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

Sam Pedlow remembers the crying.  

There he was, a full-fledged Canadian, playing hockey, his country’s past-time sport, the American equivalent of football, at a fairly high level, living up to the expectations of all of those around him.

And then he abandoned it.

He left a youth playoff hockey game for a volleyball practice. In some parts of Canada that might very well be considered treason.  

“I felt like I was disappointing everybody,” Pedlow recalled on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I was no longer playing hockey. But in order for our sport to continue to survive we need people to continually replace us. I want to be a place where people are continually beating me. Our program has been on the rise these past five years. We need to keep that momentum going, and we need people to fill in for us when we ultimately retire.”

There is not an especially urgent rush in that regard. Should Pedlow and his partner, 6-foot-6 defender Sam Schachter, remain together, they could legitimately have three more Olympic Games in their futures. Pedlow is just 30, Schachter, already an Olympian in 2016 with Josh Binstock, just 27.

As partners, they’re only beginning to hit their stride, logging their eighth consecutive top 10 finish on the FIVB World Tour with a ninth in Fort Lauderdale this past weekend, beating Austrians Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst before bowing out in three sets to Spain’s Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera.

But beyond their own individual gain and fame, which is on the rise, thanks to the active and wonderful social media from Pedlow, they’re looking to develop a latent beach volleyball community in Canada, which hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1996, when John Child and Mark Heese claimed bronze in 1996. Schachter’s ninth-place finish in Rio was Canada’s best since 2004.

“We need people starting to play all over the place,” Schachter said. “This sport is so unbelievable because you don’t have to be the biggest and strongest like you would in indoor. It’s so much a mental game where you have to be smart and strategy and you don’t have a coach so there’s an independence factor and the girls are beautiful.”

Looks aside, the Canadian women’s program, which has yet to win an Olympic medal, is becoming a bona fide power in its own right. Two teams – Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes and Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson – claimed top-10 finishes in Florida, and both landed in the top 10 in the world rankings at the close of the 2017 season.

The only team with more points than Pavan and Humana-Paredes? Brazil’s Talita and Larissa, excellent company to be keeping for a hockey-crazed country.

“Our women’s program is going to be strong for a long time,” Pedlow said.

With Pedlow and Schachter climbing the world ranks, the men’s program has an auspicious look as well.

Perhaps soon enough, with a few more top finishes on the word tour, there will be no more crying in volleyball.

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April is when the full-time volleyball begins.

But the real battle annually begins in late January and early February, when Canadians Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow stop by Hermosa Beach for a few weeks of high level training prior to FIVB Fort Lauderdale, the first major international event every year.

The real battles, of course, do not take place on the courts themselves. Nah, they’re on Instagram, where Pedlow has curated one of the best social media accounts across all of sports, right up there, it’s easy to argue, with Joel Embiid, the troll savant of the NBA.

He’ll post highlights and bloopers, funny sound bytes and inspirational quotes, a little bit of everything. What makes it fun is that for the few weeks the Canadians are in town, the U.S. players they practice with – namely Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, Casey Patterson and Stafford Slick, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in Florida prior to Fort Lauderdale – fire it right back in a friendly, if not still competitive, manner.

“It’s a self-proclaimed rivalry by Casey and Slick,” Schachter said, laughing.

“In Canada, beach volleyball isn’t as publicized as it is in the States,” Pedlow, the more active of the two, added. “They do a great job of making everybody know who you are. If we want people to know who we are we need to do some work, do some ground work. Every time we come down to the United States and play with these guys and post some videos it’s good for us, because now we might get some Sam Times Two fans.”

Patterson did his part in making sure his followers knew the Sams plays were fake (they’re not), while his are real (they are).

“People think we’re kinda going at each other but it’s all in good fun,” Pedlow said. “Now, I don’t post a whole lot of rallies we don’t win.”

If you follow them closely enough, you’ll know that isn’t true. Pedlow and Schachter both enjoy a good blooper as much as the rest of us. But here’s the thing: The rallies they lose are becoming exceedingly harder to come by.

Last year, 2017, marked their first as a team, Schachter having needed a replacement for the since-retired Josh Binstock, and Pedlow in potential need of an upgrade from Grant O’Gorman (perfectly enough, the Sams are in the same pool as countrymen O’Gorman and Ben Saxton, former partner of transfer American Chaim Schalk).

Their first tournament together was at this very same event a year ago, where they took ninth, having beaten O’Gorman and Michael Plantinga and Austrian Olympian Robin Seidl and Tobias Winter to break pool.

Eventually, they were knocked out by Gibb and Crabb, though it was an auspicious start for what would become Pedlow’s best season, one in which the Sams – or SamX2 or Sam Squared, whichever you prefer – would improve upon their seed in every single FIVB tournament they played in. Those finishes are thanks to what the two call “one and done volleyball,” a nod to their height and physicality.

Pedlow, the 2017 Most Improved Player on the FIVB, stands 6-foot-5 and Schachter, the defender, 6-foot-6. They’re the first to admit they won’t dig as many balls as, say, a Crabb, who’s light and nimble and quicksilver fast, but when they do, they’re more likely to put it away, relying more on offensive and transition efficiency than long, dragged out rallies.

They’re ok with that. It works.

Most importantly, for the fans and those following on social media: It’s fun to watch.

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