World Beach Games: U.S. Sending Two Stacked Beach Teams to Play Four-Man in Qatar
Geena Urango had been on a plane for nearly 17 hours when one of the more unusual cautions was announced on her flight to Doha: “For your safety,” her screen read, “please remain seated while praying on board.”
It’s not something you see on a flight to LAX, though, in any case, nothing about her trip to the Middle East is exactly normal, beginning with the fact that she’ll be competing in a beach volleyball tournament with twice the amount of players on the court, in an event that is the first of its kind, with a group of teammates she’d been playing against, not with, for the past five months, in a country a group of six women would not normally just up and go to.
“We’re just doing it,” said Allie Wheeler, who is competing with Katie Spieler, Karissa Cook, Emily Hartong, Geena Urango and Kelly Reeves. “Gotta say yes to it all.”
Yes, for Wheeler, has meant a lot of things. It has meant snow volleyball in Moscow. It has meant a NORCECA in Bonaire. This weekend, it meant yes to a four-man beach volleyball tournament in Qatar. Taking that one step further, it wasn’t even just yes to a fours tournament, of which there are plenty on 16th Street in Hermosa Beach. It was a yes to an entire Games, the first of its kind: The World Beach Games.
Initially scheduled to be hosted by San Diego until private funding fell through, the ANOCH World Beach Games will feature 97 countries and nearly 1,300 athletes competing in 14 different sports, including, wonderfully, 3 on 3 basketball, beach wrestling, bouldering, karate, handball, triathlon, and skateboarding, among others.
“It’s surprising how professional it is,” Troy Field said. “I mean, when’s the last time you heard of professional four-man? We’re getting countless emails through USA. It’s like an Olympic village.”
For Field and Wheeler, and several of their teammates, it is the perfect finale to a whimsical season that has included just about every iteration of the sport one can think. Wheeler concluded the 2018 season with a trip to Moscow for snow volleyball with Spieler, Hartong and Cook. After winning gold, they began the 2019 season with a 10-day trip to Austria and Italy for a pair of other snow volleyball events, in which they returned with gold and silver.
When the opportunity arose to compete in a four-man tournament in a country they’d likely otherwise not visit, it wasn’t a question.
“There was no hesitation at all,” she said. “I’ve never been to the Middle East, and what better way to see it than play volleyball?”
Field, too, began 2019, a breakout year on the sand for him, in the snow with Maddison and Riley McKibbin. Three of the most popular content creators in the sport, there was no way they’d turn down an opportunity not only to compete at such a high level, but the chance to create compelling content of which there is no precedent.
“We haven’t even talked about playing,” Field said, laughing. “I texted the group as we’re talking about how many cameras we’re bringing and stuff, and I was like ‘So am I playing middle or is Brian [Cook]?’ That text went overlooked.”
With the team they’ve put together, it’s possible they don’t need to discuss playing at all, anyway. They’re that good. It’s a who’s who of some of the best hitters on the AVP Tour: Field and the McKibbins, Taylor Crabb, Brian Cook and Casey Patterson. A few kinks, however, will need to be ironed out in the beginning. Small things like, oh, what are the rules and who plays what?
“I think I’ll be playing middle, which is funny,” Field said. “Middle in the sand. Where do we even start that conversation? Here we are, we have Division I athletes across the board, college volleyball players, then it’s ‘Troy, play middle, do you know what a middle is?’”
Maybe not, and maybe nobody does. But they’ll figure it out because they’ve figured everything else out this year – how to win gold on the snow, how to navigate black diamonds in the Dolomites on your off days, how to play middle in the sand.
“It’s gonna be fun regardless,” Wheeler said. “We’re going to have fun, but we’re also all super competitive so all of us are going to want to win. Honestly, we’re going to have fun. We’re going to go in with the mentality that we’re going to have fun.”
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