Developmental Program: Alex Poletto

Sorry Mom, But Alex Poletto’s Beach Career is Only Just Beginning

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Alex Poletto did not plan on beach volleyball being an integral part of her post-collegiate life, and it is difficult to blame her for thinking so for the first 21 years of it. She had been raised in Toronto, where on Wednesday it is expected to be 13 degrees and there should be snow on the ground. When she left Toronto for college, she did so for Fort Collins, Colorado, where snowboarding and skiing is far more normal than playing beach volleyball and where Poletto played middle blocker for the Colorado State Rams.

By the time she graduated, in 2017, she was 21 years old and had never lived in an environment that is not known for being frigid. Beach volleyball was as unlikely a career path as any, something Poletto acknowledges still.

“My goal was to play professionally indoor overseas,” said Poletto, who is now 23. “I didn’t even think about beach, maybe when I’m done, kind of in the footsteps of Kerri [Walsh Jennings]: ‘I’m going to go play indoor, play in the Olympics, and then maybe go play beach.’ And then I finished my four years indoor and was like ‘I’m ready to go. I’m going to play beach, that’s it.’”

It is a common saying in sports that, good as a coach may be, that coach cannot teach height. So despite being primarily an indoor player all her life, the 6-foot-2 Poletto still received a call from the most powerful school in beach volleyball: The University of Southern California, which, as a school, was not only the unquestioned leader of the college ranks, but it resides at the center of the sport as a whole.

Poletto started both years as a Trojan and made her professional debut representing Canada in October of 2018 at a NORCECA in Martinique, a map dot of an island in the Caribbean. She took second with Sophie Bukovec, another Trojan who is currently representing Canada, losing only to American professionals Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook. It was an auspicious start, one that would be followed by a brilliant year at USC, where the Trojans won the Pac-12 Championship, finished the regular season ranked No. 1 after toppling mighty UCLA twice, and made the NCAA finals.

And then Poletto was on her own. She graduated, and all of those resources at college, all of the set practice times and training, was done with, and she had to figure out how to make a beach career, representing Canada while living in the United States, work.

“It was hard for my parents to accept that I wanted to stay in California,” she said. “My mom was so ready for me to be finished with college in the States and come back to Canada and start living at home again but they’re so supportive which is huge and I wouldn’t even be able to think about doing this without them on board. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

She’s looking at the long view, Poletto. She’s partnered with Megan Nash, another Toronto native and WCC champion at LMU who’s also, funnily enough, a blocker. They knew that the 2020 Olympics was not the goal, so they’re starting at ground zero, with 2024 and 2028 in mind and Nash learning a new position, both figuring out how to crack into the professional ranks. They’ve already done it, too, qualifying for a two-star in Zhongwei, China in August, where they’d finish 19th.

“We’re not in a rush to get there,” Poletto said. “We have some time, and it’s not something you want to rush into because it can be very overwhelming at first but we have a long ways to go. It’s very promising when every month you go to a new tournament and you do better and better and you see yourself reaching that level that you want to get to.”

This year will be their first as full-time professional beach players. They’re in the p1440 Developmental Program, which began 2020 training this week, together. And they’re all in on a beach vision that, sorry mom, will have them in the United States for just a bit longer.

“I’m not really worried that I won’t get to where I want to be just because I so strongly believe in myself,” Poletto said. “It’s exciting because without competition you wouldn’t be able to get to that level.”

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