Volleyball

SANDCAST is the leading podcast for beach volleyball and stories in the volleyball world. Hosts Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter take listeners into the world of the AVP, FIVB, NORCECA, and any other professional beach volleyball outlets, digging deep into the lives of the players both on and off the court as well as all of the top influencers in the game.

Episodes

Bill Kolinske won’t forget looking at the hill, the one with his car parked at the top. Earlier that morning, he had parked there for his first beach volleyball tournament, and he did what he had always done for all of his grass tournaments: He lugged a cooler packed of food and drinks for the day. At the earliest, he’d be finished by one in the afternoon, maybe, if the day went well, 5 p.m.

But this wasn’t grass. It was beach. And when Kolinske got spanked by a couple of guys in their mid-40s, his day was over by 9:15.

“I remember I lost, and I was so pissed, and I’m like ‘I’m not lugging this thing all the way back up,’” Kolinske recalled on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I’m at least eating a sandwich. I remember that day, I lugged that cooler all the way back up, and I’m like ‘I’m figuring out how to play this game.’”  

He has since figured it out quite well. In 2016, just his third year playing multiple AVPs, Kolinske logged four top-10 finishes, including a third in New York with Avery Drost. This past year, he took to the FIVB full-time for the first time, making a $10,000 commitment at the start of the season, beginning a circuitous year with Miles Evans that took them from Morocco to China, Sydney to Iran, Lucerne to the Czech Republic.

And, yes, it also took them to France and the Eiffel Tower. Just, uh, well, don’t bring that one up.

“It was our second FIVB, which we didn’t actually end up playing,” Evans said, smiling ruefully. “Bill booked the flight, $2,000 bucks, probably could have been about $400. So we go down there, and it’s the first time that there’s a qualifier for a one star, so they have a 12 page document, and on the sixth page it says there’s a players meeting that we need to attend, and there’s never been a players meeting before. So we miss the players meeting, and we tell them 10 minutes after it ends that we’re there. We told them a week before that we’d be there, and they don’t let us into the tournament.”

As it can sometimes go with international tournaments. Sometimes your bag gets delayed when playing in Morocco and you have to play in some hideous board shorts just to get something that matches. Sometimes you win a silver and a bronze medal in the Netherlands and Australia and still come away down more than $1,000.

Such is the nature of the beach volleyball ladder: You invest $10,000. You get your finishes. You build your points.

Now Evans and Kolinske are in four-star main draws, their first being at The Hague after the New Year. Now they’re one of the top teams in the United States. Now they’re playing against the best in the world, and holding their own when they do so.

“It’s been an interesting year for us,” Kolinske said. “We’ve been playing tournaments these last 14 months pretty consistently, which I like playing year-round. I think it’s worked out well for us.”

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Martins Plavins requested the mic from Aleksandrs Samoilovs. Had to set some matters straight.

“I know,” Plavins said on Saturday night at p1440 San Jose, “that Edgars misses me.”

He was joking – maybe, possibly, perhaps – but Sunday’s result, when the Latvians upended the world’s best in Norway’s Christian Sorum and Anders Mol in the finals, proved that there’s likely a bit of truth to the notion that Edgars Tocs, Plavins’ typical partner, may have been missing his defender.

Plavins and Tocs, Latvia’s No. 2 team behind Samoilovs and the injured Janis Smedins, were one of the world’s most delightful surprises in the 2018 FIVB season. Entering the year, Tocs, a 29-year-old from Madona, had never eclipsed the five-figure threshold in prize money, with just three main draws to his name in all of 2017.

Yet there they were, on podium after podium to begin the year – gold at The Hague in January, silver in Kish Island a month later. By the end of the year they had played in 13 events, nearly as many main draws as Tocs had played in his entire career.

By season’s end, they were ranked fifth in the world, three spots behind Samoilovs and Smedins, and a country that is roughly the size of Nebraska in terms of population was suddenly home to two of the world’s beach volleyball powers.

Not that Latvia is an upstart. Not by any means. Ten years ago, Samoilovs and Plavins authored arguably the greatest upset in Olympic beach volleyball history when they stunned Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in the first round of pool play. In 2012, Plavins did it again, this time with Smedins, upsetting Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal – then the No. 1 team in the world – in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics in London.

“We used to play good together,” Samoilovs said. “[Martins] agreed to come to San Jose so I’m very happy he had a chance to join me.”

In two years, for the second time in three Olympics, they might very well join each other as teammates on separate teams. While Plavins was winning a bronze medal with Smedins in 2012, Samoilovs took a ninth with Ruslans Sorokins.

“Martins is one of the best defenders in the world,” Samoilovs said, which explained why, in San Jose, Samoilovs, typically a split-blocker, stayed at the net. “It doesn’t make sense to go block.”

Indeed it seemed they found the right defensive system, as they lost just one set the entire weekend in San Jose, to Austrian Olympian Alexander Huber and Leo Williams in the first round. After that, it was dominant win after dominant win, over Piotr Marciniak and Canadian Olympian Chaim Schalk, Spaniards Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera, Americans Miles Evans and Billy Kolinske and the world’s best in Noway’s Mol and Sorum.

More important for either than the winning, though, is the fact they have a chance to win anything at all. Samoilovs remembers what it was like post-2016, when the world tour had just eight events big enough for the best to play, when beach volleyball was somewhat of a wasteland.

With the advent of the King of the Court series and p1440, as well as the extension of the FIVB season, the sport has become nearly year-round.

“This is really great,” Samoilovs said. “I remember after the Rio Olympics, in 2017, it was a disaster. It was only eight World Tour events, so you spend three months preparation just to play eight weeks, two months, so for us players we’re relieved because of these tournaments. Our families live because of these tournaments. It’s important to have more opportunities and more tournaments to earn money and to have a better life.”  

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