There’s a new substitute teacher in Santa Monica this year.

That’s how Karissa Cook will describe it, anyway. With Betsi Flint, LMU’s usual assistant coach, on maternity leave after giving birth to Cora Flint a few weeks ago, John Mayer was in need of a fill-in until Flint returns. He plucked one of the most excellent candidates, hiring Karissa Cook, a former setter for Stanford who finished her collegiate career playing beach for Hawai’i.

“We are so thrilled to add Karissa to our team this season,” Mayer said in a press-release. “She brings a wealth of experience as a coach at both the college and juniors level. She’s also one of the top professional beach players in the country. She’ll add so much value as she’s a really cerebral and versatile player who understands all the intricacies of the game. Mainly, we are just thankful to have such a high-quality person who is eager to learn and is a great role model for our coaches and athletes.”

The last two years have featured a lengthening list of accolades and accomplishments for Cook. She won a NORCECA in Martinique with Katie Spieler in 2018, won her first AVP in Austin of 2019 with Jace Pardon — at the end of the season, they’d be named the Breakthrough Team of the Year — and concluded it with a fours World Championship in Doha, Qatar. In July, Cook and Pardon also won a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

She brings with her both a wealth of experience and a knowledge for the game that is almost impossible to teach, having grown up playing on the beaches of Santa Cruz.

“I was honored to hear from John when he reached out about filling in for Betsi this spring while she is on maternity leave,” she said. “They’re smart, hard working, and kind people so I was selfishly just hoping to hang around and learn from them. I love the college game, and while I’ just a substitute teacher dropping in this year to reach all the players a few bad habits, I definitely hope to be back in the college game in a more permanent way someday soon.”

Jose Loiola-SANDCAST-Tri Bourne-Travis Mewhirter
2017 IVHOF inductees Ron Zwerver, Irina Parkhomchuk, Jose Loiola, and Anders Kristiansson

Jose Loiola joins UCLA coaching staff

Karissa Cook is not the only big-time pickup being made by Southern California schools this year. Earlier, Jose Loiola joined a venerated staff at UCLA as the volunteer assistant, joining head coach Stein Metzger and assistant Jenny Johnson Jordan on what might be the most decorated coaching staff ever put together.

In his playing career, Loiola won 55 tournaments and is widely regarded as one of the best to ever play the game, admired by all the old school greats for being the first international team to compete on the AVP Tour, alongside Eduardo “Anjinho” Bacil.

Loiola currently coaches professionals Sara Hughes and Emily Day, as well as Olympic hopefuls Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Anna Collier
USC beach volleyball coach Anna Collier, who retired after eight years, shown here with her most accomplished players, Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes/Ed Chan,

Anna Collier takes Rolling Hills Prep job

It was only a year ago that Anna Collier was sitting on Tri Bourne’s couch, relaxing, expounding on the wonders of retirement: going to the spa, riding her bike down the strand, relaxing.

“Just call me Soccer Mom Anna Collier,” she said in August of 2019.

The Soccer Mom Anna Collier is now the retired iteration of the longtime USC coach. Coach Anna Collier is back.

Rolling Hills Prep, a private school of 350 students in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles, plucked Collier out of retirement to be their first beach volleyball coach. It is a heck of a hire for new athletic director Harvey Kitani; Collier is the most successful beach volleyball coach in the sport’s brief history, with three consecutive national championships to her name and the winningest pairs team of all-time in Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes.

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Andy Benesh celebrates a block/Mpu Dinani, AVP

Andy Benesh, Ryan Doherty, others relocate to Florida

Andy Benesh swore he wasn’t going to do it again. He had made the drive from California to Florida in the summer of 2020, when the West Coast beaches were shut down but Florida, with the help of coach LT Treumann, had a legitimate and growing training center in St. Petersburg. So he hauled the 2,500-plus miles from coast to coast and spent the summer training with Treumann and Eric Beranek.

When he returned, he said he’d never make that drive again. Until this Monday, when he did exactly that. Benesh once more packed his bags and began the cross-country trek, moving to Florida for at least the next seven months to resume training with Treumann and competing in tournaments in the Sunshine State. The move makes sense. Florida is significantly cheaper than California, and with Benesh’s partner, Billy Allen, currently living in Idaho, there was little logic in continuing to pay the exorbitant price of living in California.

Benesh is not the only one to make the move. Earlier, Ryan Doherty, who is likely retiring from volleyball, moved to St. Petersburg. Nate Yang, who made the semifinals in Waupaca with Mike Groselle, bought a four-plex not far from Tampa from former NVL player and burgeoning real estate mogul Kibbee Jelks. Logan Webber, who has bounced around from California to Michigan and back and forth a few times since, is currently living in one of those units, as is Jeff Samuels.

With no current events on the horizon, especially in the state of California, players are relocating to Florida for both training and competition, as there are tournaments most every weekend.

Bruno Amorim

Bruno Amorim gets U.S. citizenship

On February 9, Bruno Amorim, a hard-hitting and even harder-serving 37-year-old, officially became a U.S. citizen.

It’s been a long and winding journey for Amorim, who made his first main draw in Hermosa Beach of 2017 with Ozz Borges. Initially from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Amorim moved to the United States in 2011, and attaining citizenship has been a 6-year process.

“I couldn’t believe that it was done,” said Amorim, who lives with his wife, Kim, and daughter — they are expecting a second soon — in Indiana. “It is still unreal. It was a very emotional process. The ceremony was different from what I imagined. I imagined my wife and daughter beside me. They were there for me the whole time. Not having them there to se that accomplished was hard, but words can’t describe how happy we are.”

Peri Brennan-Tessa Van Winkle
Peri Brennan and Tessa Van Winkle were two of the top high school players in their class/Dane Selznick photo

CIF approves beach volleyball championships

On February 5, beach volleyball was officially established as a high school sport in the state of California. The first CIF Championships are scheduled to be held in the spring of 2022.

The vote was unanimous, 140-0 in beach volleyball’s favor. The proposal was initiated out of San Diego, where some schools have fielded beach volleyball teams as early as 2013. Florida was the first state to sanction beach volleyball as a high school sport, approving it in 2017.

Former CBVA founder, tournament director George Stepanof dies

Former CBVA tournament director George Stepanof passed away February 8 at 84 following a heart attack. Stepanof retired in 2017 after directing tournaments for over 50 years, including the popular Mexico International volleyball tournament, at one time thought to be the largest beach volleyball tournament in the world. Stepanof was also known for writing beach volleyball’s first rulebook.

Services will be delayed until after the pandemic. Locals are currently spearheading an movement to honor Stepanof by renaming the Ocean Beach volleyball courts in his honor.

Legendary photographer Bob Van Wagner passes away

Bob Van Wagner, a mainstay at East Beach in Santa Barbara, shooter of some of the most iconic photos in the game of beach volleyball, passed away on January 6. He was 93. The Noozhawk in Santa Barbara wrote a nice feature on him that you can read here.

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