The professional beach volleyball tour is a collection of tall, tanned, fit and athletic players who travel the world together. So naturally they would couple up together and create their own love stories.
Seven pro beach married couples shared their stories with us, ranging from those married nearly 15 years to couples married less than three months. They are Kerri Walsh Jennings and Casey Jennings (married 14 years), Billy and Janelle Allen (11 years), Phil and Jennifer Dalhausser (eight years), Chaim Schalk and Lane Carico (four years), Piotr and Kaya Marciniak (two years), Travis and Delaney Mewhirter (three months), and Bill and Kelley (Larsen) Kolinske (two months).
In this first of two stories, we learn how they met, about their first dates, and the “L” word.
How they met
Bill and Kelley Kolinske met at a Volleyball Vacations-South of the Border event in Ixtapa, Mexico, four years ago, where they were both pros.
“We started dating shortly after that. We talked to each other for 30 minutes on the beach, and then we got to know each other better when we got home,” Bill said.
“I definitely had feelings for her right away, and wanted to get to know her more and more. I definitely pursued it when I got back to California.”
Phil and Jennifer Dalhausser were set up by Florida State beach volleyball coach Brooke Niles, who she recalls saying, “I have a cute friend that I want you to meet.” At the time Jennifer was a waitress at the Watermark restaurant in Ventura, Florida.
“They came into my restaurant and had a drink, and I waited on them,” Jennifer said. “Phil said that I had a cute butt.”
Phil: “I got her number, and we went out the next week, and she fell for the Dalhausser charm, and that’s all she wrote.”
Jennifer: “No. It is not all she wrote. His game is weak. He might be a good volleyball player and his game is good there. His dating game is not as strong as his volleyball game.”
To which Phil replied, “Apparently it was strong enough.”
For Billy, the attraction was instant. He met Janelle at an AVP tour stop in Miami in 2007. He semi-joking told his friend Dan Madden, “That’s my future wife.”
“It was love at first sight on my end, but it took Janelle some time to warm up,” Bill said. “She was in the main draw, and I was just a qualifier guy. But we had some mutual friends on tour (Jeff Conover and Jen Fopma) who were putting in a good word for me.”
Both the Mewhirters and Jennings met on pivotal career-changing days.
For Travis, it was at the AVP Austin in 2018, the day he qualified for his first main draw event. It was his 11th try.
“It was a really fun confluence of events,” Travis said, recalling he was “in a desperate search for a partner,” and Raffe Paulis texted him just before the signup deadline.
“I said, ‘Hell yeah,’ because I wasn’t going to go if it wasn’t Raffe, there was just no chance of me qualifying with my other options.
“At the time, Raffe was dating Avery Bush. Delaney was also not thinking about going to Austin, and then Avery sold her on it and convinced her to go. So Raffe got me to go, Avery got Delaney to go. Raffe and I got into our first main draw, so we were playing really late in the qualifier on Thursday. Delaney and Avery lost in the third round, so they came to our last match against Andrew Dentler and Dylan Maarek to qualify.
“That was the first that I had ever met Delaney. I had written a fair amount about her in my qualifier previews, so I knew of her.
“On the car ride back to the hotel, we all piled into Avery’s mom’s car. Avery’s mom was driving, Tri (Bourne) was in the front seat, and from right to left it was Raffe on the right window, then Avery, then Delaney, and I was on the left window. And I went to get into the car, and I was, ‘I’m so sorry, I smell so bad.’ And Delaney replied, ‘You smell like victory.’
“Those were the first words she ever said to me.”
Travis was interested from day one. He remembers getting drinks after qualifying for his first main draw with then-first-time qualifiers Troy Field and D.R. Vandermeer.
“The three of us headed to the bar to get a drink and celebrate, try and calm down, and I forget who said it, but I think it was Troy that said, ‘You know who looked really good today? And all three of us, at the same time, were like, ‘Delaney Knudsen’.
“So that was the day my interest was piqued. And then I continued my relentless pursuit that continues to this day.”
Kerri met Casey at Huntington Beach in 2001, the day of a tryout she had with Misty May. The rest, as they say, is beach volleyball history, in more ways than one.
“I was done with my workout at 3-4 p.m.,” Casey said. “Barbara May (Misty’s mother) came over and asked if I would help Misty scrimmage a possible partner. It was Kerri. I didn’t know who she was at that point, even though everybody else did.
“We scrimmaged to 15. I was happy to help, and on the last point, we were playing on a women’s height net, so it was low for me, and Kerri pulled off the net on game point, and I thought, ‘I’m going to let go on this ball. I’ll jump hard and hit it straight down and bounce it in front of Kerri and end the game.
“But Kerri stepped up to dig it, and I almost hit her in the face, and I apologized immediately. But what I was thinking was, ‘Holy smokes, this girl is serious, and really competitive.”
Kerri didn’t really notice Casey until the last point of that game.
“I was on the edge of a panic attack the whole time, because I was on a tryout with Misty. I had framed it as ‘I have one shot,’ and she was my idol.
As it turns out, Kerri would initiate two life-changing partnerships that day, one with Misty that would yield three Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, and 2012), and one with Casey that would produce three children (Joey, 10, Sundance, 10, and Scout, 7).
“I think that last play of the day is the first time we made eye contact and I really noticed who I was playing against,” Kerri said. “I think it kind of pissed me off, and it was kind of fun.”
In Chaim Schalk’s case, it was love at first bus ride. They were on the bus to the NORCECA Trinidad-Tobago event in November of 2014 when Chaim noticed Lane.
“I told my buddy, ‘Dude, there’s something different about her. I really, really like her. And I don’t know why, but she was way different than any other girl, and I told my buddy half-joking, ‘I think she’s the one.’ “
Lane, however, was too focused to even open the door to romance during the event. We profiled them recently. Click here to read more about their romance, marriage and family.
Their first date
First dates can typically be challenging. Sometimes, however, the sparks are instant, as with Casey and Kerri, who said they fell in love on that first date.
“I was sitting in my car, about to get ready to go do my beach workout that Butch (May) had put together for me,” Kerri said, “and there was this guy with flowing, golden hair, just doing sprints, and he was just relentless. I wasn’t feeling very social, and I just kept waiting, waiting for him to be done, and finally, I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore, I can’t wait. So I start my workout, and Casey finally wraps up with his workout, comes over and talks to me.”
Coincidentally, both of them were planning to work out at 24-Hour Fitness on Main Street in Huntington Beach. They chatted briefly after their workout. Their chemistry was such that Kerri then invited Casey to a local barbecue with friends.
“It was so unlike me to put myself out there to invite a boy to a barbecue, and then I was so embarrassed that nothing was happening, because plans fell through,” Kerri said. “But that led to us hanging out that night, having a couple of beers, and getting to know each other.
“And I honestly think that two weeks later we were moved in together. It took me two years to tell my parents. It was so love at first sight, I remember thinking this guy seems like he’s blood. Like I’ve known him a long time, even though I’m just meeting him, because our connection was so real.
“It was all so easy like that. And then we were attached at the hip constantly. I’d go back to Stanford during the week for school, and then I’d come down on weekends and stay with Misty or in my apartment, and we just feel in love.
“It was immediate, as far as I’m concerned. I knew right away that I was really into him.”
“We laughed, we told a bunch of stories, got to know each other and share our experiences in life. And she was dating someone, and I said, ‘I don’t do that. I’m not a home wrecker. And she said, ‘I’m not either. There’s no home.’ So she said, ‘Hold on’, she made a phone call, came back into the room, and said, ‘I don’t have a boyfriend anymore.’ ”
Travis and Delaney’s first date was at Serve on 2nd, one of pro beach player Jon Mesko’s restaurants.
“I had a lot going on in Austin,” Delaney said, “so I didn’t necessarily have dating in mind. When he got my number and asked me to dinner at Serve on 2nd, it was awesome.”
But it was the farewell kiss on the cheek that started the fire for Delaney.
“We spent so much time talking, and shut the place down, and he walked me to my car afterwards, and when we were saying our goodbyes, he kissed me on my cheek, which I thought was super-classy, and he said that he’d see me in Seattle. That was when my interest was piqued, when he went with the smooth move of the cheek kiss.”
Travis was excited when Delaney ordered.
“I knew I had a good one, when she came from the finals of a CBVA, and she had a huge burger with a fried egg and mushrooms on top, and I was like, ‘Yes, this is a winner.’
“It was a three-hour dinner,” Travis said. “We talked the whole time, and it was such easy conversation.”
For Billy and Janelle, their first group date was initiated by Janelle during an AVP Tampa event, calling Billy from Jeff Conover’s phone.
“I asked him if he wanted to go bowling with us. Billy played it cool, like ‘We’ll see, maybe I’ll see you there.’ ”
Of course, playing it cool was just an act for Billy, who was all in.
“As soon as I hung up the phone I yelled to my partner, “AJ (Mihalic), ‘I need some socks!’”
After that, Billy made the next move.
“For our first official date, I called her and we met in Santa Monica after her practice and took a bike ride to an Italian restaurant,” he said.
He made it part of a bike ride and that impressed Janelle.
“I thought it was cool that we rode bikes,” she said, “but only later did I find out it was so he didn’t have to show me his car. That first date felt natural and I think I talked the entire time, which is unusual for me.”
Despite Phil’s “game,” his and Jennifer’s relationship progressed quickly.
“Our first date was at a little Italian restaurant in Moorpark, Café Firenze,” Jennifer said. “We used to go back to it every year for our anniversary.”
Dating her brought the extrovert out of the normally introverted Phil, Jennifer said.
“It was funny. Phil, he’s not exactly a talker. I remember laughing, ‘This guy keeps talking, he must be comfortable with me.’ That was a good sign.”
She recalled, “On the second date, we went bowling with Adam Roberts and a friend of mine, and the second date is when he got out of the friend zone.”
“I let her beat me in bowling.”
After that meeting in Ixtapa, Bill and Kelley’s relationship blossomed when Kelley moved from San Diego to Hermosa Beach. As a point of reference, single women should know that if a single man offers to help you move, he’s interested.
Naturally, Bill offered to help Kelley move in with her mom.
Then he asked Kelley out to Dia de Campo, a Mexican restaurant right off Hermosa Avenue by the pier. Their relationship progressed quickly, Kelley said.
“Once I moved up here, I lived two minutes from him, and we started hanging out, I think even in Mexico, I thought, ‘I think I kind of like this guy.’”
“I think I knew I liked her a little faster than she knew she liked me,” Bill said. “It was nice that we lived close, got to hang out, and with volleyball we had a lot of similar interests. It made it fun. We would be at the beach playing, and we understood each other’s lifestyle.”
Chaim had to fight his way out of the friend zone from the get-go. After meeting Lane, he asked her out via Facebook Message, challenging her to a game of one-on-one volleyball.
Lane’s reply immediately shut him down.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not really looking for everything but as a friend, I’d love to hang out.’
“I was skeptical of athletes in general in first, and just wanted to get to know him, and then realized that he was a genuine and kind person, I just got to see who he was without the pressure of trying to make anything romantic out of it. It was easy to like him from there.”
Ultimately Chaim’s persistence paid off as Lane got to know him, she said.
“And then we hung out for quite a few times, and he was really nice, and it was like, ‘OK, I could like this guy as more than a friend,’ and it just went from there.”
Piotr and Kaya have a complex relationship. They both played for the Polish national team, representing Poland in the U21 tournament in 2006. Their relationship was far from a straight line, maintaining their friendship over the years, alternately chasing each other, with their timing off due to various commitments, although they knew that they shared a bond.
Ultimately Piotr came to the realization that he needed to prioritize Kaya.
“When I came to the States, I was living a totally different life. I tried to meet different people, try different things, but at some point I realized that Kaya was the most important person in my life and that’s when I decided to man up and fight for her.
“It’s crazy, I’ve never really talked about this, but my lifestyle changed within one second and I realized that this is the person I care about the most.”
Who used the “L” word first
Based on our sample size of seven, five men reported they said “I love you” before their future wives.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Jennifer Dalhausser said. “It was so sweet. We had just gone on a weekend vacation (to Hearst Castle, Big Sur and Monterey), and he was laughing at the fact that he didn’t want me to leave. We were joking about that, ‘Hey, I still want you to be around,’ and he said, ‘I really, really like you,’ and I replied, ‘I really like you.’
“And that kind of banter went on for a little bit, and he said, ‘It’s more than like. I love you.’ ”
Janelle said it first, due to Billy’s refusal, she said.
“I think I said it first, but only after weeks of Billy saying, ‘I REALLY REALLY REALLY like you a lot.’
Piotr said it only after Kaya fixed his car, she said.
“This happened when we hadn’t seen each other for a long time because he went to Poland, and I stayed in the U.S., and it actually was funny because I fixed his car. And I think he was very excited about it, and we had this long conversation: ‘OK, what are we going to do now, are we going to be together, and how are we going to take the next step,’ and he said ‘Well, I love you,’ and everything started from there.
“I think I loved him already for some time before that. We were really close friends, there was definitely love in me for him, but I think at that moment I realized that it was the kind of love that you want to spend the rest of your life with.”
Casey wrote the “L” word in a note on their cork board.
“It just melted my heart,” Kerri remembered. “Both of us aren’t very good at hiding our emotions, and it was pretty clear how we felt. I remember at one point, I had gone back to Stanford, and I was so excited and nervous to see Casey, because we had had that first kiss.
“I was taking astronomy, and he was leaving me messages on Wednesdays and Thursday nights, and I had a late class, and I was so excited, to hear his messages, and the night before I left, I got his message, and I was so giddy as a school girl. I remember that he came over right after I got back into town, and I was just a little bit nervous and shy, and didn’t know what to do, and he looked at me and said, ‘Well, give me a kiss, for goodness sakes.’
“It was so easy. It was just so easy. And early on, we would be hanging out, and people would ask, ‘How long have you guys been together?’ implying that it seemed like we had been together a long time, even though it had been so new, and the depth of our connection has always been just really deep and sincere.”
Bill surprised Kelley.
“The first time I told her I loved her, it was three or four months into the relationship, and it took her a few months later, but she came around. It all worked out from there,” he said.
“I think I was caught off-guard when he said it at first,” Kelley said. “I was like, ‘Woah, what?’ It surprised me.”
“I think I knew I liked her a little faster than she knew she liked me,” Bill said. “It was nice that we lived close, got to hang out, and with volleyball we had a lot of similar interests. It made it fun. We would be at the beach playing, and we understood each other’s lifestyle.
“Most people, if you’re not a volleyball player, you don’t understand. Like Kelley last year, she was gone a lot of the year traveling, and we both get each other in how much time it takes to be a professional in this sport and how many sacrifices you have to make. It’s definitely fun to go on this volleyball journey with her.”
For Travis and Delaney, their love was so apparent to each other that the use of the “L” word wasn’t much of an event, Delaney said.
“It was at the Chicago AVP a couple of months later. Travis had been knocked out of the qualifier the day before and I was playing with (Jessica) Sykora, and we lost a really close match in the morning. I was so frustrated. We played super early on Friday, and had the longest break, and didn’t play until 4 or 5.
“We went back to my hotel room, hanging out, and with the long break I was able to clear my head and forget about the volleyball, and we were just talking.
“He caught me off guard, it was an unexpected locale, but I think he just couldn’t contain it, it was really cute. For a lot of people, that moment is more memorable, because it’s more of a moment, but I don’t think there was anything that happened in that moment for us that we didn’t already know.
“It was like, ‘Yeah, I knew that.’
And of course Delaney reciprocated.
“It’s not that I wasn’t ready to say it, but I was surprised at how much I felt it, to find myself in such a loving and real relationship with someone that I wasn’t necessarily searching for it. It was happening before my eyes, and I didn’t know where it was coming from, but it was really real.
“I was surprised by how genuine it was.”