If you happen to be in attendance this weekend, wondering who that really skinny, really white dude is at the end of the beach playing King/Queen of the court for three consecutive hours with competitors half his size, don’t worry, it’s me. Yes, my career has taken an oddly shaped turn. Not quite a U, but not a simple hard left either. Editorial writing, Hot Stove video producing, volleyshort advocating, and now: AVP Juniors Camp directing. Who would’ve thought, right? And to think I actually used to bump, set and spike, and then pogo with the crowd after big wins in Hermosa? My, how times have changed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean for the worse. In fact, in some cases, it means for the better. Case in point: I’m now instructing volleyball’s youth on the pure pleasures inherent with spiking shoeless in the sun, something I happen to take very seriously. Why? Because these kids are our sport’s future.
In fact, with the College Beach Volleyball Championship taking place this weekend on courts directly adjacent to our AVP Juniors Camp, this point could not be more relevant. Starting in 2011, the young ladies I’m desperately attempting to instruct how to spike a volleyball as it soars through the air via 30-knot winds will have NCAA scholarships to pursue on the sand in addition to the hard court. And with college tuitions astronomically rising by the semester, those scholarships are going to be equivalent to a Wilson ball bag full of gold bouillon. Don’t think for a second that parents aren’t aware of where a beach camp in early May might eventually lead if their little Cindy Lou somehow develops a Misty May-Treanor-like cut shot. USC, anybody?
What’s even more impressive about the NCAA sand movement is that it’s nationwide. Beach volleyball has been a Southern California-dominated sport for its entire existence, with tournaments like Huntington, Hermosa and Manhattan unofficially becoming the “Majors” of our sport every summer, but after witnessing the camp turnout and enthusiasm of each participant in Fort Lauderdale, I don’t foresee our stranglehold on the game lasting forever. There’s a new movement on the horizon and as it should, it’s starting at younger and younger ages on beaches farther and farther away from the hallowed South Bay in Los Angeles. In Florida’s case, I guess it doesn’t hurt to have two new teams making a statement in 2010 that currently live and train in the Sunshine State.
Florida natives Mike DiPierro and Steve Grotowski started the season in the qualifier as Steve spent the last three years competing on the FIVB for Great Britain and thus no longer possessed any tournament entry points. But it hasn’t taken them long to establish themselves firmly in the main draw with a tough 13th-place finish in Fort Lauderdale and now a 7th-place finish in Santa Barbara. With each final match requiring extra points against teams like Gibb/Rosenthal and Scott/Hyden—or to clarify, squads that have more than their fair share of AVP wins—DiPierro and Grotowski’s future looks incredibly bright and I’m certainly not afraid to predict a top-10 seeding for these two by early July.
On the women’s side lies the second Floridian team battling their way into main draw stardom: Brooke Sweat and Kristen Batt. Seeded third in the qualifier in Fort Lauderdale, they earned a spot in the main draw and proceeded to go home with a 17th-place finish. Seeded second in the qualifier in Santa Barbara, they made their way in to the draw as the 25th-seed and then cleaned house en route to their first seventh-place finish. I watched the tail end of two of their matches today and they’re legit. Especially in heavy Florida-type wind. The state should be proud of both men’s and women’s representatives. Not to mention some guys named Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who grew up there as well but now live in the Santa Barbara area, so for this weekend, a slightly different region of America gets to claim them.
Now all I can hope for is that same type of love for the game in states like Jersey and Virginia come mid-June, with both the pros and the teenage future pros. Who knows, if I’m lucky, I just might be able to witness the entire progression.
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