There they stood, the four Americans, bundled in four to five layers of UnderArmour and other form-fitting warm weather gear. Bundled in beanies, gloves, headbands, and underneath it all, hand and feet warmers tucked in their makeshift soccer cleats and gloves.
They — Emily Hartong, Katie Spieler, Karissa Cook, Allie Wheeler — had descended upon Moscow, Russia, during Christmas week to play volleyball.
It does not take an astrophysics major or scientist or really anybody with much of a background in volleyball at all to determine that this was not the typical volleyball tournament. It wasn’t on a beach, where they are all pursuing careers, or indoors, where they all excelled as well.
No, this was on snow, not a surface befitting three who earned degrees from the University of Hawai’i and another from USC.
“We were compared to the Jamaican bobsled team,” Spieler said, laughing, on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.
In a way, the comparison fits. Few would expect Americans to excel in a sport that is legitimately never played on U.S. soil, aside from a lone exhibition at Mammoth Mountain in 2017. And yet, the comparison doesn’t really fit at all, for while the famed Jamaican bobsled team, which made their Olympic debut in 1988 and is the subject of the wonderfully popular film, Cool Runnings, was more of a gimmick, failing to finish their qualifying run, the Americans ran the table.
Five straight matches they won, closing with a three-set victory over Russia in the finals.
“It was crazy,” Spieler said. “Definitely the best team we played was that Russian team we played in the finals. They were scouting us for at least an hour, with their coach, in the V.I.P. tent, so intense. Karissa had to go back to the tent to grab her bag and they went silent, like ‘Whoa.’ We were so confused at what they were scouting because we just had no idea what we were doing on the court. We were just kinda going for it out there.”
It doesn’t really matter what surface it is for Spieler. This year, she won on the beach, as she did at Seaside, one of the biggest non-AVP or p1440 events of the season, alongside Cook. She won on dirt, as she did with Cook at a NORCECA in Martinique. And now she’s done so in the snow, though with a bit different of a wardrobe.
“Hand warmers were super key,” Spieler said, to which Hartong agreed, mentioning she had two in her shoes.
“All in the toes,” she said, laughing. “Arch was fine. It was all really interesting. It was fun, though. It was so much fun.”
Hartong, too, has enjoyed success at every level, and now on every surface. She won a state title at Los Alamitos High School, was a two-time Big West Player of the Year at Hawai’i, named the Best Foreign Player on her pro team in Korea, qualified for the Hermosa and Manhattan Opens in her first year on the AVP, and is now a gold medalist on the snow.
“We had a really good time, laughing on and off the court,” Hartong said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it does become a sport.”