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It was a look that featured a strange blend of joy and exhaustion, one athletes know all too well. Emily Day and Betsi Flint had just wrapped up their first day at AVP San Francisco, playing the maximum number of sets (six), two of those going into extra points.

Worse yet, they had lost their second match of the day, relegating them to the contender’s bracket, portending a long grinder of a road ahead if they were to make the finals in San Francisco and defend the Seattle title they earned two weeks before.

And oh, they were only getting started.

Before they would cap the weekend with another AVP title in San Francisco, finishing with a 21-17, 16-21, 15-7 win over Geena Urango and Caitlin Ledoux, before they would play 16 sets in three days, before they would win their second title in as many AVPs, they had a plane to catch.

“We went straight from Seattle,” said Flint, who alongside Day beat April Ross and Ledoux in the finals 19-21, 21-19, 18-16, “just jumped in the lake and hopped on a plane to Poland, where we had to qualify on Wednesday.”

And they did, winning both matches, the second, of course, going to three. They “came out flat,” Flint said, in the main draw, losing to Agatha and Duda in the first match and another pair of Brazilians, Josemari Alves and Liliane Maestrini in the second.

Not that they had much time to wallow and recover, for it was straight to San Francisco.

“We definitely have to stay hydrated,” Day said. “That flight to Poland was pretty rough. I may have cramped in the airport changing room. But that’s what we want to do. We want to play every weekend and so we’re out there to play every weekend. We’ll do whatever.”

So they do what every over-traveled, underslept, exhausted athlete does: They convinced themselves they were fine.   

“It’s interesting because you think you feel ok,” Day said. “You talk yourself into it, like ‘I feel good, blah blah blah, I came off a win,’ then you get on the court and it’s like ‘Oh, God, don’t feel as good as I thought.’ But mentally we know that every team is good on the world stage so we just need to take it point by point, but winning Seattle gave us confidence. We actually had a huge comeback to qualify for Poland. We might have been down 8-2 in Poland and we came back to win 15-12. Not sure if that’s ever going to happen again but we took it and ran with it.”

Evidently so.

They took it and ran with it all the way back to San Francisco, coming back – again – in the contender’s bracket, rallying from a first-set loss to Lara Dykstra and Sheila Shaw to win 20-22, 23-2, 15-12. A win and a forfeit later, they were in the semifinals, rematched with the team that put them in the contender’s in the first place: Brittany Howard and Kelly Reeves.

They won, 21-14, 21-13.

A finals rematch with Ledoux awaited, and again, it went – and how could it not? – to three sets, where Day and Flint prevailed, 15-7.  

Three weeks, three tournaments, 16 matches, 37 sets, two AVP wins, one FIVB qualification. Standard month for Day and Flint.

“Qualifying is an awesome accomplishment and not something we ever take for granted,” Day said.
But it’s pretty special winning an AVP and getting the champagne, family and friends. Just trying to win.”

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Oh, God. It was happening again.

Chase Budinger had felt this before. He’d felt these nerves, that extra surge – no, surge might not do it justice, the extra deluge – of adrenaline. He knew what happened the last time. And here it was, all over again.

His first point as a professional beach volleyball player, partnered with one of the all-time greats in Sean Rosenthal, matched up with the hottest team in the world in Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, set on stadium court of the biggest domestic tournament of the year, was a swing into the net. Then another. Then another in which he got stuck in the sand, to the point that the guy who was once in an NBA Dunk Contest couldn’t get his feet off the ground.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened to me in practice,” Budinger said. “And in that game, it happened to me twice.”

This type of debut might scar some. Budinger? Not really. He’d been here before. On a bigger stage, with more viewers, higher stakes.

In his first game with the Houston Rockets, who had traded for Budinger after he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 44th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, he had two straight turnovers and an airball.

“I get taken out right away, and I’m like ‘Wow, that was embarrassing, there’s no way he’s going to put me back in,’” Budinger recalled. “And he actually does put me back in in the second half and I finally got a fastbreak layup and I remember after I got that layup my nerves just kind of flushed.”

Then he hit a jump shot, put down a dunk, finished with six points in 15 minutes. A quick recovery after an inauspicious start.

So yes, Budinger had been there before when he struggled in that opening match against Brouwer and Meeuwsen. He knew, just as Rosenthal did, that it would take time, that his body would soon learn to not freak out prior to a match, that the adrenaline drip would be a bit less intense.

That he’d be just fine.

And he would be.

A week later, he and Rosenthal would travel to Lucerne, Switzerland, seeded No. 28 in the qualifier. They mopped up two qualifying matches in straight sets, and promptly upset the No. 1 team in the tournament, Switzerland’s Nico Beeler and Marco Krattiger, in consecutive sets as well.

“I never had that moment where the nerves went away,” Budinger said. “It just went away over time. Winning those games definitely helped with the confidence.”

With each tournament, the wins mounted, and the confidence seemed to subsequently bloom. In New York, for the second AVP of the season, Budinger helped Rosenthal knock out his old partner, Trevor Crabb, and John Mayer. Then he toppled Olympian Casey Patterson and Stafford Slick before succumbing to John Hyden and Theo Brunner, finishing fifth.

In just two tournaments, Budinger had eclipsed the best finish of his older brother, Duncan, who has been playing in AVPs since 2005.

Ah, yes, Chase’s older brother plays professionally, too. As does his sister, Brittanie, the only volleyball player in University of San Francisco history to have her number retired. Funny story about that, too.

When Budinger was still in the NBA, he had a practice at the University of San Francisco, and there, at the top of the rafters, was a jersey with the last name Budinger on it. His teammates looked up, laughed, wondered what the heck that was all about, and Chase just shrugged.

Yep, his family can ball.

So competitive were the Budingers that Duncan and Chase were barred from playing one-on-one basketball. Even board games were nixed.

Such are the compromises a family must make when all three children reach the top levels in their respective sport, and in Chase’s case, sports is plural.

He has a long way to go. He knows that. The Olympics are a goal, yes, but right now the focus is on fine-tuning – subtle nuances of blocking, setting, passing, siding out more consistently.

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I’m not exactly back, BUT things are finally getting interesting for me!

I’ve been touching the ball and hitting the gym for a few weeks now and mentally it feels amazing. Physically, it hurts so good.

My health is not totally under control but things seem promising. Can your health ever be totally under control?

Despite being asked [rightly so] almost daily about when l’ll come back and who I’ll be playing with by fans and peers, over the last year or so I did my best to not think about what the future might hold for me in the beach volleyball arena. Now that I'm feeling better and getting my health under control, I’ve finally allowed myself to start thinking about what kind of future I want to manifest for myself for [the beginning of] the rest of my career. 

I’ve been enjoying watching NBA free agency because I feel like I can relate those athletes who have to decide where to play and what contracts to take. It’s exciting, yet stressful… I wish I had their “$$ problems". ;)

As of right now there are still quite a few unknowns, but I've recently learned to embrace the challenges that the unknown brings to my life.

A quote that has stuck with me over the last few months is, “The best way to know the future is to create it.” - Honest Abe.

So despite currently not knowing whether I’ll for sure be ready to play, I signed up for the Moscow and Vienna FIVBs after realizing that in order to even have an opportunity to play I had to sign up 37 days in advance.

So there’s a possibility that I play this season… As far as the domestic tour, I don't know what my plans are yet. Luckily they don't make you sign up over a month in advance.

Anyway, listen in to the podcast for updates on my status… Shoots then!

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It’s just after 6 a.m. on June 23, and Nicolette Martin leans into her seat at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, a massive cup of coffee in hand, exhausted from both an early morning travel-day wake up and seven matches in the past three days at AVP Seattle.

Her voice is gone, as it should be, for it was hardly 12 hours ago that she was battling in a white-knuckler of a three-set quarterfinal match against Amanda Dowdy and Irene Hester-Pollock. Up 13-12 in the third set, Martin and Allie Wheeler couldn’t hang on, their legs finally giving way to 18, seven of which came during Thursday’s qualifier.

She doesn’t mind the qualifiers. They’re good to build a rhythm and get live reps before the main draw, but it would be nice, she admits, not to have those extra three matches, to not be so worn down by the quarterfinals.

Seattle marked the second time in as many tournaments that Martin made the quarterfinals after coming out of the qualifier. She did the same in Austin with Sarah Day, succumbing in the quarters to Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook.

An hour prior to the quarterfinal match, Spieler couldn’t believe that Martin and Day had already begun warming up. Hadn’t they already played 15 sets that weekend? In heat that had regularly eclipsed triple-digits?

How were they still going?

Just Nicolette being Nicolette.  

To catch Martin in the airport is to catch her on the strangest of days: A day off. No volleyball. No reps. No working out. Just coffee and naps.  

“I don’t know where that came from,” she said of her nonstop motor. “Just being at [USC], they really pushed us. We were training six days a week and Sunday was our rest day. It was an hour lifting then a three-hour practice. Doing that for four years, it’s like ‘Ok, we won three national championships. Something about that worked, so I need to keep going, I can’t stop.’”

It is that type of work ethic – or play ethic, really – that has enabled Martin to steadily climb the ranks of the AVP, from making one of three main draws in 2016, to six of seven in 2017 with a best finish of seventh, to two for two in 2018 with consecutive fifths.

“We started in Huntington and did awful,” Martin said, laughing. “We got a wild card into the main draw and went 0-2. The two games we played went to three and we lost both of those, so I think we used that as our fuel for our fire for Austin, so we went into Austin and yeah, we took a fifth.

“I think behind all of that, we’ve been working with our coach and we’ve been super open with each other and talking about our goals and how we’re feeling. We would just talk about things, where we’re at with our bodies, what we can give each other today, learning to talk to my partner more and being super open and honest and really trusting your partner and knowing they’re going to give 100 percent made me more free with my volleyball.”

And free, it seems, no matter who she’s playing with, whether it be Sarah Day, with whom she took a fifth in Austin, or Allie Wheeler, her former teammate at USC with whom she took a fifth in Seattle.

It would be difficult to miss the joy with which Martin plays. She’s constantly talking, cheering, yelling, smiling, laughing – something is coming out of her mouth. Sometimes it’s a joke, as it was when she found herself down 11-9 in the third set of the second round of the qualifier.

Sometimes she’ll ask her partner what she wants to dinner, “just to put your mind somewhere else for a second,” Martin said. “Like, ‘Ok, relax.’”

Whatever works.

At the moment, that seems to be mostly everything for Martin.

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The pause, so slight, so innocuous, but present nonetheless, said more than words could. And, to be fair, Melissa Humana-Paredes did put a nice verbal spin on her and Sarah Pavan’s quarterfinal loss against Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross in Fort Lauderdale earlier in the year.

She called it thrilling.

“But…” and then came the pause, ever so brief, just enough to know that a fifth place for Canada’s top team, even in an FIVB Major, even in the first big event of the year, is nowhere near this team’s expectation. And justifiably so.

In their previous six international tournaments, their worst finish had been fourth, in a run that included a silver in Poland, bronze in one of the top events of the year in Gstaad, and a gold in Porec.

“I can tell you guys are cringing about it,” Tri Bourne said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

“We don’t want people to think ‘Oh, fifth, terrible,’” Pavan said. “Like, for all intents and purposes, it is a good finish but our goal is to be in the semifinals or on the podium every tournament, because that means we are playing well. Fifth is not bad, but we have high expectations.”

It hasn’t taken long to build them. This is just the second year of the Pavan-Humana-Paredes partnership, and in that short time they have already raced to the top of the FIVB rankings and finished on a podium in six different countries, three of those podiums resulting in medals of the gold variety.

“We kind of became addicted and wanted it to happen all the time,” Pavan said. “Even though we are in a second year and every team is elevating their level, we still have been able to hold onto that spot. And we still have so many things we want to get better at and that we’re working on and we know that we can still get so much better so we’re excited about that. The first year was about laying the foundation, now it’s time to find our identity as a team.”

As it goes in a search for identity, and switching sides, and switching partners, there are inevitable stumbles along the way. And as it goes with exceptional, world-class athletes, sometimes those stumbles, such as a fifth place in one of the biggest events of the year, are to most accomplishments.

And, of course, sometimes those stumbles may seem more obvious, such as their upset at the hands of Delaney Knudsen and Jessica Sykora in the AVP New York qualifier a week ago.

“We’re having some ebbs and flows,” Pavan said, as Humana-Paredes laughed in the background. “Some ups and downs, which I think is normal in the second year of a partnership. We are having moments where we are playing great and amazing and we are having moments where we finished the game wondering ‘What the heck just happened? What were we doing?’

“Obviously, we always want to win. We all do. But I’m glad it’s happening now because we do have time to work out those kinks and have those hard conversations because we’re always learning and always looking at the opportunities in front of us. So yeah, it’s been a little up and down but heading into this next phase of the season, we’re looking to get our feet under us and make some big strides.”   

Those strides will, however, be taking place exclusively on the FIVB, and no longer on the AVP. According to Pavan, due to a new rule instated by the USAV, unless the AVP, or any domestic tour, pays a fee to the USAV for each event featuring international players, said international players will not be permitted to play on the AVP Tour.

“This has never been a rule before,” Pavan confirmed. “So yeah, Mel and I talked about it and if we were in the AVP’s position, we would find it hard to reason paying that much money too.”

Twelve hours prior to New York, Pavan and Humana-Paredes didn’t know if they were even allowed to play. So they missed their initial flight from Canada to New York because they weren’t sure. Then they moved it back and missed their next for the same reason.

Then they got the OK from the AVP. They were good to go.

So they woke up at 3 a.m., jumped on a plane at 6, landed at 8, rolled into Manhattan at 9, snuck in a quick nap, grabbed some oatmeal, jumped onto the court and attempted to play the world-class volleyball they were accustomed and expected to play.

“We’re not going to make excuses,” Humana-Paredes said. “Those qualifiers are deadly. They are crazy. We had three games within a span of three or four hours, which I haven’t done since youth. It was definitely a challenge, both physically and mentally.”

Indeed. Physically, they – somewhat hilariously – may have mixed up creatine and electrolytes. Mentally, they were playing a brutal qualifier with no sleep, little food, no warm ups – and with a freeze rule Humana-Paredes had never experienced before.

And though the loss is fresh, and it is not difficult to see the disappointment, they cannot help but laugh a bit at the mania of it all, from the missed flights to the quick nap to the accidental nutritional mishap.

“It was definitely not our finest,” Humana-Paredes said. “It was really unfortunate because it was my first AVP, you’re on Pier 25, you can see the Freedom Tower in the background – gorgeous, it’s just beautiful. You wanted to soak it all in and get the whole AVP experience. We were bummed we couldn’t get to do all of that.”

They’re bummed with fifths. They’re bummed they can no longer play on the AVP.

But they’re infectiously excited about what the future has in store for their nascent yet impressively successful partnership. They’re excited about Olympic qualification, which begins as early as this fall. They’re excited about a three-week FIVB trip beginning next week in Poland. They’re excited for events in Vienna and Gstaad and Germany.

"We're still learning so much," Humana-Paredes said. "That's comforting for us and exciting for us because we have so much more that we need to improve on and that we can improve on and I think our potential -- it seems limitless right now." 

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It may seem difficult to imagine at first, what with a Pac-12 title, an NCAA Championship and an AVP final under her belt in the span of just a few weeks, but yes, Sarah Sponcil does struggle from time to time.

Take Spanish, for example.

“I have not taken it since I was in fifth grade,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “A lot of people take Spanish in high school, so it was elementary Spanish and I was like ‘Ok, we’re chillin’ with the colors and the weather and all that stuff and the lady is like ‘Ok so the next class we’re going to be speaking in full Spanish. And I was like ‘Wait, what? What did I sign up for? Is there a level below this?’ So that’s been kind of a struggle.”

But on the court? It may take some digging to find a soft spot in Sponcil’s game. Partnered with Lauren Fendrick for Austin, Sponcil won her first four career AVP main draw matches in straight sets, setting up a final against April Ross and Alix Klineman.

“I think I just had that mentality – people are going to be stronger, faster,” Sponcil said. “I think I just tried to put the pressure on, trying to stay aggressive. I think a lot of people go to shots if they get blocked, they kind of just do that. I felt like I was full force. I just want to swing, if I get blocked, I’ll just work around.”

She worked around Angela Bensend and Olaya Pazo, Caitlin Ledoux and Kendra VanZwieten, Janelle Allen and Kerri Schuh, Karissa Cook and Katie Spieler.

It was one thing to play alongside an Olympian and Stanford’s assistant coach. It was an entirely different feeling to play against Ross, the player Sponcil has looked up to since she began playing volleyball.

“I mean, you’re playing against April Ross,” Sponcil said. “I literally had pictures of her when I was like, 14 and 17. Just to be playing against her and seeing me stack up against her was really cool. It was a really great experience.”

She watched the film a few times, enough to know that she stacked up just fine. Ross and Klineman had only dropped a single set prior to the finals, yet there was Sponcil, pushing the two-time Olympic medalist to a 24-22 first set, and again to a 25-23 second set.

“We basically played a third game,” Sponcil said, laughing. “I felt like I was taking it point by point. I don’t know. I thought it was an amazing challenge. You look up to someone for so long and you don’t want to miss this opportunity. You want to show them like ‘Ok, I deserve to be here. It wasn’t a fluke that we were here.’

“Right after we lost, as long as we gave them a run for their money, that was ok with me. Just to be that close and within striking distance gives me hope and just makes you want to play that much more and get that much better so you have the opportunity to face off with them again.”

She will. There is no doubting that. She had to skip New York for her finals, though she plans on playing Seattle and the remainder of the AVP season, and she’s entertaining the possibility of sprinkling in some FIVB stops as well.

At the end of the day, it is this: Sarah Sponcil just wants to keep winning.

“I’m just trying to get to know the beach volleyball world,” she said. “Now it’s like ‘Ok this is a completely different world. Book your own flights, book your own practices with different people.’

“I’m just going to keep trying, keep getting into AVPs, and I’ll see what happens from there.”

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There stood Taylor Crabb, arms raised, trophy in hand, smiling for cameras. A familiar pose that’s becoming quite regular for Crabb. It doesn’t matter if he’s on the left side or the right, with Jake Gibb or Tim Bomgren or Chase Budinger – Crabb can and will win with whomever he’s sharing the court, wherever the court may be.

Outrigger Canoe Club? He can win there, as he did on myriad occasions, with myriad partners, as a youth.

New York City? Yeah, he can win there too, alongside Gibb. It’s the site of his first AVP victory, and could very well be the site of his third by the end of this weekend.

Austin? He can push it to the finals there as well. Despite Gibb being injured. Despite only one day of practice with Tim Bomgren. Despite Bomgren playing on a sprained ankle that by the following Monday morning it would resemble a purple and blue softball more than it did an ankle.

Laguna Beach? In a tournament he never intended on playing? With a partner, Budinger, he’d never played with? Not even a practice? On a side he hadn’t played in more than a year?

He’ll take that $4,000 winner’s check, thank you very much.

This is what Crabb does. Not necessarily the winning, though he does that plenty.

He just plays.

He plays everything. Always has. Likely always will. Nothing at the moment seems to indicate otherwise, anyway.

“I’m pretty good at listening to my body,” he said, before admitting that “I do have injuries, but I do try to stay on top of them, one being my shoulder. A lot of rehab for my shoulder. Just keeping it strong helps a ton.

“Honestly, I’m sure you know, this is only my third year on the beach so far. Your first three years coming from indoor – the sand felt so good. Your body is way better. Right now, that’s where I am: 26, off the hard court, feeling good, diving around in the sand, nothing is going to hurt me.”

He’s feeling so good, in fact, that his coaches – Rich Lambourne and Tyler Hildebrand – have to order him not to practice. And even then, he still hops in for a drill or two, because there’s a new defensive position to learn, more reps to get, more playing to do.

He’s done this his whole life.

Doesn’t matter if it’s an impromptu dunk contest on the outdoor hoops across the street as a kid. Or basketball. Or soccer. Or living room volleyball. Or local tournaments that he’d win as a teen, “and I think everybody hated us,” he said, laughing. “All these 14, 15, 16-year-old kids winning all the tournaments.”  

But when you look at those kids now, it’s easy to understand why most victories went their way.

There’s Trevor Crabb, winner of two FIVBs this year, and Tri Bourne, once ranked No. 2 in the world in 2016. There’s Spencer McLaughlin and Brad Lawson, two of the top-rated recruits from their respective high school classes. There is the Beard Brothers before they became the Beard Brothers. There is Micah Christensen, who is arguably the best setter in the world, and the Shoji brothers, Erik and Kawika, Olympians both.

And Taylor. Once the runt of the litter, so small that his aunt called him “Bug,” Taylor has since established himself as perhaps the best of the bunch, discussed among the top beach defenders in the country despite only being in his third year playing beach volleyball professionally. He whiffed in New Orleans of 2015, qualified for the next two – and then took a third in Manhattan Beach with Trevor.

Since then? He’s been in six finals and another six semifinals, with wins in New York and Hermosa Beach.  

“I have goals in life,” he said. “And not one of those goal is to be better than someone. The short-term goal is to defend my title in New York. That’s No. 1 right now.”

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Patricia Orozco knew Mike Dodd was serious the day he picked her up at UCLA in 1985.

She knew he was serious because, after taking her to Marine Street for a crash course in beach volleyball, he took her to The Kettle for lunch in Manhattan Beach.

“And it was like ‘Whoa!’ If you get taken to The Kettle for lunch then this he’s serious,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

Serious enough that, a year later, they wed, and Patty took Dodd’s last name, and 33 years later they remain not only happily married, but business partners and elite coaches in the Manhattan Beach area where Patty began to learn the beach game.

Well, Patty is at least an elite coach.

Mike is technically, and hilariously, the equipment manager at MB Sand Volleyball Club, and he takes his job seriously enough that when Patty couldn’t make it one day, one of the 12-year-olds commented that MB Sand must be running terribly low on coaches because the equipment guy had to fill in.

She had no idea the equipment guy was a five-time Manhattan Beach Open champion and Olympic silver medalist.

“The mom just could not wait to call me, because she knows Mike’s background,” Patty said, laughing. “That’s what 12-year-olds can say. The janitor is going to run practice.”

Some janitor. And some janitor’s wife, too.

Let’s, for a moment, put their prolific playing careers aside – and indeed they were prolific – and examine only their coaching backgrounds.

When Patty graduated from UCLA, she took up an assistant opening with the Bruins indoor team. They won a national championship in the very first year.

“I knew early on that I wanted to do this,” she said. “I just fell into being a graduate assistant in my fifth year and we won NCAA and it’s like ‘Oh, yeah, alright, I like this. I really like this.’ I was so young at the time, but the fact that what you said had an effect on the player or the play or the outcome, I was hooked.

“It just took me a while to get to the coaching part because I was doing my playing part.”

And she did her playing part well.

A native of Bogota, Colombia, Dodd graduated from high school in 1980 and moved to Santa Fe Springs, where she could learn English and play volleyball for a local club team.

Within those six months she had offers to play for UCLA, Hawaii, USC and Oregon.

"I remember when I first saw her at a Christmas tournament," then-UCLA women's volleyball Coach Andy Banachowski, who has led his teams to four national championships, told the Los Angeles Times. "I was looking down in the Sports Arena and I saw this girl move incredibly well. What really caught my attention is that I didn't know who she was because I know all the kids in the area with talent."

"When Andy came up to me," Orozco told the Times, "I couldn't even understand him. I was even named all-tournament and didn't even know what that meant."

The accolades, she’d soon become quite familiar with, setting UCLA single-season kills (627), single-match kills (33) and single-match digs (30). As a senior in 1983, she led the Bruins in kills with 403.

She still had yet to step foot on a beach.

She finished her grad year at UCLA and competed for a year in Italy, where she initially met Dodd. Who better to teach her the beach game, then, but the man she met in Italy who was in the midst of winning four consecutive Manhattan Beach Opens?

Yes, the janitor can coach, too.

She proved a quick learner, too, Patty. By 1989, just four years after Mike took her to Marine Street and provided the Beach Volleyball 101 crash course, Patty, partnered with Jackie Silva, won 11 of 13 tournaments.

Four times that year, Patty and Mike won tournaments on the same weekend, becoming the first married couple to do so.

By the time they finished competing, with six total Manhattan Beach Opens to the family name, the Dodds combined for 89 wins and nearly $2 million in prize money.

Now they’re teaching others to compete and thrive like they once did.

Aside from serving as the most over-qualified equipment manager in beach volleyball history, both Mike and Patty help with USAV National Team practices. She loves the quiet tenacity of April Ross, the genial intensity of Kelly Reeves, the efficiency of Taylor Crabb and Billy Allen.

More than that, above all, as it almost always has been, she loves to coach. Loves to teach. Loves to pass on the gifts that to this day she’s still developing herself.

“I’m really enjoying MB Sand,” she said. “It really gives me immense joy to see the kids develop their game and to see them make friendships and different partners. It’s such a healthy environment to build beach volleyball.

“I love that about beach volleyball, that the kids need to be great at all of the skills. It just brings me a lot of joy to do it.” 

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The mailbag is back! 

On the second SANDCAST mailbag, Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, alongside Podcast Mama Gabby Bourne, answer a wide variety of questions from you, the listeners. Before we get into the questions, a way to reach out to SANDCAST. If you have any questions, feedback, tips or suggestions, email us at sandcastpodcast@gmail.com

Thanks to all who sent in questions for this week!

We answer one of the most oft-wondered questions in American beach volleyball: Aside from Phil Dalhausser, who has been the best American male in the past decade? Jake Gibb? Sean Rosenthal? John Hyden? Nick Lucena. 

- The AVP has stopped at Madison Square Garden and played in front of a sold out crowd. If you had to pick one venue or site to play a tournament, where would it be? Both hosts, shockingly enough, may have biased answers based on hometowns and rooting interests. 

- The United States, when compared to countries like Brazil, Poland, and Norway, among a number of others, is woefully behind in the development of young male talent. What's being done to produce higher-level talent at a younger age for the men? 

- Finally, beach volleyball is slow to the game in terms of statistical and tangible analysis and breakdowns. Is that a direction the game is going, and if so, how? 

If you like us, let us know and subscribe give a review on iTunes!

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One day.

That’s it. That’s all Tim Bomgren and Taylor Crabb had for practice prior to AVP Austin. Crabb needed an emergency fill-in after Jake Gibb broke his toe. To the lefty from Minnesota he turned, despite never having played with Bomgren before, despite never having played with a lefty before.

Not that any of this is unusual for Bomgren.

He lives in Minnesota yet is one of the best blockers in the country. While many in Southern California are training four or five days a week in April, sometimes using sand socks because it’s too hot, Bomgren is shoveling snow, sometimes using sand socks because it’s too cold. The only other time Bomgren had made an AVP semifinal was in New Orleans of 2015, in which he and his brother, Brian, practiced for maybe two weeks prior.

One day?

Sounds about right.

“We talked about blocking calls and all that, we talked about who’s taking middle, who’s making the call when someone’s serving,” Bomgren said. “Taylor and Jake run a push to the outside – high, middle, low. Most teams do the same thing and I do the same thing with Brian. We talked about what his calls are, what my calls are and where to err.

“I prefer the ball to be further inside than outside and Taylor’s the same way. Talking those things out makes a huge difference in how the game flows.”


Whatever adjustments Bomgren and Crabb made, they worked. In a 16-team draw that featured a fully-loaded field, in which the only absent American was the one for whom Bomgren filled in, they made the finals.

Every team on their road to the finals had made at least the semifinals in the past year.

“It was extremely difficult,” Bomgren said. “I personally had to take myself out of the play, just kind of take it step by step, and I’m not trying to look at ‘I need to win three more matches today.’ It’s ‘I need to pass this ball, where it needs to be, so Taylor can set me.’ It was breaking it down for me, when we’re serving and receiving, taking it step by step and doing what you can, seeing how the plays turn out.”

Most turned out quite well. Some didn’t.

They lost their second match, against Ryan Doherty and Billy Allen, a match in which Bomgren sprained his ankle, though he made sure to note on SANDCAST that the sprain was not the reason they lost. Allen and Doherty played better.

That was it.

“In the first game, we controlled the match, we controlled our side of the net, and what happened was game two and game three we had a slow start, and that was largely due to what we did on our side of the net,” Bomgren said. “They were things we can control. So we tried to refocus that, and credit to Billy and Ryan, they played phenomenal volleyball. They ended up controlling the last two games and, ultimately, the match.

“We tried to refocus and we kept things simple on our side. Control our side of the net, do what we can do, and not do too much.”

And in not doing too much, ironically, Bomgren, on a bum ankle, with a partner he had never played with, after just a week or so of touching a ball, in heat that is entirely foreign to his native Minnesota, did more than he ever has on the AVP Tour. He and Crabb won their next four matches, including the always-alluring Crabb on Crabb quarterfinal matchup, including a three-set, nearly two-hour grinder in a rain-soaked semifinal against Reid Priddy and Jeremy Casebeer.

Just Tim being Tim.

“I think I played once and had four drilling sessions,” he said of his preparation, laughing. “Brian and I are both the type of players, and we’re very gracious for it, but we’re not the type of players who need 1,000 reps a day to stay fresh and stay on top of our game. We kind of pick it up as we go.

“Ultimately, what it comes down to, you get into that game situation, especially on the AVP Tour, and it doesn’t matter.  If you’re focused, you know what you’ve been practicing, you know what you’ve been doing. Once I’m focused, and I’m into the game, I’ve done it 1,000 times. Once you get into that game mindset, everything comes back to you.”

All the way from Minnesota to the finals.

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