The beach volleyball world knows all about the “Beachvolley Vikings” now.
After 21-year-old Anders Mol and 22-year-old partner Christian Sorum won p1440 Las Vegas last weekend, it capped an amazing 2018 run for the Norwegians that saw them win the FIVB five-star major in Gstaad, Switzerland, the five-star major in Vienna, Austria, the World Tour finals in Hamburg, and the European championships in the Hague.
Trevor Crabb and partner Tri Bourne lost to the Norwegians in the Las Vegas semifinals.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the world for a reason,” Crabb said. “They side out really well, and their blocking is their biggest strength. They’ve got a big block up there in Anders, and Christian makes some really good moves on defense.
“If you can side out against them, you can side out against anybody. That was the difference in the end. They made some good blocks and reads and that was the difference-maker right there.”
It all started with the victory in Gstaad.
“Gstaad was kind of a big confidence boost for us,” said Mol, the FIVB’s top rookie in 2017. “Winning the first major was a goal we had the whole season.”
It came after they lost in the finals of the FIVB four-star Itapema, Brazil, in May to Brazil’s Evandro Goncalves and Andre Loyola.
“We wanted to achieve a gold and win a cowbell,” Mol said. “That tournament started to boost our confidence in winning really tight games.
“It was a tough tournament, it wasn’t pretty, we made it to the end and we won, I think that gave us the boost that we could play well and win games even though we don’t play perfect.
The Gstaad gold medal was Norway’s first since 1997, when Jan Kvalheim and Bjorn Maaseide won an FIVB event in Portugal. And those four victories alone netted the Mol and Sorum $128,000, not bad considering they had earned only $10,850 on the FIVB tour in 2017.
“For us, it’s huge,” Sorum said. “It has attracted a lot of media attention from Norway. People are watching more volleyball than they have for many years now and I think that is good for Norwegian volleyball.
The Norwegians have become so successful that it is a bit of a surprise when they don’t win.
But in the late-season King of the Court events, they finished seventh in Utrecht, sixth in Huntington Beach, and second in Antwerp and Waikiki.
“The King of the Court was a little different play format and we’re not used to that,” said Mol.
Added Sorum, “It’s difficult to get into a rhythm. We play a team, we get to know them, we make tactics during the match, and in King of the Court you always get a new opponent is different all the time, it’s hard to make tactics. So far we like this format better, we had a good training week before, and it was a good tournament.”
To the volleyball world, it might appear as if the pair came out of nowhere, but their success is the culmination of a lifetime of volleyball.
Mol hails from Strandvik, a small community of 2,078 near the Eastern shore of Norway. His mother, Merita Mol, was a beach volleyball Olympian in Atlanta in 1996, finishing ninth with Ragni Hestad. Originally an indoor player, she developed her beach skills as a student at UC Santa Barbara.
Mol’s father Kåre not only coached Merita and Ragni in the 1996 Olympics, but currently coaches Mol and Sorum. Kåre played for Norway’s indoor volleyball team, before becoming a coach.
Mol is the second of five children and his eldest brother Hendrik, now 24, was a VolleyballMag.com honorable mention All-American as a middle blocker at Hawai’i.
Hendrik also competes on the FIVB beach tour with their cousin, Mathias Berntsen, finishing 25th at the FIVB five-star in Fort Lauderdale this year.
“I was introduced to volleyball at an early age and I loved it from the first time, and I’ve been playing since I was 6,” Mol said.
Sorum lives in Lillestrom, a small suburb 20 minutes outside of Oslo. His parents were a key part of his development as well. Sorum has played for 12 years, more than half his life.
“My parents played volleyball just for fun. I would watch them and play with them after they were finished, and it got more and more serious over the years,” Sorum said. “At one point I had to choose between volleyball and football and I chose volleyball at age 14.”
Both Mol and Sorum credit much of their success to Top Volley Norge, a combination school and volleyball academy located in southern Norway for elite players that features three indoor sand courts.
“It’s a volleyball academy for kids from 16-19 years,” Mol said. “You’re there for three years, you practice twice a day, you also go to school, like a normal school, you eat, sleep, and play volleyball and study.
“It’s in the middle of nowhere, you get social with all of the other students, you kind of become like a family, and have a lot of fun together.”
(Top Volley Norge has made other contributions to American college volleyball as well, notably at Stetson, where alumnae Maggie Skjelbred, Julie Varga, and Sunniva Helland-Hansen played. Skjelbred played four years of indoor at George Washington before transferring to Stetson for her graduate studies, Varga is currently a senior, and Helland-Hansen a junior.)
Although Mol and Sorum knew each other before then, Top Volley Norge was the first time they practiced together, although Mol was a freshman at the time and Sorum a senior.
After graduating, Mol and Sorum initially partnered with others, Mol with his cousin Mathias Berntsen, and Sorum with Morten Kvamsdal.
Their first tournament together was in 2016 at an FIVB event in Klagenfurt, Austria.
“We didn’t have any practice at all before the tournament and we still got a fifth place,” Mol said. “We realized that the chemistry was pretty good, and we could play some really good volleyball together.”
That certainly turned out to be an understatement, as the pair was honored as the FIVB Tour Champion of 2018.
The 6-foot-7 Mol received individual honors as FIVB Best Blocker, Best Offensive Player, Most Improved Player, and Most Outstanding Player, while the 6-4 Sorum received Best Defensive Player.
Mol said their volleyball idols were Phil Dalhausser and Ricardo Santos.
“We’re really humbled that we’re able to play with them and be on the same court as them,” Mol said. “Now we have learned a lot, and we have a really good level, and we can beat them, and we also have a lot to learn from them because they have so much routine and so much volleyball in their body. It’s really good to hang around them and learn.
“My idol was Ricardo,” Sorum said. “My brother and I would play in the backyard and I was Ricardo, because I was taller than my brother, and he was Emmanuel because he was shorter, and we always played against each other. It was really cool when I got to play on the same court as him, and just watch him. He has so much power, he is so big in this game, he can see everything, and he is still a really good player.”
The Beachvolley Vikings enjoy documenting their travels in vlogs. Their YouTube channel currently has 18 episodes.
“We’re trailing a little bit behind on the videos.” Mol admitted. “We’re going to post the San Jose tournament (where they lost in the inaugural p1440 final). We’re trying to catch up now, we have a little bit more time. It’s difficult to play tournaments and also edit movies, so stay tuned for a new episode.
The pair recently vacationed in Hawai’i and Yosemite between events, taking the time to enjoy the scenery at Taft point.
“We really had a great time there,” Mol said. “We saw the sunset there and it was amazing. We also got a lot of cool shots with the waterfall, we went to Yosemite waterfalls, and really enjoyed ourselves. That was a really nice vacation, to relax and see nature, not think about volleyball and just enjoy nature, really appreciate it.”
“I’m a calm guy.” I don’t want to stress things, of course I love beach volleyball, but I also like to share our lifestyle with the people, so we make a lot of blogs from our travels, and we post them on YouTube. We do a lot of work there, trying to grow the sport and make it even bigger than it is because it deserves a bigger audience than it has right now because it is really big in the Olympics, but after the Olympics, it is not the same as it should be, so we want to do something with that.”
Mol recognizes that things get more serious as the Olympic qualification process is under way, although they’re taking three weeks off now, followed by a trip to Spain.
“We want to improve our game,” Mol said, “and also have some great tournaments in Olympic qualification. We take one match at a time, and do as well as we can, and try to win every time.
“We don’t really look at the score when we play, we just try to focus on every ball, and try to do our best there, even though it’s 20-13, we always hustle for the point. It’s not like we know that we’ll win the set, so we always hustle for every point no matter how early or how late it is in the game.
“The momentum can switch with just one point,” Sorum added. “So every ball is important.”