Reps, Reps, Reps Style of p1440 Coaching Staff Paying Dividends
Marcio Sicoli is, technically speaking, the head coach of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat. Some might think it unusual, then, that Walsh Jennings has only seen him three times since January.
He’s been busy with only, oh, having a child, serving as the head coach of the Pepperdine Waves, one of the top beach programs in the country, while also overseeing p1440’s Developmental Program, which consists of 18 men’s and women’s teams, four coaches and several other volunteers.
That’s how valuable Sicoli is in the eyes of Walsh Jennings: Even in the midst of an Olympic year, his coaching, his style, his ability to draw out the best in beach volleyball players, is worth the wait.
“Marcio to me is the greatest coach and trainer in the world,” Walsh Jennings said. “He’s dedicated his life to it. When it comes to Brazilian coaches, their system works and it’s all built on progressions and touches and taking ownership of the ball and of yourself within certain situations.”
The results of not just Sicoli, but his style and his immediate coaching tree, speak for themselves. Let’s leave out, for a minute, the 2012 gold medal Sicoli helped Walsh Jennings and Misty May to in London, or the bronze in 2016 — p1440 coach and Pepperdine assistant Jon Daze was also on staff — with April Ross. Let’s examine the most recent results, beginning in January, with Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil.
One of the most promising young teams in the U.S., Claes and Sponcil are coached by Leandro Pinheiro, another Brazilian coach in the p1440 system. In their first tournament with Pinheiro at the helm, in Las Vegas, they took ninth, emerging from the qualifier and nearly stunning Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado, then the top-ranked team in the world. Three months later, they returned from The Hague four-star with silver medal in hand. “It’s all about access,” Walsh Jennings said of the coaching, which, if paid for independently, can run beach players up to $20,000 a year. “If people have access to that, they’re going to be able to improve themselves. It makes me extremely proud to know that Kelly and Sarah, the future stars of our sport, are benefitting from our program.” Last fall, there was a not-so-coincidental rise in the success of the players in the p1440 developmental program, whether it be the men or the women. Each tournament featured one landmark personal best after the next. In Hermosa Beach, Jessica Gaffney set the AVP record for lowest seed (Q84) to make it out of the qualifier. In that same tournament, her current partner, Molly Turner, claimed a career-high seventh with fellow p1440 athlete Cassie House. Two weeks later, in Manhattan Beach, Corinne Quiggle, also in the developmental program, narrowly missed making a Sunday, finishing fifth. At the time, that had been the best result of her burgeoning career. No longer. In February, Quiggle, partnered with Amanda Dowdy and coached by p1440’s Marcos Miranda, picked up a silver medal, her first FIVB hardware, at a two-star in Cambodia. “Marcos is really a big proponent of physical health,” Quiggle said. “Lasting, basically. So his practices are really tiring and taxing on the body but balancing it by being able to perform in that tired state.” Ah, yes. Brazilians love their cone drills – “my sons,” as Pinheiro jokingly refers to them. Zig-zagging, cutting, stopping and starting. Leg-burning and lung-searing exercises throughout the entirety of most practices. But it’s not just cardio for cardio’s sake. It’s running, shifting direction while also touching a ball. Always, always, always touching a ball. What might have seemed masochistic or downright evil in practice proved to be quite prescient in Cambodia. During the semifinals, in near-100-degree heat, Quiggle and Dowdy were matched up with a scrappy team from Thailand that wouldn’t let the ball go down. What Quiggle and Dowdy both found was that “we do almost better when we’re getting in these long rallies and we’re getting all these points,” Quiggle said. “We noticed that in Cambodia when it was 97 degrees and we’re kinda like ‘We’ve been through this before. We’ve been this exhausted.’ It’s just seeing how your focus is on the little things – passing, setting, we do a lot of the basics. Once you can control the basics that’s when we can read balls better.” “By the time we got to the finals,” Dowdy said, “it was just ‘Ok, we’ve been here before.’” Sicoli’s staff has a Miyagi-type focus on the fundamentals. Thousands upon thousands of small touches – maddening amounts of touches, preposterous amounts of touches – without playing a set is the preseason Brazilian way. Wax on. Wax off. Be patient. Trust the process of it. Then come home with a medal. “We’re doing these drills and I want to play,” Walsh Jennings said, laughing. “When you look at Michael Jordan and you look at the greats in any sport, they were masters of the fundamentals, and the fact that they mastered themselves and they mastered the fundamentals, it allowed them to be crazy – sustainably, consistently. That’s what we want at p1440.” And that is exactly what they’re getting, one podium at a time.
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