College Beach: Reka Orsi Toth

Reka Orsi Toth Making an Immediate Impact at LMU

Reka Orsi Toth-p1440-LMU beach volleyball

SANTA MONICA — If one was curious to know, roughly, the person Reka Orsi Toth will be in six or so years, you would need look not in Santa Monica, where she is a freshman at Loyola Marymount, but thousands of miles east, to Santeramo, a town about 300 miles southeast of Rome.

That’s where Viktoria Orsi Toth currently lives and trains as Italy’s top beach volleyball team, alongside partner Marta Menegatti. And it’s why, when teachers would ask Reka what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer would at once stay the same and vary quite wildly.

“I want to be like my sister,” she’d say.

So if Viktoria wanted to be a golfer, Reka wanted to be a golfer. If Viktoria wanted to play indoor volleyball, Reka wanted to play indoor volleyball. If Viktoria wanted to play beach, Reka wanted to play beach.

This volleyball passion of theirs has been an awfully confusing matter to their parents, neither of whom played the sport. Their father, Laszlo, represented Hungary as a decathlete. Their mother, Agnese, represented Hungary in basketball.

So when Viktoria, and then subsequently Reka, turned to volleyball, “my parents were like ‘What are you guys doing?’” Reka said, laughing.

Not that they could argue. What they were doing was winning. A lot. By the time Viktoria was 17, she had signed with a club in Serie A1, making her the second youngest player in the top division of the Italian league.

It was on the beach, though, that the Orsi Toths thrived. After failing to sign with the Italian indoor national team in 2010, Viktoria accepted a tryout to represent Italy on the sand. That September, partnered, for the second time with Menegatti, Orsi Toth claimed silver at the U21 World Championships.

Back home, Reka was watching, observing, waiting for her chance to do the same.   

“When she was on the national team indoor, I was like ‘I’m going to play indoor,’” Reka said. “And then she switched to beach and I said ‘You know, I’m going to switch to beach volleyball.’”

And so she did. For two years, the sisters lived together at the Italian training center. It was a little beach family of sorts, with five girls and four guys, including 2016 silver medalists Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai. While Viktoria, Lupo and Nicolai took to the FIVB, Reka took to the youth circuit, winning three Italian national beach titles, two U-19 national beach championships, a U-21 national championship in 2017 and a silver at the 2017 U-20 European Beach Volleyball Championships.

She kept pace with Viktoria, who had won a gold and a bronze on the FIVB in 2015 and a silver and bronze in 2016. Though it is here where their paths divide. When Viktoria was rising through the ranks, the AVCA and NCAA hadn’t yet adopted beach volleyball as a sport. Reka had that opportunity. Sort of.

Laszlo made a call to Jozsef Forman, an old friend from college and the head coach at Coastal Carolina. Yes, he’d love to have Reka, a left-handed outside. Reka was at once thrilled and disappointed.

“But dad,” she recalls saying, “I want to play beach!”

She knew, though, that she had begun looking too late. The top beach programs were already full. Competing in the fall with Coastal would give her time to find the right beach program for her.

She made it clear, too, that she loved her time at Coastal.

“They were awesome,” she said. “They were great to me. Nothing was wrong. I just wanted to play beach.”

At the same time Reka was putting her name on the transfer list, John Mayer had begun to peruse it.

He didn’t expect to need it, actually. He had a roster he was excited about, one that included a transfer from Oklahoma that would have given him five solid courts. But “something came up,” Mayer said, and she de-committed.

“I was pretty bummed,” he said. “We just had to hope someone pops up on the transfer portal.”

He saw Orsi Toth on the list. A familiar name. Having played on the world tour, knew of Viktoria, as did his assistant coach, Betsi Flint, who had played Viktoria in Moscow in August.

Remember the scene in Shawshank Redemption, when Andy keeps sending letters? One per week, even though he doesn’t hear back for years?

That’s essentially what Mayer did. He sent email after email and got no response. It’s not that Reka didn’t want to go, she “just didn’t think it was possible.”

Flint took the more 2019 approach to matters. Reka said Flint messaged Viktoria on Instagram, and Viktoria immediately sent her sister a text.

“She said ‘You need to respond!’” Reka recalled. “I didn’t know who John Mayer was and I was so confused and then I watched videos and my sister said ‘You need to be the girl version of John Mayer. You’re lefty. You’re a defender. You’re small. You’re perfect. He can teach you.’”

Sold.

Reka was coming to LMU.

Problem was, she didn’t even have a dorm. She had come so late in the process that, when she moved to Santa Monica on a Sunday night, with class at 11 the next morning, it was so late that the dorms were closed. So there she was, at a school where she didn’t have a place to stay, playing for a coach she hadn’t yet met, in a sport she hadn’t played since before her move to the United States.

“She took a big leap and we took a big leap and I wouldn’t have dreamed it would have worked out as well as it did,” Mayer said.

Had you been at Ocean Park last Saturday afternoon, you’d have witnessed just how well the relationship has worked out for both. There was Orsi Toth, on court two alongside Megan Nash, winning five of six matches at the WCC Championships to help LMU to its first conference title. Less than four months into her move to the West Coast, she’s already played a hand in making history.

“To have her as a freshman – she’s going to be up there with some of those names, Betsi Flint, Sarah Sponcil, Emily Day,” Mayer said.

Those names are high praise with which to be associated. But there is only one with whom Reka really wants to be compared, and that’s the sister who shares her last name. In four years, should all go relatively as planned and expected, Reka is likely to take to the world tour. It’s possible that Viktoria will need a defender, a female John Mayer, you could say, the exact prototype to complement Viktoria.

“I would love to play with her,” Reka said. “That’s the dream.”

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