Best of 2019 series: written stories

Best of 2019: Our Top Beach Volleyball Stories of The Season


In March of 2018, Dave Mays, the CEO and one of four co-founders of p1440, came on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. He came on to talk about a new company in the world of beach volleyball, one with a number of lofty ambitions in the sport of beach volleyball.

One of those was to begin producing digital media on beach volleyball. As we began to review all of the stories written on p1440, from a number of different authors, it struck us just how far and wide p1440 was able to cover beach volleyball, both in quantity and quality, in distance and in concentration.

There were stories written from a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel to an airport in Moscow. Molly Turner, an up-and-coming defender on the AVP Tour who is primed for a breakout 2020 season, filed from a two-star in Cambodia. There were stories published from the smoggy city of Qinzhou, China, and from the crisp mountains of Austria and Italy. Mexico was not out of reach, nor was a small map dot of an island called Bonaire, where “Supermom” Aurora Davis won her first NORCECA gold medal, and Allie Wheeler continued a remarkable streak of an international career that is now three-for-three on gold medals.

But it wasn’t so much the geography of the stories that struck us, but the range of them. As we began to narrow down our favorites of the year, what we found was that the stories that stand out are not the ones of the winners, of who played best and who scored 21 points the fastest. They are quite eclectic, indeed. There are stories of a developmental player who allowed beach volleyball to take him around the world, to tournaments in all seven continents. Of a college player overcoming a breathtaking rash of concussions. Of a missionary out of St. Mary’s who is now serving in Croatia.

Of a Road Dog who continues to change how we view the word “adversity.”

There are no shortage of indelible stories in this sport. We’re happy and humbled to have been allowed to bring to light a few. This, however, is just the beginning. p1440 will continue to find these stories, far and wide, and we’ll continue to dig, to find the diamonds in the rough of this sport, of which there is no shortage.

Enjoy the top beach volleyball stories of 2019.

You cannot replace an Eric Zaun

In June, after the conclusion of AVP New York, Eric Zaun, the former AVP Rookie of the Year, committed suicide. His was a life lived richly, wonderfully, without limits or borders or any notion of caution, a life that thrived on adversity. The story of Zaun, adversity, a snow volleyball adventure, and a life well-lived.

After wild travels to China, one lasting impression: There are good people everywhere 

China is, for a number of reasons, not the most popular of stops on the beach volleyball calendar. And yet, the lasting impression from Travis Mewhirter after leaving Qinzhou, where he qualified for a three-star as a player and left as a writer, was this: There are good people everywhere. China is no exception.

Travis Mewhirter goes up for the block against Israel’s Sean Faiga/FIVB photo

Phil Burrow, one of Earth’s two people to play beach volleyball on every continent

Phil Burrow recently moved to California to continue the chase of his beach volleyball dream. Not that it’s much of a move for Burrow at this point: Beach volleyball has taken him to all seven continents, and it’s left an incredible impression upon him, with life lessons by the drove.

Torrey Van Winden has hope

For more than a year, Torrey Van Winden had volleyball taken from her. Taken because of concussions, and the ambiguous nature of their recovery. Which is why the volleyball world celebrated when, during the NCAA Tournament, she appeared in her first Cal Poly indoor match in more than a year. It’s these stories that we love most: the inspirational, the comebacks, the ones still to be written.

On the AVP Tour, winning, not whining, is the answer

There is no dearth of complaining in beach volleyball: on small draws, on not enough money, on travel being too strenuous. The answer to these problems is, while not easy, simple: Get better. Win.

Laguna Open

Lindsey Knudsen, finding the call for something bigger than volleyball

Lindsey Knudsen proved, throughout the course of a court-one career at St. Mary’s, that she has what it takes to play beach volleyball professionally, qualifying in Hermosa Beach of 2017 as a sophomore. She put that on hold, however, this spring, when, rather than hitting the AVP Tour after graduating, she embarked on an 18-month mission trip to Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia.

Lindsey Knudsen-Beach volleyball-p1440

The bigger purpose of Pepperdine beach volleyball

Fires. Shootings. A coach in his first season. Injuries. Pepperdine, one of two programs in the NCAA to have made every national post-season tournament, went through the fire, quite literally, this season. Through it, they found something a little bigger than volleyball.

Brooke Bauer-Heidi Dyer-Pepperdine beach volleyball

Traveling from China to Israel, finding something more

It’s easy for us to get consumed by the small, menial obstacles in life. Getting a little perspective is oftentimes the best antidote for that, which is what a trip to Israel for a one-star FIVB accomplished for a group of beach volleyball players.

Sarah Sponcil still has homework to do

An Olympic race? National Championship on the line? Traveling to country after country? Forget all that for a moment. First, Sarah Sponcil, now in the throes of the Tokyo race, had homework to do.

JM Plummer, Eric Zaun Scholarship winner: ‘Adversity didn’t know what hit her’

JM Plummer, one of four recipients of the inaugural Eric Zaun Scholarship, penned a fantastic essay on his experience playing the Motherlode with Zaun, and a little bit of adversity that made the trip worthwhile.

Beach volleyball is better with Adrian Carambula in it

Shoot sets and one-overs and skyballs in the middle of rallies. Sometimes it can seem a bit gimmicky, and sometimes the results for Adrian Carambula show as much. But the sport of beach volleyball is without a doubt better when Carambula is in it, as evidenced by him now being the No. 2-ranked Italy team, and him winning Most Entertaining Player.

Delaney Knudsen, Katie Spieler keeping old partnership fresh with nothing but fun

They were partners as kids, making their first main draw together in Manhattan Beach of 2014, but Delaney Knudsen and Katie Spieler put the band back together in 2019, enjoying career seasons both not because they are necessarily more competitive than the next, but because they have so much dang fun.

LSU is finally home

For how good LSU’s beach volleyball team has been over the years — and the Tigers have been one of the best in the East every year — it hasn’t had its own court to call home. This spring, it opened one of the finest beach volleyball facilities in college beach volleyball, giving the perennial power a place to call home.

April Ross and Alix Klineman are keeping their feet on the gas pedal

Greatness is no accident, and April Ross and Alix Klineman, the leaders by a mile for the U.S. in the race to Tokyo, aren’t letting up. They won in Itapema and Gstaad, and nearly took home a World Championship. Now, sitting in the driver’s seat for this Olympic race, they’re keeping their feet on the metaphorical gas pedal.