Even now, at 25, Andy Benesh would be hesitant to trust himself with his own money. Two years earlier, he couldn’t fathom why anybody would trust him, a training financial advisor, with theirs.
He knew, for a fact, that he was finished playing volleyball. A prolific career as a middle blocker at USC, in which he finished his senior year leading the team in hitting percentage, blocks, and aces, had left his back in so much pain, with multiple herniated discs, that it hurt just to bend over and tie his shoes. A year playing professionally overseas in Switzerland sealed it — the loneliness, the isolation, the days of just volleyball and eating and volleyball and…nothing.
He was done.
He took a job at a financial advisory firm and was studying for 10 hours a day. Occasionally, his good buddy and high school teammate at Palos Verdes High, Cole Fiers, would convince him to come out and play some beach, “just for some exercise and fresh air,” Benesh said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I wasn’t planning on playing at all, but he convinced me to play a couple qualifiers that year and we qualified a few times. But I was done with beach, done with volleyball, was ready to start my career.”
But cold calling folks much older, attempting to convince them that he knew best what to do with their money when, uh, well, he didn’t, didn’t feel right. It had nothing on the high of qualifying in San Francisco, and doing it again in Hermosa Beach.
“I remember one day in the office I was like ‘What am I doing? I’m not making any money anyway, I might as well go out to the beach. Nobody is going to give their life savings to a 23-year-old,’” Benesh said. “If I’m going to take this shot, I gotta take it now.”
The beginning of many great stories begins with quitting.
Andy Benesh had just begun his.
Benesh’s rise has not exactly been a blink-and-you-missed-it type ascent. It’s taken a few years, and it has been hard. In 2019, he fell in qualifiers in Huntington Beach (second round), Austin (final round), and in the first round in New York and Seattle, back-to-back. Throughout, the once-aspiring financial advisor had almost exactly zero dollars to his name.
At an AVP Next Gold tournament in Chicago, in 2019, he lost in the semifinals with Adam Roberts. Roberts is somewhat famous for his competitiveness, and within minutes, he was gone from North Ave. Benesh was there, though, smile as wide as a cantaloupe, because, as he proclaimed loudly, “I just tripled my net worth!”
His check might have been for 200 bucks.
Such is the price of climbing the ladder in beach volleyball, a sport famous for its lifestyle and notorious for its lack of money to fund it.
But climb Andy Benesh did.
He and Roberts took a seventh in Hermosa Beach in 2019, stunning fourth-seeded Billy Allen and Stafford Slick. The next weekend, they finished 13th in Manhattan.
It would have taken a conscious effort for defenders not to have noticed a 6-foot-9 coordinated blocker with a gargantuan wingspan, who also had smooth hands and a nasty jump serve when he got it going.
Eric Beranek noticed. In Chicago the next weekend, he told Benesh that “I wouldn’t be surprised if we hooked up for next year,” Beranek recalled. “He was like ‘Yeah, that would be awesome.’ He shared that same exact want.”
They partnered for the 2020 Season That Wasn’t. It was disappointing, to just have three events on the schedule. Here they had put in so much time over the off-season, training with a coach, LT Treumann, finetuning their still-somewhat-raw games. They competed well in the three major events they had, with wins over Ryan Doherty and Avery Drost, Troy Field and Tim Bomgren in the opening AVP Champions Cup.
They moved to Florida for the remainder of the summer, winning every single tournament in which they competed — five straight, including AVP America Nationals on two different surfaces (grass and beach).
It would have been difficult not to notice Benesh then.
It would have been nearly impossible now.
Billy Allen noticed. All the way from Idaho.
He and his longtime partner, Stafford Slick, were parting ways, somewhat literally: Slick was moving to San Diego, starting a new gig; Allen was still in to play as much beach volleyball as he could.
Who better to replace the 6-foot-8 Slick, who comes equipped with a big serve and smooth sets, than the 6-9 Benesh, who also comes equipped with a big serve and smooth sets?
“You always want to work hard and hope somebody above you notices and picks you up,” Benesh said. “That’s always the goal but I was more concerned about my personal development. I thought that if I got to a certain skill level, those opportunities would open up for me and I wouldn’t have to go chase them.”
With Allen on the team, there is no chasing needed. Benesh will now have the tutelage of one of the sharpest minds on the AVP Tour, who has enough points to pull Benesh into the main draws of AVP and at least into country quotas and qualifiers on the FIVB.
“The last two years I’ve been playing my life by ear, just week to week, to see what happens,” Andy Benesh said. “But now it seems like it’s turning a corner.”