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.

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Carly Wopat acknowledges that there are a number of skills that need to be refined, so be smoothed over, to be fully beached from their indoor counterparts. But she’s been an athlete all her life, a state champ in high school, an All-American at Stanford, a professional overseas. It’s simply a matter of time for most, and anyway, the majority of the fundamental skills are already there. There’s just one that gives her pause: setting, and hand setting.  

“Initially I just wasn’t squaring up,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “It took a long time for me to just square up every time. I kept trying to angle the sets. I’m starting to get good at squaring up but I want to get better at hand setting and that’s the most difficult thing for me right now: hand setting.

“The indoor hands are so different from the beach hands. I’ve gotten to the point where I know how to set a good ball, what it feels like, I just need to be able to do it consistently.”

Anyone who might doubt Wopat’s ability to do so likely just doesn’t know much about Carly Wopat.

This is a 26-year-old who, as a senior in high school, led Dos Pueblos to a CIF title and followed it up by setting a school record in the discus.

This is a girl who, while majoring in human biology and dabbling with a minor in art at the most prestigious university in the country, led the Pac-12 in blocks per set (1.43) and hit .392 for her career, good for second all-time at Stanford.

This is a girl who taught herself to play guitar, who speaks French and can also drop the occasional Turkish – “I don’t know why, but it just stuck with me,” she said – and Japanese. This is the daughter of a man who nearly qualified for the 1980 Olympics in track and field and a mother who competed as a gymnast in college.

And hand setting could potentially be an issue? No way.

In fact, it is the very difficulty of the sport, the fact that one couldn’t simply be a decent athlete and succeed, that drew her to volleyball in the first place. It is the need for these reps, the proverbial 10,000 hours, that she loves the most.

“I like the speed of it,” she said of volleyball. “It’s an interesting sport. It takes a lot of skill. There are some sports where you can be really athletic and just go out and be really good at, like you can run and go be a track athlete or something like that. But with volleyball, there’s so much skill involved that it takes years and years to cultivate just hand-eye coordination and the feel for the ball. Just things that only come with experience I guess, perspective of the court and so I really liked that part of the game, that I could work on these skills and be really athletic and go out and play this game.”

And in limited experience on the beach, she has already excelled, making two main draws – in San Jose and Huntington Beach – to end the 2018 season, taking fifth at p1440 Huntington Beach alongside Corinne Quiggle. With those resume points, despite zero FIVB points to her name but the desire to play overseas, she got a call from one of the most experienced United States defenders, Brittany Hochevar.

“Hochevar messaged me while I was still playing in the p1440s and asked if I wanted to meet up,” Wopat recalled. “I think she had done her research and watched me a little bit and maybe talked to some people, so we met up and discussed playing together, and she just kinda has this dream to go to the Olympics for 2020 and we talked a lot about timing, and our partnership – I don’t know, just the timing of it all just works out really well.

“The more I’ve gotten to know her spirit and energy – she’s just an amazing person. I just think we’re going to make an amazing partnership.”

 

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Forget daggers.

The look that Brittany Hochevar gave on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter could bore a hole straight through a human soul.

The discussion had turned to partnership dynamics, and how it was with Hochevar and her partner, Emily Day. Day, it turns out, is the more organized one – there is always a more organized one – and I said something along the lines of Hochevar just sort of following along from there.

No no.

Brittany Hochevar?

Just sort of following along?

Brittany Hochevar doesn’t simply follow along. She gets after it.

You can look at her workouts on Instagram or her website. They have a ballistic focus and can be slightly terrifying, though Hochevar also blends this with a focus on mindfulness and equanimity. Stillness.

It’s a unique approach, one she labels as “all in but also all out,” and it’s also inarguably working.

In 2017, at the age of 36, Hochevar won three AVPs and took third in another two. Her 14th year on Tour was, crazy as this might sound, her breakout.

“I feel like I’m in my prime,” she said. “It’s wild. I can do stuff – wisdom, timing, that’s another piece. There’s a different timing to things. It’s fun to see that slowdown. When you arrive you just know it and sometimes that’s at 36.”

Who would have guessed she would have arrived here, at 36, in her 14th season, at the top of the game?

Of all people, Hochevar wouldn’t have been one of them. Prior to 2016, Hochevar’s career had been a Sisyphean one, rolling that boulder all the way to the top – only to see it tumble back down. 

“I was that 13th player on a 12-man roster type of kid,” she said. “It’s my blessing and my curse.”

At Long Beach State, she replaced Misty May as the setter, took the 49ers to a pair of Final Fours and a national title game – and lost in the final.

In a three-year stint with the United States National Team from 2002-2004, she worked her way onto the roster – only to be the first alternate in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

In 2009, her 51st event on the AVP Tour, she made a final with Jen Fopma, losing in three sets to Dianne DeNecochea and Carrie Dodd. It would be seven years until she took one home. But what a platform on which to do it: the 2016 Manhattan Beach Open.

Hochevar’s first career victory came on the sport’s biggest stage, with a plaque on the Manhattan Beach Pier to prove it.

“Bout time,” May texted her.

“Sometimes,” Hochevar said, “timing is funny.”

Somehow, she had done something exceptionally few athletes across any sport have ever been able to do. Hochevar had begun to reach her athletic peak at age 35. She opened the 2017 season with a win in Huntington Beach and then won back-to-back championships in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan again.

By season’s end, only one team had won multiple events on the AVP Tour: Hochevar and Day. Together, they had flipped the script, broken the narrative. Had Hollywood been writing the 2017 season, with Kerri Walsh-Jennings forgoing the AVP and April Ross in partner limbo, it would have been time for the youngsters to take over.

Oh no. Not yet.

Hochevar had fallen in love with the game again, “fallen in love with passing again,” she said. All those years of coming so close to the peak, of being the 13th on the 12 man roster, of rolling that boulder so high, only for it to tumble back down, had paid off. All those years in Puerto Rico and Spain and Turkey and Siberia had paid off. All of those ballistic workouts and pilates and meditating and taking care of her body had paid off.

She has a pair of tattoos on her arms, “Here” written on the left, “I am” written on the right.

At 36 years young, here Hochevar is.

Sometimes, you arrive, and you just know it. 

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