Kirby, Karolyn

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Karolyn Kirby


American beach volleyball player

During her 16-year career as a professional beach volleyball player, Kirby, who stands five-feet, eleven inches tall, had a record 67 tournament wins (61 domestic; 6 international) and career total earnings of $681,471 ($488,146 domestic; $193,325 international). Partnered with Liz Masakayan from 1993 to 1995, the pair formed the winningest team in the history of the game, posting a tournament record of 26-8, including a 55-match win streak and an overall match record of 183-20.

All-American Player

Karolyn Kirby was born on June 30, 1961 in Brookline, Massachusetts, the hometown of one-time governor and presidential candidate Mike Dukakis and newscaster Mike Wallace and an unlikely hometown for one of the nation's best beach volleyball players. Kirby didn't play volleyball until she was a freshman in high school. Previously a competitive swimmer, she was burned out and looking for something new. Kirby and a group of friends decided to give volleyball a try. She never looked back.

Kirby took to the sport quickly and became especially known for her setting abilities. As a freshman with no previous experience, she made the varsity squad, and by the summer after her sophomore year she was good enough to be invited to join the junior Olympic team. During her senior year in high school she sent off tapes of her play to several universities. Rutgers offered her a

partial scholarship, but Utah State University, home of the National Collegiate Athletic Association volleyball champions, offered her a full ride. Kirby was both thrilled and worried by the invitation to play at Utah State, where she would join one of the best college teams in the nation. "When I was in high school, [my father] and I would sit around and talk about playing volleyball and going to the Olympics," Kirby later recalled to The Boston Globe. "I was so nervous, I didn't know if I wanted to go to Utah State. But [my father] encouraged me to do it. He had the vision I lacked." A month before she left for Utah State, Kirby's father passed away.

While at Utah State, Kirby was named an All-American in 1981. When her coaches left to take over the University of Kentucky volleyball team, Kirby transferred to the school, where she finished out her college play. In 1983, her final year in college, she was once again named an All-American and was also named as the Southeast Conference's Most Valuable Player. In the same year Kirby was named to the Olympic training team, and in 1984, she served as an alternate on the Olympic team.

Introduced to Beach Volleyball

Being from the northeast, where the weather can be unpleasant, and attending college in the nation's interior, Kirby did not come into contact with beach volleyball until 1984. As the captain of the U.S. national volleyball team, she was taking a break from tournament action, walking on a California beach with teammate Angela Rock. The two came upon an open beach volleyball tournament and decided to give it a shot, figuring they could easily beat the local competition. The experience was a humbling one; the two volleyball superstars failed to win a single game. What Kirby quickly discovered is that beach volleyball is a serious sport for serious athletes. The court, ball, and net are all the same as indoor volleyball, but with only two on a team, each member must cover an incredible amount of the court as well as compete with the wind, sun, hot temperatures, and shifting sand under foot.

The experience on the sand court stayed with Kirby. During 1986-87 Kirby played for the New York Liberties in Major League Volleyball. She also traveled Europe playing in tournaments. In 1987 she decided to give beach volleyball a try at the professional level during her summers and joined the Women's Professional Volleyball Association (WVPA). Teaming up with Sandy Aughinbaugh-Fahey for two events in 1987 and with Jo Ellen Vrazel for five events in 1988, Kirby posted a record of 11-14.

Gaining skills and experience, Kirby stepped up the competition in 1989 with her new partner, Dale Hall. She entered 13 tournaments, posted a positive record of 40-24, and took home more than $10,000 in prize money. Her best finish was third place. Kirby won her first tournament in 1990, the year she began her five-year domination of the tour, playing with partners Patty Dodd and Jackie Silva. In 16 tournament appearances, Kirby posted eight wins and finished in the money six other times. She earned over $41,000 on the beach in 1990 and was named the Women Professional Volleyball Association's (WPVA) Most Valuable Player as well as the tour's top offensive player.

Dominates the Tour

Teamed with Rock in 1991, Kirby won 12 of 17 tournaments (and finished in the top four in the other five events) with a record of 98-14. Kirby finished the season with 548 points, putting her first in the WPVA standings, a position she would hold for four consecutive years. She was once again named the tour's Most Valuable Player. Kirby led the tour in earnings with $67,815. In 1992 she and Rock partnered for the first 11 events of the season, winning five. Their record of 17 wins in 26 team appearances broke the previous record of 15. Kirby won three out of the final five tour events with Nancy Reno as her partner. For the second year Kirby led the tour in points and earnings, with $65,488.

In 1993 Kirby began a tremendously successful partnership with Liz Masakayan. The two became the top team on the beach, winning a record-tying 12 of 13 WPVA tour events during the year and earning co-MVP honors. Kirby once again finished the season first in points and earnings, with $65,025. She teamed with Masakayan again in 1994, and again the two dominated the sand courts. They won 11 of 13 events, with an astonishing record of 72-3. From 1993 through 1994 they won a record 13 straight WPVA tournaments. Also, between 1992 and 1994 Kirby won five of eight Federation Internationale de Volleyball sponsored-tournaments. For the fourth consecutive year she was ranked first in the standing and in earnings, with her best career take-home of $83,010. She was named MVP for the fourth time of her career. Kirby and Masakayan also played together in the 1994 Goodwill Games, taking the gold medal.

Olympic Disappointment

With Masakayan struggling with a knee surgery in 1995, by July Kirby was looking for a new partner. She finished the year fifth in the standings, with only three tournament wins and $32,120 in earnings. The following year proved to be even more of a disappointment for Kirby as her inability to find a good replacement for Masakayan robbed her of her longtime dream to compete in the Olympics, as the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia, was the first time that beach volleyball was recognized as a medal sport. With experienced top-rated players already committed to teams, Kirby competed unsuccessfully at the Olympic trials with Lisa Arce in their first partnership. "It was a dream of mine and I felt like I failed myself, failed on my dream," she explained to Vancouver's Columbian, then added, "But, I'm stronger for it. I'm really beginning to realize how fortunate I am. I enjoy and appreciate more than ever my career."


1961Born in Brookline, Massachusetts
1975Begins playing volleyball as a freshman in high school
1977Plays on the junior Olympic team
1979Attends Utah State University on a volleyball scholarship
1983Transfers to University of Kentucky; named to the Olympic volleyball training team
1984Named as an Olympic alternate
1987Joins the Women's Professional Volleyball Association (WPVA) to play beach volleyball professionally
1993-95Dominates the WPVA tour with partner Liz Masakayan
1996Fails to make first official Olympic beach volleyball team after Masakayan sustains a knee injury
2000Last season on tour
2001Begins coaching

Kirby managed three tournament wins in both 1996 and 1997, spending most of the latter year teamed with Reno. She was rejoined by Masakayan for the 1998 Goodwill Games, but the defending gold medalists finished sixth, out of the medals. By the end of the 1990s, Kirby was winding down her career. She played in several international tournaments and numerous events sponsored by the Association of Volleyball Professionals and USA Volleyball. Following the 2000 season, in which her best finish was fifth place, Kirby, who lives in San Diego, California, turned to coaching. She is on staff with Masakayan, who continued to play competitively into the 2000s.

Awards and Accomplishments

Kirby won 13 of 30 grand slam events during her career and a record 67 tournaments. For complete career results, see
1981Named collegiate All-American
1983Named collegiate All-American
1990Named Women's Professional Volleyball Association's (WPVA) Most Valuable Player and Best Offensive Player
1991Named WPVA Best Setter and Most Valuable Player
1992Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) Tour Champion (with Nancy Reno); named WPVA Best Hitter
1993FIVB Tour Champion (with Liz Masakayan)
1993-94Named WPVA Most Valuable Player
1993-97Named WPVA Best Setter for six consecutive years
1994Gold medalist, Goodwill Games (with Masakayan)



Great Women in Sports. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.

Markel, Robert, ed. The Women's Sports Encyclopedia. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.


Goldberg, Karen. "Seriously, Folks: Beach Volleyball is Ready to Kick Sand in the Faces of its Skeptics." The Washington Times, (January 26, 1996): B5.

Hardie, Ann. "Olympic Weekly: 133 Days." The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, (March 8, 1996): 1F.

"Karolyn Kirby and Liz Masakayan May be the Best-ever Volleyball Tandem in Coors Light Women's Tour History." Business Wire, (July 1, 1993).

"Kirby and Masakayan Share MVP Award." Business Wire, (August 23, 1993).

"Kirby / Masakayan Tie Mark." Business Wire, (June 6, 1994).

Vondersmith, Jason. "Bittersweet Times." The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash. (September 1, 1996): C9.


"Karolyn Kirby." Beach Volleyball Database. (January 30, 2003).

"Karolyn Kirby." Volleyball World Wide. (January 30, 2003).

Sketch by Kari Bethel

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Kirby, Karolyn

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