SANDCAST: Answering the final fan questions in The Year Without Volleyball

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SANDCAST-Tri Bourne-Travis Mewhirter

We are almost at the end of this bizarre year. Just two days to go. We’ve all made do, one way or another. The AVP managed to pull off the Champions Cup Series, the FIVB threw a few minor events, the CEV held its championships. Indoor tournaments are resuming, schedules for 2021 are being formed.

Volleyball, sports, and, hopefully, life as we know it, is molding itself back into a somewhat normal shape.

As we enter 2021, SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, answered your final fan questions of 2020. As always, we had UCLA defender Savvy Simo on board, moderating and adding to the discussion.

Below are a few of the questions we answered.

Can you make a list of eligible women’s blockers for the 2021 season? Asking for a friend?
— Iya Lindahl

What a fun off-season this could be! After the top four Olympic teams — April Ross and Alix Klineman; Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat; Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes; Emily Stockman and Kelley Kolinske — there could be quite the partnership shuffle, trickling all the way down to the qualifier level.

With Betsi Flint pregnant — due in a little more than three weeks! — where does Emily Day go? She competed in a mini-tournament in Hermosa Beach, put on by Angie Akers, with Sara Hughes. But Hughes also competed in a different mini-tournament with Crissy Jones. With Jones also looking for partners, it is a wonder as well where Traci Callahan will turn as she begins her pursuit of the 2024 Paris Games.

Those two are potentially the biggest blocking free agents at this point. However, the blocker with the most potential that few might be discussing is not even professional just yet. She’s still at LSU — on court four.

Taryn Kloth transferred to LSU in 2019 after four years leading Creighton indoors. In her first season in Baton Rouge, Kloth went 18-9. In 2020, a season shortened by COVID, she finished 14-0 and didn’t drop a single set.

It was no fluke. Kloth and teammate Kristen Nuss, who is one of the best college players in the nation, competed in a number of tournaments across the country this summer. They won every single one of them.

Nuss typically plays on court one with Claire Coppola, and together they have amassed one of the best records in the history of college beach volleyball, in the same discussion of dominant teams as Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes at USC. Whether Nuss and Kloth will compete together after LSU, who knows, but any defender looking for a mobile 6-foot-4 blocker with excellent ball control should be messaging Kloth as soon as yesterday.

Other notable blockers who may or may not be on the market — I don’t know who has committed to partnerships yet — in no particular order:

  • Terese Cannon
  • Carly Skjodt (currently in her fifth year at Pepperdine)
  • Jessica Gaffney
  • Jace Pardon
  • Karissa Cook
  • Amanda Dowdy
LSU vs UCLA 2/28/2020-LSU beach volleyball-Taryn Kloth
LSU’s Taryn Kloth puts up the big block against UCLA’s Madi Yeomans/Jay Metzger photo

If Tri wanted to teach blocking, where would he start and how would he progress?
— Mojib Ashouri

It’s all about the feet for Tri Bourne. There’s a reason he flew to the top of the world rankings in just his second full-time season on the FIVB, despite standing just 6-foot-5, which is undersized on the world tour: He has the best feet in the game.

One of the most common mistakes made by blockers is laziness. Like a defender in basketball, blockers will often use their arms to reach outside of their body to where their block should be. In basketball, they’d likely get called for a foul for reaching, or simply get blown by. In volleyball, you’ll almost inevitably lose the point.

Watch Tri Bourne block, and you’ll watch a master class in footwork — fast, mini steps, oftentimes juking, to get to his spot. It’s why he’s able to do so much with a smaller frame, and why it’s so rare that he gets tooled. He’s almost always in the right position, which allows him to keep his arms and hands disciplined and his block solid.

When he works out with his trainer, Mykel Jenkins, he focuses almost exclusively on his blocking footwork, the minuscule shuffle steps he has to take hundreds of times over the course of a match. It’s working, too, as Bourne is currently ranked No. 2 in the United States Olympic race, shuffling his way there.

Tri Bourne
Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser competing against Tri Bourne and John Hyden in Seattle.

How do you get over a bad offensive stretch/feeling like you can’t get around a blocker?
— Galin Swigart

We’ve all been there. Every beach volleyball player in the history of beach volleyball has dug him or herself into a rut at some point. Even Phil Dalhausser, whose shocking offensive rut in the first match of the 2008 Olympic Games against Latvians Martins Plavins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs paved the way for what is considered the biggest upset in Olympic beach history. Even Kent Steffes and Karch Kiraly, who went down 10-3 in the 1993 Manhattan Beach Open, and 12-4 two weeks later in Cape Cod, and 12-8 in the quarterfinals of the 1996 Olympics, have had offensive ruts.

The first step to getting over that stretch is the mental acknowledgement that everyone has been there, and this is not a unique case to you, and then acknowledging that there is always a way out.

There is a lot of space on a beach volleyball court, and therefore a lot of options. Perhaps your up-and-down set in the middle isn’t working. Run a push to the pin. Perhaps your high set is giving you some trouble with your approach and timing. Run a quick. Run a shoot. Maybe you’re struggling on the left; head over to the right for a few points.

I found myself slumping towards the end of the first set against Sean Rosenthal and Brian Cook at AVP Hawai’i in 2019, so I switched to the left side. I stayed there until midway through the second set, when we were leading again and they began serving my partner, Mark Burik, at which point we switched back. The rut was gone. We were back in the match.

Ruts are caused much of the time by trying to do the same thing over and over again and believing that it’ll work; it’s simply a matter of time. That is a deadly combination of the definition of insanity and the gambler’s fallacy. Don’t panic. Just throw a curveball in there. Change the set, the tempo, the side. Give them a new look, and go put a ball away.

SANDCAST-Adrian Carambula 8/26/2020-Adrian Carambula-World Championships 2019 July 6-Adrian Carambula
Adrian Carambula, the master of changing tempo, launches a skyball/Mark Rigney photography

How do we best support the pros to raise the prize money?
— Omes02

How do we go about growing the sport and bringing more media attention to beach?
— Todd Harr

The million — hopefully, anyway — dollar questions. Whether beach volleyball has ever been profitable as a sport — there is no doubt it has been for the best players — is unknown. When we had Karch Kiraly on the show, he said that “no matter what the formula was, it was really difficult to be a successful business. I can’t say that in all those years I was on the tour that the tour ever actually made a profit or even broke even.”

We certainly don’t have an answer for how to raise the prize money, or how to bring in more revenue, but there are a few micro ways in which you can support the game, and its players. A lot of players have gotten creative in finding ways to bring in revenue. The McKibbins established a spectacular YouTube channel that is now their full-time job and brings more attention to the sport than many traditional media outlets have. Billy Allen and John Mayer have been publishing their podcast, Coach Your Brains Out, for more than six years. Betsi Flint made t-shirts, as did Traci Callahan and Crissy Jones.

When players get creative in their pursuits, support them how you can. Buy a shirt from Flint, even if you might never wear it. Share a McKibbin video on YouTube.

Perhaps most important: When you see sponsors at AVP events, buy a few products, and when you do, send an email mentioning that you discovered that product because of beach volleyball. With the AVP not charging for admission, it’s a largely sponsor-driven tour. Sponsors need to feel some love, that their money is creating brand awareness and putting a few bucks back in their pockets.

In the meantime, what you can do is share this podcast, give us a glowing review, and have a great New Year.

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