Kim Hildreth and Sarah Schermerhorn have been to California. They’ve seen the dozens of AVP main draw-level teams practicing up and down the Hermosa Beach strand. They are not unaware of the talent level in Hermosa Beach, in Huntington Beach, in Manhattan Beach. Which makes them quite familiar with the question they, and other top-level players living out of state, get year after year: When are you moving to California?
“Well,” Hildreth said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, “we just bought a house, so…”
So they’re not coming. They’re happy in Florida. More than happy. They’re thriving in St. Petersburg, a city of just under 300,000 southwest of Tampa.
“I’d say we’re OK out here,” said Schermerhorn, who won the AVP Rookie of the Year in 2019. In saying that, and genuinely being more than ok being out there, they are flipping every piece of conventional beach volleyball wisdom on its head.
It is almost unanimously viewed as a requirement to live in Southern California if your goal is to excel on the AVP Tour. If you’re to take this sport seriously, you have to pack your bags, stuff them in your Corolla, Camry, Civic, RV or plane, train, or automobile, and make the trek. Doesn’t matter if the inflated cost of living makes you broke, and you have to work three jobs, skip sleep, and live off of canned tuna and pasta. It’s a rite of passage.
Hildreth looks at all of that and wonders the exact opposite of what people frequently wonder of her. She’s asked how she makes it as a professional beach volleyball player in Florida. She’s curious how in the world people do it in California.
“I wouldn’t call it a disadvantage,” she said of living on the opposite side of the country from the beach volleyball capital of the country. “Seeing how the training and stuff here goes, I feel like unless you’re at where [Tri] is at, where you get to pick whoever you want to train with and you’ve got your full-time coach, but the girls where we’re at — we’re main draw, qualifier range — they’re maybe getting coached twice a week. I don’t know how you’re able to afford it with the cost of living out here. In Florida, we have a full-time coach, five days a week. It’s consistent. It’s five days a week. We know who’s going to show up to practice. It’s progressive.”
Hildreth goes as far as to call it an advantage to live in Florida, and it’s fair to wonder: Is she wrong?
In the AVP’s halcyon days, Clearwater was every bit as popular of a stop as any Southern California tournament not named the Manhattan Beach Open. Fort Lauderdale was the site of one of the world’s best tournaments as the opening event of the FIVB’s Major Series. Its beaches are lined with courts, and there is a rich culture in every corner of the state, be it Orlando, where Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena train, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and all the way down to Miami and the cluster of beaches in the south.
Dalhausser recently moved back to Florida, where he and Lucena first learned the game, for similar reasons that Hildreth and Schermerhorn are staying put: The cost of living, astronomical in Southern California, is maybe a quarter of what it is on the West Coast; the weather is excellent year-round; the talent level is high enough to produce bona fide AVP Sunday talents.
Last season, two Floridian teams – Hildreth and Schermerhorn, Katie Hogan and Megan Rice – made AVP finals, in Austin and Hermosa Beach, respectively. Hildreth, a defender who played indoor at Eastern Michigan and a season of beach for North Florida, and Schermerhorn enjoyed the best seasons of their career, their prize money ballooning from $1,500 in 2018 to $17,000 in 2019.
“We’re making it work,” said Schermerhorn, a 6-foot-1 blocker who played at Elon before a professional indoor career in Denmark and south France. “It’s not too hard to get out [to California], where there are three AVP stops per year, plus another in Seattle. Our goal is to spend more time out here during season, playing with different people, training a little bit. But for the most part, it’s doable, and you got a decent amount of teams coming out of Florida that are making it happen.”
This year, for the first time, they’re branching out of the domestic game and into the international. In February, they traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia for a two-star and qualified. Currently, they are in Guam for a one-star, seeded fourth in the qualifier.
“We’re ready to make those steps and if we need to jump into competition a little bit earlier then that’s what we’ll do,” Schermerhorn said. “We definitely shifted our training and what we were doing to prepare for match play earlier. It’s good to get one under our belt and we’re ready to get some more.”