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Jake Dietrich, peaking at 34, finally discovers “the thing that sets you apart”

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Every now and again, maybe once or twice a week depending on the schedule of kids and competition and work, Jake Dietrich will come home from his job as a paralegal at Riot Games and see the glow of his neighbor’s television. He knows what’s on that screen of Theo Brunner’s.

“Who you watching?” Dietrich will ask.

And then Brunner, one of the most avid film watchers in the beach volleyball world, will answer with any variety of off-the-wall matches. Might be examining the defense of Ondrej Perusic, the shoulder of Christian Sorum, the spread blocking style of Stefan Boermans. Might be his own film with Trevor Crabb, or that of his former partner, Chaim Schalk. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really much matter what, exactly, is on that television, because regardless of what it is, Jake Dietrich is going to want to talk about it.

A lot.

“Theo and Joanna [Klironomos, Brunner’s wife] call it getting Jaked because I have a propensity to talk a lot,” Dietrich said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “What can I say? My wife will be texting me, asking me where I am, and I’m out front.”

Brunner’s house isn’t the only site where one can “get Jaked.” It can, for example, be in the medical tent, where the physiotherapists have a good laugh at the hirsute 34-year-old who can bounce from topic to topic so seamlessly and flawlessly that 45 minutes might go by with little back and forth. It can happen, as is the point of such enterprises, on a podcast, where Dietrich’s 132-minute episode shattered the previous record for longest episode of SANDCAST by more than half an hour. There is an easy explanation for his loquaciousness: Dietrich has one of the largest libraries of beach volleyball information from which to pull topics of conversation, anecdotes, and point-and-counterpoints.

Just two weeks ago, he was up all night, texting Charlie Siragusa, breaking down his film from a Futures tournament in Coolangatta, Australia. Then he did it the next week, when Siragusa and Jordan Hoppe were in Tahiti.

“I loved watching all of their games and would text them afterwards,” Dietrich said. “It’s fun to watch the guys you’re playing with who are able to go travel and do all of those things, even if it’s a Futures.”

Dietrich can tell you the scores of a final of an Elite 16 with no Americans in the hunt just as easily as he could spit out the entry list of a Futures tournament thousands of miles away with only 15 teams signed up or even, for goodness sakes, the top-10 plays from the German domestic tour. He can tell you the difference between how Brunner pulls off the net and how Chase Budinger and Bill Kolinske do. He’ll analyze John Hyden’s hand-digging vs. that of Taylor Crabb.

It’s best to allow him to explain such matters.

“It’s fun,” he says, “to watch the way Casey Patterson does things vs the way Tri [Bourne] does things vs the way Trevor [Crabb] does things. What are some of the things I can incorporate and take my game to the next step? Obviously people are watching [Kusti] Nolvak and [Mart] Tiisaar from Estonia, the Swedes. I love watching [Pablo] Herrera and [Adrian] Gavira because those guys have been doing it for so long. What are those guys doing?

“Some guy had clipped only [Alex] Brouwer hitting from the scouting cam. I was watching that and I watched four side-outs and turned it back to Christian Sorum because I don’t have that shoulder. I’ve always thought of volleyball as sort of a ballet. If you really watch some of the greatest players play, they’re so smooth. I watched the 90s Hawaii, Honolulu. It was Steffes and Kiraly against Stokie and Sinjin and all of those guys, setting, passing, hitting, so smooth. When you watch one of those really fun plays, it’s so graceful, and you watch someone really hitting a ball, and you watch a defender really cushioning it, scooping it, the way the ball flows through the game, it’s just amazing to me. I’ve always looked at my arm swing as smooth as possible, I want to make jumping as smooth as possible, I want to make my pass like Chase Frishman does it. His passing is unbelievable to me.”

Breath. Sigh. Laugh.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling wide, “I watch a lot of volleyball.”

Jake Dietrich
Jeremy Casebeer hits against Jake Dietrich/Andy J. Gordon photo

The benefit of all of those mental reps? The thousands upon thousands of beach volleyball points and arm swings and sets and styles he has watched and analyzed and broken down and incorporated into his own game? At 34 years old, Jake Dietrich is playing the best beach volleyball of his career.

He played in his first AVP qualifier in 2014. In 2015, while living in Huntington Beach, he was in training groups with the top players in Orange County, guys such as Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb, Ty Loomis and Russ Marchewka, Ty Tramblie and Brad Keenan, Paul Araiza and Derek Olson. Yet he went 0-5 in AVP qualifiers that year and played in just three qualifiers over the next six seasons. He got married. Had a kid. Had another one.

“R.I.P. to Jake’s career,” was the joke amongst players in that Orange County training group.

And then, a sudden rebirth.

A string of CBVA wins with Hagen Smith earned him a wild card into the 2022 Hermosa Beach Open, the first main draw of his career. It was a number that stunned more than a few players, all of whom knew of Dietrich’s talent, all of whom had seen the work he had put in over the years.

“Is this number three?” Chase Frishman asked in the players tent.

“First, actually,” Dietrich replied.

And what a debut it was. Dietrich and Smith, the 16 seed, shocked top-seeded Bourne and Crabb, 18-21, 21-19, 16-14. Then they did it again, upsetting No. 8 Billy Allen and Jeremy Casebeer, 21-15, 17-21, 15-9. Not only was Jake Dietrich in a main draw — he was sitting in fifth, guaranteed to make Sunday, wrecking the bracket along the way.

“It’s amazing to play at a high level and have success, but to be able to share that moment with your child — and I’m sure Quest [his oldest] doesn’t remember — it’s just nice to have him,” Dietrich said. “It’s a memory I’ll always cherish.”

The remainder of the year played out in similar fashion: A seventh in Manhattan Beach, third in Chicago, another seventh in Central Florida, cementing Dietrich’s position among the top 20 players in the country.

“It’s nice to be able to do the things you love, have a family, have a couple kids who are obviously amazing, live your live, work a full time job, I can’t complain,” Dietrich said. “Everyone has their own path, everyone has their own journey. You just find what makes you you. Keep riding the wave.”