Troy Field was, in his own words, “terrified.”
“Just so scared to mess up,” he said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, “to, you know, disappoint this incredible athlete.”
It helped, then, that the incredible athlete in question during last week’s Norceca qualifier was Reid Priddy, and few in volleyball understand what Field was going through more than Priddy. He’s been to four Olympics. He’s won a gold medal. He’s won a bronze medal. In just a single year on the beach, he was one point away from making a final, in San Francisco.
“He’s got some pretty amazing wisdom to offer,” Field said.
Priddy told the 24-year-old that nerves are good. Nerves mean you’re excited, that you care. Focus on what you can control. Not passing or setting or swinging or serving. Just breathing. Which is exactly what Field did.
“I’d see him take a deep breath, which reminded me to take a deep breath,” Field said. Simple. And effective.
Priddy and Field opened with a three-set win over Adam Roberts and another up-and-comer, Spencer Sauter, which put them into the de facto finals – two teams come out of a Norceca qualifier, so the actual final match is of little consequence – against 2017 AVP Rookie of the Year Eric Zaun and veteran blocker Ed Ratledge.
“It was just high level volleyball,” Field said. “Just side out after side out after side out. We battled, battled, battled and took the first set like 27-25. With all that momentum, we were able to figure out what they were doing and Zaun wasn’t really hitting any balls and we were able to work our defense around that and we ended up winning like 21-16 or 21-15 or something like that… Reid was playing out of his mind, just making unbelievable defensive plays.”
It didn’t much matter that the two would lose the next match against Avery Drost and Chase Frishman. They were in, earning spots into a series of tournaments, two of which will be in Mexico, the final in Cuba.
Those three tournaments, should the two choose to play in all of them – they are more than likely not, as the Cuba tournament will run too close to AVP/FIVB Huntington Beach in the first week of May – would add up to one more professional tournament than Field has played in his career. In 2017, he played in a pair of AVPs, failing to make it out of the Hermosa Beach qualifier before making it through in Manhattan Beach with Puerto Rican Orlando Irizarry.
“It’s pretty unreal,” he said. “I’ve never been the person to get super overly excited because I feel like the more you build it up you’ll get disappointed. Everyone has been telling me to just enjoy the moment.”
On the women’s side, another newcomer, Brittany Howard, earned a bid as well. There’s a better chance you’ve heard of Howard than Field. She competed for four years indoors at Stanford before doing a grad year on the beach for Pepperdine, though she was so rusty on the beach that she admitted to DiG Magazine that “I was terrible.”
It’s become apparent she’s a quick learner. Playing with Kelly Reeves, the 2016 AVP Rookie of the Year, Howard beat Amanda Dowdy and Irene Pollock and then the new partnership of top-seeded Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman, earning their Norceca bid despite also losing the final match to Kim Smith and Mackenzie Ponnet.
“I definitely kind of explored my options,” Reeves said on SANDCAST. “Brittany Howard was always someone I’d been watching from afar and I told her I’d love to get in the sand and try it out. We did and it just felt super comfortable, I don’t know, the chemistry thing was big. We’re definitely volleyball people and I definitely understood where she was as far as up-and-coming. Just the first time we stepped in the sand it was ‘Oh, this girl, she’s got some game.’”
Game enough to have qualified for the final three events of the AVP season, in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Chicago, respectively. Game enough to have actually beaten Reeves in Manhattan Beach.
Game enough to have found her new partner for the 2018 season.
Reeves played the majority of the 2017 season with Jen Fopma, though with Fopma pregnant, she had to find either a new blocker or a scrappy defender to play with in 2018. Enter Howard.
“She just did some really funky stuff like ‘Ok I can work with that,’” Reeves recalled when she played Howard. “And then looking to next year, knowing Jen was out, I was like ‘Alright she’s definitely someone I would want to play with.' As soon as we got in the sand, there was just this one play, she had this nice scoop, maybe a block pull move, and she dug it and I set her and she just crushed this ball and I was like ‘Ok she’s got some game.’”
They proved as much last week, and now they’ll be taking two trips to Mexico though the third stop, in Cuba, is unlikely, for the same reasons as Field and Priddy will likely be skipping as well. There’s Huntington, with more to prove, more to learn, a bigger platform on which to play.
“We’re both still new to the game,” Reeves said. “Grantred this is my third season but I’m still learning a ton and she’s still learning a ton and it’s fun to learn and grow with someone. We’re hungry and eager to just get better and I think that’s something I really like about our partnership.”