p1440: Kris Johnson, Chris Austin

p1440 Developmental Program: Kris Johnson, Chris Austin

It is not exactly a rare instance when a volleyball partnership comes full circle, one that began out of necessity, fades and then reemerges out of the same construct. This is both an accurate though somewhat flawed summation of the new team of Kris Johnson and Chris Austin, one with tremendous upside and a deep mine of latent beach talent.

They met at Long Beach City College, Johnson enrolling there after playing just one year at Lakewood High School, Austin returning after being cut from the University of Hawai’i as a walk on. It wasn’t a long union. Johnson played two years and transferred to Cal Baptist, which preceded an overseas career in Finland and a brief stint with the U.S. National Team, where he played in the 2015 Pan American Games and 2016 Pan American Cup. Austin transferred to UC Irvine, where he set the Anteaters to a 2012 National Championship. He, too, went overseas.

“Now that we’re both finishing up our indoor careers, we both have some athleticism left, we both like each other, so why not see how good we can get at the beach game,” Austin said.

To watch a match in which Austin and Johnson play is to glimpse at once both the somewhat limitless ceiling of the two and the long, bumpy road ahead, one where the indoor skills will be transitioned to beach, which some do quicker than others.

“It’s been a pretty tough transition to say the least,” said Johnson, who stands 6-foot-11. “To only have been on the sand for four or five months and basically rebuild your entire game from playing indoor to playing beach has been super tough, but I’m somebody who has been super addicted to improving at whatever I’m doing so I take it and I go with it.”

And indeed they are improving. Despite just a few months on the beach, they are the second-ranked team in the p1440 Developmental Program. It’s that type of improvement and attitude that gives Austin reason to have such confidence in the two.

“We want to play all the AVP, p1440, get out to some FIVBs, really just to get as good as we can,” said Austin, who is the author of the book, The Way. “It just so happens, in my opinion, we can be one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the United States. But it takes a lot of work. It’s not something you should really talk about unless you’re asked, so that’s our goal.”

They know the road is long. They know it’s not easy. Which is why their focus is singular: Improvement. Small steps. Little gains that add up over the course of days, weeks, months, a year, two years.

“I’ve put a lot more focus on myself in the last three or four months than I have in the last four or five years, and it’s refreshing,” Austin said. “Being able to put my energy into myself and be as good of an athlete and as good of a friend and as good of a family member as I can be – that’s how I spend my 1440.”

Added Johnson: “I want to improve all the time. If I feel like I’m not improving, getting stagnant at what I’m doing, I’m going to change to get to that point.”

Other Developmental Program teams:

Lacey Fuller, Jessica McGuire: The Penn State libero meets the UCLA rower

Jay Panther, Cody Caldwell: The near-Olympic skier and the National Champ

Chloe Crappell, Carissa Whalen: Discovering community through beach volleyball

Travis Mewhirter, Myles Muagututia: The smoothest athlete on the beach

Madison Willis, McKenna Thibodeau: Let your personality shine

Victoria Dennis, Nora Darrhar: A partnership grounded in gratitude

John Schwengel, Aidan Brown: The youngsters looking to make the leap

Tomas Salava, Martin Mach: Giving this beach thing a shot