Eric Beranek saw plenty of Andy Benesh when they were growing up across town from one another in Southern California. Benesh, on the other hand, probably didn’t see, or notice, much of Beranek.

Benesh was, as Beranek put it, “like a God,” at Palos Verdes High, “coming in, roofing everyone, then ripping jump serves. He was All-Everything in high school.”

Beranek, meanwhile, was a serving sub.

Things change, and it has been a rather winding path for the two to end up as partners for the upcoming 2020 AVP Tour season. Benesh went on to star as a middle at USC. Beranek bounced around a bit here and there, landing at OCC before dropping out and enrolling in his own sort of independent study on the beach.

It took until AVP Chicago of last year for the two to be on equal ground. Both had made their breakout performances, Benesh in Hermosa Beach, where he and Adam Roberts finished seventh; Beranek in Manhattan, where he and Bill Kolinske took third out of the qualifier.

“At the end of the day, I’ve always preached that I wanted a guy who’s willing to put in the work just like me,” Beranek said. “Bill was that for me last year but I didn’t get him for a full season. Me and Andy actually talked last year in Chicago, right after his big finish in Hermosa, and I was like ‘Ok, Andy!’ We talked and I congratulated him and I knew he had the fire and I said ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if we hooked up for next year.’ He was like ‘Yeah, that would be awesome.’ He shared that same exact want. It was kind of an easy choice actually.”

Beranek and Benesh are the third major partnership swap of the off-season. First came Chaim Schalk and Chase Budinger, which provided the impetus for the teaming of Troy Field and Casey Patterson. Theo Brunner then scooped the freed up Tim Bomgren, which leaves Reid Priddy, Jeremy Casebeer, Sean Rosenthal, Ricardo Santos as the major power players still on the free agent market.

Eric Beranek-AVP-MBO-Manhattan Beach- Gold Series-Volleyball
Eric Beranek pivots for the cut shot/Ed Chan,

Monster deal for Sponcil — Dear Santa Claus, you can skip Sarah Sponcil’s apartment this year. She’s already got everything she needs and then some. Earlier this week, Sponcil announced her biggest sponsorship deal to date, with the energy drink Monster, which also sponsors Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, as well as Canadian Brandie Wilkerson.

“I don’t need anything for Christmas,” she said, laughing. “I don’t need anything.”

And she especially doesn’t need something because that’s not the only major sponsor she’s signing with. Monster showed interest as early as May, but Adidas also entered the picture, which caused the negotiating process to go longer than Sponcil expected. Now she’s expecting to sign with Adidas in the next few weeks, making for two huge signings to cap a brilliant rookie season.

“I’m learning a lot that it takes time, that it’s not like ‘Yeah, sign here,’” Sponcil said. “No, it takes time. But I’m glad we got it down before entering 2020.”

Espinho Edmonton July 19-Sarah Sponcil
Sarah Sponcil celebrates as she and partner Kelly Claes reach the semifinals in Espinho/George Davison photo

Graudina wins FIVB Most Improved — There is little that Tina Graudina has not been able to win this year. At USC, partnered with Abril Bustamante on court one, she went 33-2, winning a Pac-12 Championship and leading the Trojans to the NCAA Championship final, against UCLA.

When she took to the world tour, competing for Latvia, Graudina and partner Anastasija Kravcenoka made the main draw in all but one event this season. The highlight, of course, came in Haiyang, China, where the two stunned a loaded field in an Olympic qualifying event, winning gold and assuring their spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Rob Espero sat down with Graudina to discuss her remarkable 2019 year.

More FIVB awards —The 2019 FIVB season technically came to its close at the Rome World Tour Finals in early September. This past week, the FIVB has been, and still is, unveiling its post-season awards, which are voted on by the players.

This is what has been announced so far, and you can read the full story on

Offensive Players of the Year
Anders Mol, Norway
Duda Lisboa, Brazil
Blockers of the Year
Anders Mol, Norway
Sarah Pavan, Canada
Defenders of the Year
Christian Sorum, Norway
Melissa Humana-Paredes, Canada
Most Improved Teams of the Year
Julius Thole, Clemens Wickler, Germany
Tina Graudina, Anastasija Kravcenoka, Latvia
Best Setter
Anders Mol, Norway
Melissa Humana-Paredes, Canada
Most Outstanding Team
Sarah Pavan, Melissa Humana-Paredes, Canada
Men’s team to be announced
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Meg Kraft and Delaynie Maple (right) celebrate a point in AVP Hermosa’s quarterfinals/Jim Wolf photography

USC signs Bakos, Cummings, Kraft, Maple — Last week was a big one for USC’s beach program under new head coach Dain Blanton. Following the remarkably successful eight-year stint of Anna Collier, Blanton hasn’t wasted any time in furthering the Trojans’ strength on the recruiting trail.

USC announced the signings of Olivia Bakos (Mira Costa HS/Manhattan Beach, Calif.), Caitlin Cummings (Lick-Wilmerding HS/Pacific, Calif.), Megan Kraft (Torrey Pines HS/San Diego, Calif.), and Delaynie Maple (Torrey Pines HS/San Diego, Calif.) to the freshman class for the 2020-21 academic year.

“This recruiting class exemplifies the Trojan spirit,” Blanton said in a statement. “They are each tough competitors who have won at every level and are hungry for more. We are very excited about the potential of these student-athletes not only in their collegiate career but beyond.”

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Hailey Harward will take her beach skills to USC for the 2020 season/Ed Chan,

Long Beach’s Harward transfers to USC — The good news just keeps on rolling for the Trojans. On Wednesday afternoon, the Trojans announced the addition of Hailey Harward, one of the top players on the Long Beach State indoor and beach teams.

“We are so excited to welcome Hailey to the Trojan Family,” USC coach Dain Blanton said in a statement. “Her experience, leadership, and work ethic are going to make an immediate impact on our team. Hailey’s positive and competitive attitude are right in line with the Trojan women’s beach volleyball culture.”

Harward missed the 2019 beach season with an injury, but in 2017 and 2018 she earned All-Big West honors after going 23-10 and 21-8. With Harward having sat out a season, she has two remaining years of eligibility on the beach, and she is eligible immediately to compete in 2020.

Wopat passes EMT exam — Carly Wopat, a former indoor national team player who is currently ascending the ranks on the AVP and FIVB tours, recently passed the examination to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician. She’s not giving up volleyball, to be sure, but she is exploring potential careers outside of the beach, with designs on some-day becoming a paramedic firefighter.

That will take another six months to a year of paramedic school, she said, but she won’t be immediately pursuing that option. For now, she’s going to focus on getting hired as an EMT, and getting on the sand five to six days a week in preparation for the 2020 season, where she said she’ll be competing both internationally and domestically.

Tweet of the week — Ryan Doherty is like any other exceptionally tall person you’d meet in that the first question he answers is about what it’s like being so tall. Specifically: Does he ever hit his head on doorways?

Allow his excellent Twitter account to answer that question for you.

Instagram post of the week — There will never be enough Anders Mol highlights. After the 22-year-old Norwegian won his second straight FIVB Blocker of the Year award, the FIVB released a highlight video of his 11 best blocks of the year. Go pop some popcorn, sit back with some hot chocolate, and enjoy.

ICYMI — Washington star Kara Bajema’s parents prayed for just one athletic child. In the end, they were gifted three, including Kara, a star outside hitter for the Washington Huskies, who are competing in the regional semifinals this weekend. Read more here…

Missed any of the NCAA Tournament last weekend? Worry not, we’ve got you covered on all fronts. Catch up before this weekend’s action by reading more here…

“Consider it joy, my brethren, when you face trials of many kinds…” Top-ranked Baylor hasn’t had trials of many kinds this season, but they have played with a considerable amount of faith and joy, which has been the secret sauce to their unprecedented success this season. Read more about the Bears here

Feeling down? Allow Kelly Reeves to get you “jazzed” about life and volleyball again by listening to the latest episode of SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. Listen to the episode here.

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