Pro beach volleyball returns this week with the start of the three-week AVP Champions Cup Series in Long Beach (July 17-19, July 24-26, July 31-August 2). This is the start of a series profiling new teams for 2020.

It was, in a way, a partnership baptized by China.

In April of 2017, Avery Drost saw an opportunity to get a rare bit of FIVB experience with a position he had practiced much but competed in a limited capacity. All off-season, he had defended behind Robbie Page, a 7-foot blocker out of UCLA. Just before the season began, Page backed out, focusing instead on entrepreneurial endeavors with a start-up tea company.

It left Drost, a 6-foot-4, 32-year-old at the time, without a partner but with an entire off-season of reps. He dialed up Ryan Doherty, another 7-foot blocker who was not taking the season off.

Would he want to play?

“I was kinda surprised when he said yes,” Drost recalled.

They flew across the world for the most bizarre of tournaments: A single-elimination tournament in which seeds 17-32 were blindly drawn and put into a bracket. Theirs was a friendly draw, with China in the first round and a talented but young Australian team in the second.

They would return home with a fifth in hand, their only loss to Italians and 2016 Olympic silver-medalists Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai.

Then they went their separate ways: Doherty to John Hyden, John Mayer, Billy Allen and Miles Evans; Drost to Chase Frishman, Eric Zaun, Mayer, and Frishman again. The itch for Drost, who resumed blocking after playing with Doherty, to return to defense grew throughout.

“The opportunities are fewer because everyone always needs a blocker,” he said.

When the AVP announced its Champions Cup, a three-week sprint of a season in which the main draws are just eight teams and most pre-season partnerships were thrown out the window, Doherty was the first guy Drost called.

At the time, Doherty was set to play with Ty Loomis. He’d be in the draw with either player, but with whom could he make the most impact? Loomis is 41 and, like Doherty, who is 36 and beginning to pursue other interests, in the twilight of his career. Drost is 33, with five or six years left of growth left in him. Doherty committed to Drost on one condition: If Drost was serious or not about switching to defense.

“When I was talking to him, I wanted to pitch it as: ‘Listen, if you want to play some defense as a professional’ — he’s been a blocker for most of his pro career — ‘but if you want to transition to the defensive side of things then it makes sense for us to get together,’” Doherty said.

“I think he’s got a pretty high ceiling as a bigger defender. He’s very quick, he’s athletic, he can do a lot of things. If he can make that shift and become good on that side of the ball, it’s going to open up some opportunities to do a lot of things.”

They’ll be in the qualifier, the most loaded AVP qualifier you might ever witness. But it will be three tournaments of defense under Drost’s belt, valuable competition if his career is going to move in that direction.

“Avery’s got a little bit of experience playing defense, he’s played behind a few different guys, I definitely think he’s got a high ceiling there,” Doherty said. “It’ll be fun to get these three tournaments under his belt and get him moving in the right direction for 2021.”

Read our other new AVP Champions Cup Partnerships features:

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