SANDCAST: Savvy Simo, UCLA’s consummate leader, leaves a legacy of all-time sportsmanship

0
618
SANDCAST Savvy Simo 5/19/2021-UCLA beach volleyball-Savvy Simo
UCLA's Savvy Simo celebrates a Lexy Denaburg block/Justin Tafoya, NCAA photos

Savvy Simo took a walk with her dad. It is a normal thing for a father and daughter to do, particularly such an active pair. Yet this was not a normal Sunday. This was Sunday, May 9.

This was the final day of Savvy Simo’s college career at UCLA.

As they walked, the weight of a magnificent and strange and wildly accomplished college career began to melt off Simo’s shoulders. The pressure she put on herself was replaced by something quite nice, if not entirely foreign: Contentment.

“I just started crying,” Simo said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I felt so happy to be there, and it sucked that we had to lose, but I just felt so content to be there with that squad. It was the last day of my college career, and we made it as far as we were going to make it, and I just took a breath and smiled and soaked it all in.”

For Simo to soak it all in is not as easy as it sounds. Here is a 22-year-old senior who had been on nine different rosters throughout her career as an outside hitter indoors and a defender on the beach. She had been coached by Stein Metzger, Jenny Johnson Jordan, Sean Fallowfield, Jeff Alzina, Irene Pollock, Jeremy Casebeer, and Jose Loiola. She’d been through a handful of nutritionists and numerous physical trainers.

She’d won and lost national championships, been named All-America, led the youngest team in the nation through a pandemic.

In short, Savvy Simo had done it all.

How are you supposed to behave on the last day of all of that?

“I just felt like the last man standing, and it’s a really cool thing, but it’s also kinda sad,” Simo said. “I look back at my freshman year, and not a single person who was with me my freshman year was still with me at UCLA. Me and Stein always try to tell stories about the team, and certain players or certain memories, and we’re looking at a room full of girls who weren’t there. You kind of forget because you’ve been there for so long.”

In a 45-minute interview, Simo would run the full gamut of emotions: She was wistful and grateful, rueful yet already a bit nostalgic, defeated and triumphant. It will be forever gutting that the last match of her college career will be a loss to rival USC in the National Championship. Yet she is likely the only one who will ever actually remember that.

Anybody else will remember the pair of National Championships, the fact that she will leave as the No. 2 winningest player of all-time at UCLA.

They will remember Simo by her character.

It is not often, even in beach volleyball, a sport marked by amicability and magnanimity, that you’ll see someone as universally loved and respected by her peers as Savannah Simo. She is rivaled perhaps only by LSU’s Kristen Nuss and USC’s Tina Graudina, and it is of no coincidence that all three also happen to be three of the most gifted players in the game.

Scroll Simo’s Instagram, and you’ll find her comment section overflowing with compliments from her rivals. Watch her play, and you’ll see why. She’s competitive, Simo. One does not simply win more than 100 matches in a college career because she’s over-the-top nice. But when the last ball drops, and the match is over? She’s already under the net, greeting whomever she’s playing with a warm and genuine hug.

“I didn’t lose a game and not want to go over and hug the other girls,” Simo said. “I know it was COVID and we had to distance or whatever, but towards the end, we’re over COVID. We’re over it. We’re spreading love. Even the girls at TCU, I’ve never met those girls before, but at that level, especially the ones, every team is so talented, and everyone has so much respect for one another, and regardless of who we played, there was so much respect.”

She’ll fit into the pro scene nicely. She’s signed up for an AVP Next Gold in New Orleans the first week of June with fellow Bruin Abby van Winkle. You might call it a semi-pro tournament — the purse is $20,000 — until you look at the field, and realize there is little that is not professional about it.

So it begins, the next step of her career. She doesn’t have it all mapped out yet. Heck, she doesn’t have anything mapped out yet. When her lease in Westwood ends in June, she might crash in her car, find couches all over the South Bay. She doesn’t expect beach volleyball to pay a full-time income in year one, probably not in year two.

But she’ll figure it out. Already, former partners and teammates, like Zana Muno, are reaching out, inviting her to train, readily offering advice. No longer does Simo have to lead a team through one of the strangest years the NCAA has ever held.

Now she simply gets to lead herself.

“I can use all that I have now and take it to the real world or the pro level, and it’s a blessing more than anything,” Simo said of her college career. “Now I gotta take the leap of faith and go train.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here