Daniela Alvarez and Majo Orellana were idling about the Wan Gold Hotel in Qinzhou, China, this past October, with no real idea as to where they needed to go. There was a technical meeting somewhere in the colossal hotel, did anybody know where to find it?
Alvarez, representing Spain with Tania Moreno, had just qualified for the three-star FIVB Qinzhou, and if the fact that it was a three-star tournament might lead you to believe, as it very well might, that Alvarez had experience in the matter, that would be wrong.
The 6-foot-2 Spaniard was only 17.
She’d figure it out just fine, of course. The next day, Alvarez would lose to USA veterans Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings, but got out the pool by beating Chinese Taipei’s Nai-Han Kou and Pi Hsin Liu. She’d leave the weekend with a ninth-place finish in hand.
Her next stop?
Texas Christian University.
In a number of ways, Alvarez is still figuring it out, though navigating the campus of TCU in Fort Worth is undoubtedly easier than finding her way around Qinzhou.
A native of Gijon, a large coastal fishing city in northern Spain, Alvarez is sheepish about her English, despite it being quite smooth, with a bit of an accent. She’s bashful about her defense, which she plays behind LSU transfer Olivia Beyer, despite her having a soft touch on the ball not often found in 6-foot-2 18-year-olds, to the point that “we’re working on her physicality,” TCU coach Hector Gutierrez said. “If you see her during the week, she’ll be hitting a lot of balls.”
Gutierrez can empathize with the transition that Alvarez is currently enduring. Raised in Tenerife, Spain, Gutierrez remembers his adjustment to America, and the English language.
“You talk, and everybody says ‘What?’” Gutierrez said, laughing. It didn’t take long for Gutierrez to find his own success. After he was finished competing, Gutierrez coached national beach teams in Germany, Slovakia, and the United States before moving to the college ranks at Florida State and, since 2016, TCU. It was through those international connections that Alvarez landed on Gutierrez’s radar. Her coach on the Spanish national team was Gutierrez’s former playing partner.
It took one tournament, the Youth Olympics in Bueno Aires, Argentina, for Gutierrez to know that he wanted Alvarez.
“It’s tough to get top recruits in the country,” Gutierrez said. “The only way we get the caliber of Daniela is by going international, and of course, being lefty and 6-foot-2, athletic, and she’s only been playing beach volleyball for three years. It’s amazing what she can do already.”
The Spanish national team, Gutierrez, and, currently, Beyer, are three key pieces to Alvarez’s quick development. In Beyer, a fifth-year senior, Alvarez has found the perfect partner.
Where Alvarez is reticent and shy, Beyer is perpetually bursting with positive energy. Where Alvarez is entirely new to this country, its language, and education system, Beyer was raised in Canton, Michigan, was an Academic All-American at LSU, and already has her bachelor’s degree. Yet she can also relate to Alvarez in that this is all so new to her as well. Court one is new to Beyer. TCU is new to Beyer. Heck, beach volleyball, which she played for just one season at LSU, is new to Beyer.
“It’s all just really exciting,” said Beyer, who is 6-foot-1 and takes the majority of the blocking duties. “I’m so spoiled with (Danny).”
So they’ll learn together, Beyer from Alvarez, Alvarez from Beyer. Already, it’s showing. After dropping both matches on the first day of the season, to Stetson and Florida State, they responded with straight set wins over South Carolina and Louisiana-Monroe.
Both Gutierrez and Alvarez know that it will continue to take time, both on the court and off, for Alvarez to settle into a comfort zone. But Alvarez said that her experience playing overseas has boosted her confidence on the court, and Beyer has had a similar effect on her off of it.
“I’m positive everything is going to be better once she gets better at the language and she can communicate with everybody,” Gutierrez said. “Daniela is a great athlete. She just needs the experience and the mental part of the game, and you only get that from playing.”