Carly Wopat acknowledges that there are a number of skills that need to be refined, to be smoothed over, to be fully beached from their indoor counterparts. But she’s been an athlete all her life, a state champ in high school, an All-American at Stanford, a professional overseas. It’s simply a matter of time for most, and anyway, the majority of the fundamental skills are already there. There’s just one that gives her pause: setting, and, specifically, hand setting.
“Initially I just wasn’t squaring up,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “It took a long time for me to just square up every time. I kept trying to angle the sets. I’m starting to get good at squaring up but I want to get better at hand setting and that’s the most difficult thing for me right now: hand setting.
“The indoor hands are so different from the beach hands. I’ve gotten to the point where I know how to set a good ball, what it feels like, I just need to be able to do it consistently.”
Anyone who might doubt Wopat’s ability to do so likely just doesn’t know much about Carly Wopat.
This is a 26-year-old who, as a senior in high school, led Dos Pueblos to a CIF title and followed it up by setting a school record in the discus.
This is a girl who, while majoring in human biology and dabbling with a minor in art at the most prestigious university in the country, led the Pac-12 in blocks per set (1.43) and hit .392 for her career, good for second all-time at Stanford.
This is a girl who taught herself to play guitar, who speaks French and can also drop the occasional Turkish — “I don’t know why, but it just stuck with me,” she said — and Japanese. This is the daughter of a man who nearly qualified for the 1980 Olympics in track and field and a woman who competed as a gymnast in college.
And hand setting — hand setting — could potentially be an issue? Not a chance.
In fact, it is the very difficulty of the sport, the fact that one couldn’t simply be a decent athlete and succeed, that drew her to volleyball in the first place. It is the need for these reps, the proverbial 10,000 hours, that she loves the most.
“I like the speed of it,” she said of volleyball. “It’s an interesting sport. It takes a lot of skill. There are some sports where you can be really athletic and just go out and be really good at, like you can run and go be a track athlete or something like that.
“But with volleyball, there’s so much skill involved that it takes years and years to cultivate just hand-eye coordination and the feel for the ball. Just things that only come with experience I guess, perspective of the court and so I really liked that part of the game, that I could work on these skills and still be really athletic and go out and play this game.”
And in limited experience on the beach, she has already excelled, making two main draws — in San Jose and Huntington Beach — to end the 2018 season, taking fifth at p1440 Huntington Beach alongside Corinne Quiggle. With those finished on the resume, despite zero FIVB points to her name but the desire to play overseas, she got a call from one of the most experienced United States defenders, Brittany Hochevar.
“Hochevar messaged me while I was still playing in the p1440s and asked if I wanted to meet up,” Wopat recalled. “I think she had done her research and watched me a little bit and maybe talked to some people, so we met up and discussed playing together, and she just kinda has this dream to go to the Olympics for 2020 and we talked a lot about timing, and our partnership – I don’t know, just the timing of it all just works out really well.
“The more I’ve gotten to know her spirit and energy – she’s just an amazing person. I just think we’re going to make an amazing partnership.”
It’s funny, too, how it happened. While Wopat was considering the perfect partner for her, one of the few that would have enough pull to get her to leave the United States Indoor National Team, it was Hochevar’s name on which she landed.
“Earlier I had been thinking ‘Who could I play with if I really wanted to take it to the next step?'” Wopat said. “I immediately thought of Hochevar because she’s older and has experience so some of my weaknesses, just being new to the game and everything, she can complement that really well. It’s just funny, because I had thought of her before, and the pieces just came together.”