It would seem that Kelly Reeves and Brittany Howard have been playing together for years. At the very least, it would seem as if they’ve been close for quite some time. They smile constantly. Laugh even more.
On more than one occasion on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, one finished the other’s sentence or filled in a blank.
Little about their natural chemistry, which is evident both on a volleyball court and in a podcast studio, suggests that the two have only recently begun a partnership and, by extension, deepening a friendship.
And yet here they are, exactly two tournaments in, complete with two bronze medals in a pair of NORCECA events, in Aguascalientes and La Paz, respectively, with a main draw just one week away for FIVB Huntington Beach.
For Reeves, this is no longer a novel concept, to pick up with a new partner and enjoy immediate success. She’s done this at every level of her career. Doesn’t matter if it was at Cathedral Catholic High School, where she won four straight CIF titles and graduated as the all-time kills and digs leader in San Diego County.
“I think that’s been passed,” she said, laughing.
She one-upped herself at UCLA, winning a national championship indoors in 2011 –- technically, she was also a member of the 1991 national championship winning team, rooting on the Bruins from the womb as her mother, Jeanne, was an assistant coach -- before hitting the beach and becoming the first UCLA All-American on the sand.
The AVP was no different, either. Reeves’ career began in 2016, in Huntington Beach, and a fifth-place finish with Ali McColloch assured her that she wouldn’t have to grind through an AVP qualifier again. She was named rookie of the year, and a year later, partnered with Jen Fopma, she reached the semifinals twice.
Two events into the 2018 season, she’s matched that total, with a partner who is a bit stunned herself by the pair’s quick success.
“A year ago, if you would have told me this is where I would be, that I’d be partnered with Kelly Reeves, playing in a NORCECA, I would definitely not believe you,” Howard said. “It’s just been really cool and awesome experience.”
A year ago, Howard had no plans to play AVP at all. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in Science, Technology and Society, Howard had a job offer in El Segundo. She planned to take it, maybe play in a few CBVAs. Nothing more, save for maybe the occasional local AVP tournament.
But Corinne Quiggle, her partner at Pepperdine, where Howard competed for a fifth year as a grad student, asked if Howard might want to play a few, beginning with New York in early June. They had just come off a third place finish at the USAV Collegiate Beach Championships, pushing USC’s indomitable duo of Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes to three sets.
So off to New York they went –- and lost in the first round of the qualifier. Then to Seattle with the same result. San Francisco saw a second-round exit before a breakthrough in Hermosa and Manhattan Beach, where they coasted through both qualifiers in straight sets.
By season’s end, Howard, who had no plans to play on the AVP Tour, was a three-time main-draw player, a stunningly fast learning curve from a girl who readily admits she had a “rough start” to the beach at Pepperdine.
The rough start is firmly in the rearview, as Howard, technically still a rookie, is now partnered with one of the most athletic defenders on Tour, taking thirds in NORCECAs, enjoying champagne showers before the season has really even begun.
“We definitely celebrated on the podium for sure,” Reeves said, laughing. “That was my first time doing the champagne and I just sent it. Full send … It was our last pair of nice clothes and we were just drenched in champagne.”
A good problem to have.
Or, rather, as the ever-affable Reeves is prone to saying: A “Gucci” problem to have.