make it to the finals, it’s awesome. I’m pretty happy. It was a great setting and a great final, we just didn’t pull it out.”Camacho and Mercer’s highest finish on the AVP tour this summer was 17th at the Atlanta Open in July.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com.