Wilco Nijland is not an old man by any measurement or stretch of the imagination. A hair over 42, the founder of the King of the Court series is young and spritely and lively enough to create a sustainable business in the world of beach volleyball, a sport notoriously known for being rather difficult at just that. That does, however, come with a cost.
King of the Court’s upcoming event in Miami, for example? The one set to begin this Friday and conclude on Monday?
“It cost me 500 days of my life and 200 nights of sleep,” he said, laughing.
Such is the tax of being something of a unicorn in the sport of beach volleyball.
For five years, Nijland has done a remarkable job of balancing the King of the Court schedule so as to not conflict — or conflict as minimally as possible — with the other major entities in the sport, namely Volleyball World and the AVP. He has no interest in competing with either organization, to usurp their power and become the major promoter in beach volleyball. He instead works alongside them, running, as examples, King of the Court events prior to Volleyball World tournaments in Uberlandia, Brazil, last fall prior to an Elite 16, and the King of the Court Finals in Doha the week leading up to the Beach Pro Tour Finals in February. This week, he took it a step further, creating a win-win-win in Miami.
A year ago, Nijland observed a large percentage of European players descend upon Miami, or other areas in Florida, for training camps prior to the Volleyball World Challenge event in Tlaxcala and a subsequent Elite 16 in Rosarito, Mexico. When the Dutch consulate in Florida reached out and mentioned that they wanted to host some sort of event in 2023, Nijland took note of the Volleyball World schedule, which features a Challenge in La Paz on March 16-19, and an Elite 16 the following week in Tepic.
What if King of the Court put on an event the weekend before La Paz, to serve as a competitive tune-up prior to the Challenge?
“We timed it perfectly,” he said.
The field he has assembled speaks to that perfect timing. The world will get its first peek at Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, as well as Troy Field and Phil Dalhausser, while Taylor Sander will make his sophomore season debut with Taylor Crabb. Flying in will be the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner (No. 6 in the world), Estonia’s Kusti Nolvak and Maart Tiisaar (19), Latvia’s Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins (27), Clemens Wickler and Nils Ehlers (13), Italy’s Daniele Lupo and Enrico Rossi, Qatar’s Ahmed Tijan and Cherif Samba (3), Chile’s famed cousins Marco and Esteban Grimalt (9), and Canada’s No. 1 pairing of Sam Schachter and Dan Dearing (36). Six of those teams won a Beach Pro Tour Challenge or Elite 16 medal in 2022, while every single player competed in the World Championships.
The women’s field isn’t quite as thick as the men’s, though it still is an impressive assemblage. Kerri Walsh Jennings is back in the world of competitive beach volleyball, blocking for Zana Muno. The Czech Republic’s Barbora Hermannova and Marie-Sara Stochlova (20), gold medalists in Dubai in October, are making the trip, as are Germans Julia Sude and Isabel Schneider and Svenja Muller and Cinja Tillman (8), both of whom are favorites to qualify for the Paris Olympics. Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes, the popular new Canadian duo, will be playing in their second event together. There are also some local favorites, including Americans Sarah Schermerhorn and Corinne Quiggle, who both have roots in Florida, as well as Brazilians Larissa and Lili Maestrini, both of whom currently live in Florida. Americans Jessica Gaffney and Kelly Reeves will also be teaming up, and Canadian twins Nicole and Megan McNamara, former UCLA stars, are alas back in the United States.
“It’s quite a big thing, what we are doing in Miami Beach. It’s really a good feeling,” Nijland said. “I really want to consider this a door-opener to King of the Court in the United States. In 2018 [in Huntington Beach and Hawaii], they were test events. Now we are back with the official event. My goal is to have more international events and we are totally open to collaboration. That’s our goal. For the beach volleyball capital of the world to not have international beach volleyball in the last four, five years, that’s crazy.”
The King of the Court is the perfect prelude to the following week’s season-opening AVP tournament, which will mark the fortieth anniversary of America’s tour. King of the Court and the AVP will share the same venue, many of the same players, and likely a considerable swath of fans there for both the volleyball and the Miami Live! Festival.
“Our operational team and their operational team are working together to arrange everything,” Nijland said. “Without the AVP, it would be a different game. We are very happy with what we are achieving together.”
That isn’t lost on the AVP.
“Leaning into partnerships and creating more opportunities to reach new audiences is a big part of our strategy,” AVP CEO Al Lau said. “The Miami Beach Open is a marquee event at the Miami Beach Live! monthlong celebration. It’s going to be the stop for beach volleyball fans this March, with both the King of the Court and AVP Miami Beach Open only days apart.”
Rich Lambourne and Lewie Lett will be on the mic for King of the Court, which will be televised globally to more than 60 countries around the world. The AVP will be streamed on its YouTube Channel.
“It’s an iconic beach, South Beach,” Nijland said. “Big city. I can imagine that people want to play, especially when you go to Mexico afterwards. They’re so happy that we’re bringing this event to them, they’re helping us with everything – everything. For us, it’s just a good feeling to collaborate with such nice people, from the city, from the local beach club, for me, that’s worth the most. Working together with great players, partners, achieving our goal to make it a reality is really something good.”