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

The beginning of the best year of Katie Spieler’s burgeoning career began at once brutally and spectacularly.

The brutal, as it tends to go in sports, preceded the spectacular, setback was succeeded by breakthrough.

“One of my worst matches was my first game in Austin,” Spieler said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I was super bummed because I felt mentally not on, physically not on. I never call anyone on gamedays, but I called my sister and I was just like ‘I need your advice.’ Her advice was to just ‘Go out and be you. You don’t have to go out and try to be super confident and super aggressive. Just literally be yourself on the court and that’s when you’re going to play your best.’”

That initial 13-21, 22-20, 11-15 loss to Jace Pardon and Brittany Tiegs in the rearview, Spieler and partner Karissa Cook won their next four matches. Just like that, Spieler had gone from minor identity crisis to her first career AVP semifinal, blowing well past her previous career-best of seventh, at Chicago of 2016, all the way to the semifinals, her first Sunday.

“It felt way different,” Spieler said of the semifinal. “The vibes on a Sunday are totally different from even late on a Saturday. There’s so many fewer teams there and there’s a big crowd, and Austin was super weird because there was a rain delay. I think we’ve learned a lot since then just to take it as another match, but I think it was ‘Oh my gosh! We’re in the semis!’ Playing your game is just how you should approach every match.”

 And it seems their own game works just fine. In five of the next six tournaments, they’d match or improve upon that previous career-high, finishing seventh or better in the final five events of the year.

“It was great learning with Karissa and getting better,” Spieler said. “Each tournament, unless you win, you end on a loss, so there’s always that, and there’s so much I want to work on and get better, but yeah, it was a great season.”

It was a season in which Spieler more than doubled her career prize money from the previous four seasons combined. A season in which, for the first time in her career, she didn’t have to play in a single qualifier. A season in which, once again, her and Cook tossed out many of beach volleyball’s norms and won and grinded in their own decidedly unique style.

“I don’t think it was one certain thing, but [Karissa] was coaching at Stanford all of last year so our practice was just playing in tournaments,” Spieler said. “That continued thoughout this season but for me this off-season I just worked on myself, and moving down [to Hermosa Beach] was huge. And [Karissa] just worked on herself this off-season and when we got together we were that much better because we had both worked on what we needed to and we got better as the year went on. It wasn’t one certain thing, we just both have a growth mindset and are working to get better individually.”

With the AVP regular season over, Spieler is left with perhaps two tournaments remaining on the 2018 calendar: a Norceca qualifier – and potentially the three events for which it would qualify them – and, potentially, an AVP Hawaii wild card.

Of the women’s teams vying for the wild card spot, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the AVP taps Spieler and Cook, both of whom played for Hawaii, both of whom have a significant following on the islands.

Wild card or not, Spieler is simply going to continue doing what she does best: find a way to keep on winning.

“I don’t really set goals that I need to reach this goal by this date,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been like that. It’s more like, ‘Ok, put my head down, grind it out, have fun, play,’ and then when I surface, it’s like ‘Oh, nice!’ If I did these things, great. My goal is just to keep playing at the highest level I can play for as long as I can play, because I just love playing volleyball.”

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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.”

Indeed.

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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