There’s some serious pedigree on NCAA beach volleyball coaching staffs with no shortage of former great players involved in the sport.

Fifth-ranked Loyola Marymount is one of those, especially after seventh-year coach John Mayer hired Angie Akers and Kelly Reeves this season.

Start with Mayer, who won an NCAA men’s championship in 2005 as a player at Pepperdine. As a pro beach player, he won four AVP titles and two internationally and was the tour’s most improved player in 2009 and MVP and best defensive player in 2015.

LMU coach John Mayer coaching the Lions at Manhattan Beach earlier in April/photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2022

In 2021, LMU finished 31-8, which included making it to Sunday of the NCAA Championship, losing in the elimination match. 

After the season, Betsi Flint, an outstanding beach pro herself, moved on, and so did his volunteer coach, Joseph Mayer.

“I’ve been really lucky having my brother the last two years and Betsi the last five,” Mayer said. “She’s in the prime of her (playing) career and I wanted her to be all in and talking to her more, I told her that’s where she had to put her focus.”

He talked to Akers and she was interested.

“A medalist, yeah, but mainly she’s a gold-medal person,” Mayer said. “I knew it would be a win from the volleyball side with her understanding of the game, but more importantly she’s good with people. That’s a big part of what we do.”

Angie Akers after talking to Avery Poppinga during a timeout/photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2022

Akers, who is from Indiana and played indoors at Notre Dame, had an outstanding pro beach career and has coached in the Netheralands. But the pinnacle was last summer when she was the coach for April Ross and Alix Klineman when they won beach gold in Tokyo. 

“It was an amazing experience, but I’ll tell you, there were some really, really high highs and some really low lows,” Akers said. “There’s a lot of pressure. It was really tense and I felt so much stress and pressure and like the biggest relief in the world when they won. It was a bit of everything. Emotional and heavy, but also extremely satisfying.”

She laughed.

“There’s so much to unwrap.”

Akers, 45, was a marathoner after college before hitting the beach. She was the AVP rookie of the year in 2002 and FIVE rookie of the year in 2009. She retired in 2014. She’s not coaching a pro team currently but may, she said.

Coaching at LMU “has been amazing but overwhelming, too. Way more people. 

“Getting to know them and working in a team environment at a university, too, there’s so much new for me. I’m loving it. It’s a completely new experience but there’s a learning curve.”

And then Mayer brought on Reeves as a volunteer coach. Reeves won an NCAA indoor title with UCLA in 2011 and has had a strong pro beach career. She’ll be back on the sand, too, “but for now my time and focus is on LMU.”

Reeves had coached on the club level. In January, “John shot me a text and asked if I wanted t come help the Lions this season. It was a no-brainer. No question. I responded to that text pretty immediately.”

“Getting Kelly was a huge win,” Mayer said. “She’s been coaching with Holly McPeak at Elite and she’s a learner. She’s come in every day with a notebook and asking questions and trying to get better.”

“I want to take this opportunity to learn from coach John Mayer, who I’ve respected, and Angie Akers, who I respect as well,” Reeves said. “It’s a really good learning environment.”

Kelly Reeves/Ben Wood photo

Reeves, who turned 30 on April 8, thought she might end up as a coach and this was a great chance to try it out. 

“Who knows, maybe I’ll end up in this world eventually.”

LMU lost five starters from the 2021 team, but this season stands 26-7. 

“I think this is the most talent we’ve ever had,” the 39-year-old Mayer said in March, and the record backs him up. The roster is international, with players from, of course, California, and Illinois, Florida, Nevada, Texas and Arizona, and also France, Canada, Finland, Italy, Switzerland and Sweden. 

And the losses? LMU has been awfully close, losing to LSU twice in five, in five to TCU, twice to UCLA, and also in five to USC, Hawai’i and Long Beach.

The Lions play in Santa Monica on Friday and Saturday in the West Coast Conference Championships and will be in Gulf Shores, Alabama, next week for the NCAA Championship.

***

LMU is by no means the only staff loaded with impressive resumes. We’re not listing everyone, but among the best:

UCLA coach Stein Metzger has a tremendous beach volleyball resume. Of course he’s coached UCLA to two NCAA titles (2018, ’19) and won three indoors as a player at UCLA in the 1990s. Metzger was a standout himself on the beach, winning 16 AVP titles and was a 2004 USA beach Olympian.

UCLA coach Stein Metzger/photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2022

His associate head coach, Jenny Johnson Jordan, won an indoors title at UCLA and had a great beach career that included competing in the 2000 Olympics. And until she left to start the pro beach season, UCLA had this year as a volunteer coach Maria Clara Salgado.

USC coach Dain Blanton was an assistant when the Trojans won the first two NCAA titles in 2016 and ’17, and then won it all in his third year as head coach last season. Blanton’s 1994 Pepperdine team won the men’s NCAA title and he became a star on the beach, including winning gold with Eric Fonoimoana at the 2000 Olympics.

Florida State coach Brooke Niles was an All-American indoors at UC Santa Barbara who had a strong pro beach career. She was a 2012 Olympic beach alternate. She’s also had one of the all-time men’s greats, her husband Nick Lucena, a 2016 Olympian, serve as an FSU volunteer coach.

Cal Poly coach Todd Rogers played on the beach for 20 years and went to three Olympics, in 2004, 2008 (winning gold with Phil Dalhausser) and 2012. He’s a member of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame. 

FIU coach Rita Buck-Crockett, who also coached the FIU indoors program until this past season, is considered one the greatest American indoors players ever. She’s also in the International Volleyball Hall of Fame. 

Pepperdine coach Marcio Sicoli coached Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor to Olympics gold in 2012 and then coached Walsh Jennings and April Ross to 2016 Olympic bronze.

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