Long before Riley and Maddison would be known as the YouTube sensation Beard Brothers, who could have imagined in 1982 when Diana McInerny began dating Angus McKibbin the impact it would have on USC men’s volleyball? Or the fun it would create in pro beach volleyball?
More on that later.
Start with McInerny, a defensive substitute and setter who played for two years (1976-77) at UC Santa Barbara before transferring to the University of Hawai’i (1978-79), winning the AIAW championship in 1979.
McInerny went on to play professionally for the IVA’s Denver Comets, who won the league championship in 1979 with Olympians Jon Stanley (USA), Ed Skorek (Poland), and Garth Pischke (Canada). But the IVA folded in 1980 (read more about it here), so McInerny went to play pro in Switzerland, landing for two seasons (1981-82) in Glaronia.
“One of the conditions of my work visa is that I had to work in the Mueller Fabrique factory,” she recalled. “I worked the morning in the factory, the most tedious of jobs. Some days I would help women glue the calendars onto a board, and then run it through. Some days I would staple the corners of boxes and stack them. Mentally it was one of the most difficult things that I ever had to get through.”
She returned to Hawai’i, where she taught physical education at renowned Punahou High School and coached volleyball.
And that’s when McInerny started dating McKibbin, a water polo and soccer athlete and long-time family friend who had been offered a water polo scholarship to UCLA and a soccer scholarship to Cornell. He chose to play goalie at Cornell in upstate New York, and subsequently founded the Cookie Corner with a partner, a business that now has 14 locations in its 40-year-run.
And that’s a good place to get back to USC men’s volleyball. The McKibbins married in 1985, with three boys, Riley, Maddison, and Jameson.
But even before they came along, uncle Owen McKibbin played for USC in 1983-84 and 1986-87 and aunt Claudia McKibbin and her USC team won the 1980 AIAW national championship.
Fast forward to 2008, when Riley began his USC career, serving as a co-captain in 2011. Then Maddison became a Trojan, playing opposite, outside, and libero from 2010-2014, also serving as co-captain. And now James just finished his sophomore — albeit abbreviated — season at USC.
Start with Riley, who set USC to a 23-4 record in 2011, where it reached the NCAA semifinals before the top-seeded Trojans were upset by UC Santa Barbara.
“When Riley was 6-7 years old, I’d take the kids out in the backyard, and I’d teach them some things, and I just threw the ball to Riley, and he just set it back, and he has these golden, beautiful, soft hands,” Diana said.
“I didn’t do anything, he just set it. He’s got something here, that’s not easy. And once you have that touch, it’s only going to get better.”
Not that Riley embraced it from the start.
“I loved basketball,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at volleyball, so I didn’t really like it. You naturally like the things that you’re good at.”
But when he go to middle school, many of Riley’s friends were playing volleyball. And not just anyone, but future big-time names like Kawika Shoji, Erik Shoji, Spencer McLachlin and future USC teammate Tri Bourne. So Riley gave it another try, playing at the Outrigger Canoe Club with coaches like Charlie Jenkins, Dave Shoji, and Peter Ehrman.
He made the Punahou varsity as a freshman and was a starting setter.
“He just took off. He was determined, he worked, and he worked, and he worked,” Diana said. “There was just no going back. He decided, ‘This is it for me,’ and he eventually went to USC.”
The McKibbin boys got their start at the well-known baby court at the Outrigger Canone Club.
“I started playing down at the Outrigger Canoe club, the same way that Tri, Trevor, Taylor, and so many other players started on the baby court,” Maddison said. “It was our day care.
“My Mom would always go down there and play. Tri’s parents were triathletes, no pun intended, so Tri would get dropped off there. Taylor and Trevor’s mom and dad were both paddlers and volleyball players, so we’d all get dropped off there. It was basically a day care for all of us, and we just ended up on the baby court.
“We would play for vanilla Cokes or milkshakes, and we would just play games, and what’s cool about it, it was a smaller court, and a lower net, so you could work on all of the things that you could never work on playing on a regular size court with an eight-foot net. Doing that, you don’t really fall in love with the game at an early age, but on a smaller court, with a lower net, you can get blocks, you can get massive kills, and you think, ‘I’m really, really good at this sport.’ ”
Maddison found that playing at USC with his brother brought a different set of expectations.
“I will say that playing libero with Riley sucked the most because I had to pass him the ball. He was always hyper-critical of all my passes,” Maddison said. “Especially on free balls when he’s in the front row.
“If I didn’t get him tight, on the net, on free balls, he’d give me that death look that only siblings give each other, and he’d be like, ‘Why didn’t you get me tighter?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I’m just trying to keep my job here. I’m a freshman. I’m sorry.’ ”
The 6-foot-4 Maddison is a lefty, a perfect beach doubles complement to 6-2 right-hander Riley. You might think that the McKibbin family engineered it that way, but Maddison’s left leaning came about by an early injury, Diana said.
“Maddy was always a hitter,” Diana recalled. “Maddy hurt his right elbow, he didn’t know how, at 6, 7 years old, and month after month, it was sore. He had MRIs, X-rays, and the doctor finally said, “Maddison, you know what? You can’t do anything with your right arm. Even though you’re a righty, you just have to lay off.
“So he took a tennis ball and started training his left arm. And that’s why he became a lefty and hits with his left arm. He still writes with his right. It eventually healed, but it took a year or so to heal.”
Riley, now 31, and Maddison, 29, took similar pro paths, playing each playing in Greece and Italy for four years. It was then that they began to grow their beards.
“After I played at SC, Riley and I wanted to play together,” Maddison recalled. At SC, we always had to shave our beards. That was the standard SC thing, we always had to be clean-shaven, so when we went to Greece, I went to this club, and there were a bunch of pretty girls there, I was single at the time, and I realized that none of them spoke English, so I was like OK, I’m definitely not going to get a girlfriend in Greece, so I might as well grow out my facial hair, and it was not like a conscious decision, it was just that I wasn’t going to get a girlfriend, and I was tired of shaving, I’m just going to let this go.
“At that three- or four-month mark, everybody starts to wonder if you’re doing OK, because you look like you have serious life issues, and that’s where they came from. We just kept growing them, and when we came back on the beach, we kept them, and I have no idea why we did, it’s not like it was a conscious branding decision.”
“So we thought, all right, we’ll keep our beards. Five years later, I guess it’s our brand.”
For that matter, the brothers’ plan to even play beach was hatched over three bottles of wine, Riley said.
“I kind of knew that it was going to be my last year, and he was living with me in Italy at the time, kind of like my housewife, house-brother, although he didn’t do any of the dishes, and didn’t clean the house, not once,” Riley said. “He’s basically just mooching off me. I would take him to the restaurant, feed him, but it was nice to have someone with me.
“And one night, late, after three bottles of wine, we just said, ‘Why don’t we try out the beach?’ We grew up playing it, it would be interesting to test our abilities and try and get back into that.
“So we decided, ‘Let’s do it!’, and we had been growing out our beards, and came back and winged it our first year, and played and qualified.”
Playing together has its challenges on the court.
“The highs are very high and the lows are very low,” Maddison said. “Playing with a sibling, the smallest things irritate you. When you take a step back and ask yourself, would I be frustrated or irritated with anyone else if they did something like this?
“And I don’t know where it comes from, but those small things kind of eat away at you a little bit.”
The McKibbins have competed in 27 tournaments together, finishing as high as fifth twice on the AVP in 2017 in Austin and last year in Chicago. Maddison got an AVP victory in 2017 when Riley was injured and he teamed with Ty Loomis to win in San Francisco.
They sometimes have the same sibling issues, they said, when they produce their popular YouTube videos on The McKibbins Brothers channel. Their episodes are fun and wide open.
“It’s taken us a very, very long time to figure out what works best for each other,” Maddison said. “You’d think it would work simply, be happy and go-lucky in all of our videos, but we constantly have to try and bring out the best of each other, which is hard to do with siblings.
“The thing that’s helped us the most is recognizing the strengths in each other, and letting us play to those strengths on the court, and off the court in the video business.”
The McKibbins have produced 141 videos, and have in excess of 61,000 subscribers.
“It’s taken us a while to figure this out, but he’s good at a lot of things that I’m not great at, and I’m good at a lot of things that he’s not great at,” Maddison said.
“Once we figured out how to divvy up the duties, and utilize our strengths, to be a little more efficient — and we’re still figuring those things out every day — but right now we’re going down a good road, and it’s fun.
“We still enjoy playing, trying to learn and grow as much as we can. I think that’s why we continue to grow as much as we can. And I think that’s why we continue to play. Beach is such a complicated sport. There’s so much to learn, and so much we still don’t know, that it’s still interesting for us.
“That goes the same with our YouTube channel. We don’t know what we’re doing, really, we’re still learning as we go, but we find that part of the business rewarding as well. So it’s fun.”
And their videos are fun, with everything from volleyball action to travel to playing tips.
“One of the reasons that we do this is I want to remember these moments, I want my kids to see these people we’ve met, that have been part of our lives,” Maddison said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to film, sometimes it’s hard to edit, but these videos will last forever online … We wanted to provide value in beach volleyball. A sport that we love, a sport that we grew up with. We saw a void. From where we are now to where we started, it seems crazy to have started that way, trying to build something like that.”
And then there’s Jameson, 11 years younger than Riley, 9 years younger than Maddison.
Riley and Maddison always wanted a baby brother and Diana finally gave in at age 40.
“For many, many Christmases, we sent our Christmas letters to Santa, or so we thought. And we would ask for a little brother every single Christmas,” Maddison said. “Our parents kept those Christmas letters. We asked for a little brother for years and years and years, and when we finally got this brother, and thank God it wasn’t a sister, he was our project.
“We taught him how to hit, I can’t say we taught him how to set, and we almost treat him like he was our kid, to a certain degree.”
Actually it was a family project, with Diana coaching Jameson through high school at Punahou, then retiring. Riley and Maddison were available to help Jameson every step of the way.
“We knew all of our shortcomings,” Riley said, “This is how you fix this, make sure you develop the right habits, and he’s so much younger than us, I would take him to the beach, and people would ask me if he was my son.
“And there’s a lot of time that we treat him that way. Maddison and I treat each other so much differently than we treat him, which can be a good thing or a bad thing at times, we kind of pave the way for him a little too much.
“It’s a very unique family dynamic within our family.”
Jameson figured it was inevitable that he would be a volleyball player.
“It’s pretty fair to say that I was born into it. Since I was born, both of my brothers were playing club volleyball, my first memories of volleyball were going to Junior Olympics, and just being on the sidelines and seeking out volleyballs to pass against the wall, or when my brothers were in between matches, pepper with my brothers or my mother.”
As a freshman at USC, the 6-3 Jameson was a backup setter and was a serving specialist, appearing in 23 matches. This year he cracked the starting lineup. The season, of course, was canceled; he is currently sheltering in place with his parents in Oahu.
“It just happened so fast. It was crazy. Everything was happening so fast that you didn’t even know what questions to ask,“ Jameson said. “People were making plans to go home, especially because it was spring break, and I don’t even think that I’ve had enough time to quite process the information yet.
“I’m going to my online classes, but it’s just a weird environment.”
It’s early, but Jameson can see himself following a similar professional path that his brothers took. He already has a beach background, which includes winning the 2016 Hawai’i beach pairs championships with Punahou teammate Ryan Wilcox, an indoors standout at UC Santa Barbara.
“I haven’t thought about it enough, but considering that right now my main focus is indoor volleyball, I want to stick with that path,” Jameson said.
“But as I’m born and raised in Hawai’i, and raised on both beach and indoor volleyball, I would say that the beach volleyball path isn’t too far off.”