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 part of a series profiling new teams for 2020.
(Please enjoy the video interview that follows with Traci Callahan by Rob Espero/Viral Volleyball Podcast)
Crissy Jones and Traci Callahan are seeded seventh in the qualifier, 13th overall. Jones is a 6-foot-2 blocker, Callahan a 6-2 defender.
Jones’ best domestic finish of 2019 was a breakout third with Zana Muno in AVP Hermosa Beach, while Callahan’s best finish a seventh in Huntington Beach with Maria Clara Salgado.
To be fair, the team isn’t truly new, having played at the FIVB two-star in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There the two made waves, coming out of the qualifier to upset No. 1 seed Sara Hughes and Lauren Fendrick 12-21, 24-22, 15-13 before succumbing to Terese Cannon and Kelly Reeves 13-21, 21-19, 13-15 to finish fifth.
Jones, one of the few African Americans on the tour, played indoors at Washington, then transferred to spend her grad year playing beach at Cal Poly. Callahan focused on indoor at Cal State Bernardino and then Concordia.
Callahan, 33, coached at the TStreet club when Jones, now 23, was 16. For Callahan, Jones’ virtues as a partner were obvious.
“She was at the top of my list,” Callahan said. “We had a really good partnership in that first tournament and decided to partner together, and then coronavirus happened.
“She’s big. She’s a big blocker, a big force at the net, and she absolutely has a killer instinct at the net.”
Callahan sees Jones’ ball control as a bonus.
“I love that she can hand set, because with our coach, Evie Matthews, we like to run some different plays and spice things up.”
2019 was a transition year for Callahan, switching to full-time defender behind the block of Carly Wopat in July. The transition wasn’t easy, Callahan said.
“I’m pretty committed to being a defender. It’s a hard commitment, because there aren’t a lot of blockers. I’ve had to say no to a lot of practices, it’s weird for someone of my size to play defense, but I knew that if I didn’t have a sure mind about it, then nobody else would take me serious about it.
“I did a hard ‘I’m a defender’, and just found some coaches that believed in me and put in the work with me.
“I’ve put in a lot of time, and a lot of effort changing my game, working on my quickness, speed, and balance. It’s been very difficult, and I’ve had to be patient, but I will say that I haven’t at one point I’ve never thought that I should just go back to blocker.”
For Callahan, switching to from a sought-after blocker to a defender raises the ceiling of her beach volleyball potential.
“I’ve always wanted to play at the highest level, and playing as a defender with someone who’s bigger than me would make for a great team at the highest level of the game.”
Many of the new teams are disadvantaged without having extensive training time together, but not for Callahan and Jones, who have had access to a private court throughout the quarantine, able to maintain their skills throughout the lockdown.
Callahan believes that their team’s physicality will surprise some teams this weekend in Long Beach.
“We’ve got a lot of good training in, so I feel really confident going into this tournament that we’re on the same page and we’re going to surprise some people, hopefully a lot of teams.”
Read our other new AVP Champions Cup Partnerships features:
- Avery Drost moves to defense behind Ryan Doherty
- Marciniak, Rodriguez revive 2017 partnership
- Loomis finds his fountain of youth in 18-year-old Miles Partain
- Wheeler, Quiggle, longtime friends and opponents, on same side of the net
- Callahan, Jones, both 6-foot-2, ready for AVP debut
- Fiery Turner, calm Hogan enjoying AVP partnership
- Tiegs excited to partner with Wopat for AVP Champions Cup
- Muno, recovered from coronavirus, and Dowdy working hard
- With Flint out, Day partners with Fendrick