Contrary to popular belief, the first gold medal of the winter was not, in fact, won by 17-year-old snowboarder Red Gerard, who snatched the slopestyle gold medal in the 2018 Olympic Games from Canadian Max Parrot.

The initial golds of the month were not even won in PyeongChang, but in Shepparton, Australia, on a beach, and not in the perversely intriguing snow volleyball, which is currently an exhibition event for the Winter Olympics. The first went to Amanda Dowdy -– one of two guests this week on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter –- and Irene Pollock, who won five straight matches, the last three of which went the full three sets. Shortly after, Avery Drost –- Dowdy’s partner on SANDCAST –- and Chase Frishman, playing in their first international event together, claimed a gold of their own, making for the first gold medal sweep of the winter season, soon to be followed by American snowboarders in the halfpipe and slopestyle in the PyeongChang Games.

“I’m so happy,” Drost said afterwards. “They’re a great team. They play a fun style of volleyball. It was our privilege to play against them, in Australia. To be doing this with Ledge here, who’s become like a brother to me – I love this guy, and just so humbled by this moment, with this guy, with you guys, it’s so wonderful.”

Yes, it is wonderful. And, for Drost, entirely unexpected. He had written off the one-star events for the obvious reason: They’re entirely, financially speaking, unfeasible.

“I remember looking at the star system when it first came out and breaking it down and thinking these one-stars don’t make sense,” said Drost, who split 1,000 with Frishman, as did Pollock and Dowdy. “Financially it doesn’t add up. Points are great but this is kind of ridiculousness when it comes to finances.”

The NORCECA path seemed more doable, though the continental tour is notoriously mercurial, known for cancelling events last second. Then again, as Drost said: “There’s not an abundance of doing things other ways.”

So there was this: world tour competition, available points, far less of a chance of an abrupt cancellation. And, of course, Australia.

“There are worse places to go,” Drost said.

Indeed, and Dowdy and Pollock actually one-upped their male counterparts in that department, hitting New Zealand’s tour for an event prior to claiming the top of the podium in Australia. It underscores a slight difference between the goals for the two teams: Pollock and Dowdy are looking for points, yes, as are all teams seeking the climb the international ladder, but perhaps more than that, they just want to play some ball.

“The more I can play the better it is for me,” said Dowdy, a 27-year-old who set the all-time kills record as a four-year starter at Texas Tech. “We see it as opportunity. We’re trying to climb that ladder and it’s more of a sacrifice right now because it’s not great financially, I’m not going to sugarcoat that. For us, we’re using it as opportunity. You can only control what you can control, that’s the position we’re in. We’re trying to close that gap.”

And the gap is beginning to close, much faster than they could have anticipated. The points boost they received pushed them into the country quota in the Fort Lauderdale Major. It’s a position some teams justifiably loathe, but to Pollock and Dowdy it was a welcome surprise. They had initially planned on potentially playing in four-stars in April. In a matter of five matches, they’re in a position to compete in a five-star in February.

“That just goes to show how important these smaller tournaments are,” Dowdy said. “We got that opportunity a lot sooner than we thought we would.”

And a gold medal before the rest of Team USA’s winter athletes.

GIVEAWAY: Our first Wilson giveaway will be a SIGNED WILSON VOLLEYBALL BY AVERY DROST AND AMANDA DOWDY. To enter, follow us on Instagram, @sandcast_podcast and comment with your FAVORITE QUOTE from any SANDCAST episode. Tri and Travis will select the winner based on their favorite quote from the comments. 

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