Jim Menges – Not Just a Pretty Face

By: Jon Lee

They called him “Ice Eyes” — among other things — but hundreds of opponents across the net were the ones who invariably melted before his relentless competitive intensity. At only 6’1″, Jim Menges was nonetheless, the biggest of the obstacles throughout the mid-1970s and early 80s to those with ambitions to win Open tournaments. It was Mingo who almost always took home the gold.

A homegrown Santa Monica, California volleyball superstar, Menges developed his game at Sorrento Beach, where beach icons Ron Lang and Ron Von Hagen taught him the priorities of victory on the sand. With friends Tom Chamales, Randy Niles, and Greg Lee, Jimmy would learn the mental and physical skills that enabled him to dominate and define an era of the sport. It was in the deep sands of Sorrento that Lee and Menges would base their onslaught that ripped through tournaments from the mid ’70s onward, winning a record 13 Opens in a row in ’75, and establishing unquestioned supremacy. They had no equal, and few enough contenders to their error free weekends of power and precision. On one Laguna Open Saturday, they gave up 5 points in three matches.

Menges looked as beautiful as he played, opponents never quite sure who their girlfriends were rooting for. But during his 10 year career, Jimmy was always a study in focus while racking up 48 tournament wins with Lee (26), Matt Gage (9), Chris Marlowe (6), Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos, Jon Stevenson, Tom Chamales, and Dennis Hare.

During Menges’ years of prominence, he was the best setter on the beach and a spectacular digger, but it was consistency that won matches in the decades before 20 minute games (sets). Like Lang and Von Hagen before him, and Smith and Stoklos afterward, Menges would defeat teams with an intensity that never faltered throughout two and three hour contests. People just wore down in the face of his relentless pressure, and made the decisive errors that Menges would not allow himself or his partners. Smaller than Lee, he would invariably get served and have control of their withering side out game. If teams altered tatic and served his partner he would set perfectly and play an energized defense that shortened games all the more.

Five times a winner of the Manhattan Open, Menges was the essence of the California athlete, deified in the subculture whose champions labored for little but pride in the huge swarms of devotees that surrounded the courts. He retired reluctantly from tournament competition in 1983. As the sport became more lucrative, Menges cursed his timing, but remained active as a coach during beach volleyball’s wild growth in the 1980s and thereafter.