SANDCAST: Corinne Quiggle, Allie Wheeler, winning the little steps en route to the big one

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Corinne Quiggle, left, and Allie Wheeler, celebrate their gold medal/FIVB photo

SOCHI, Russia — Allie Wheeler thought Corinne Quiggle was joking.

She hadn’t played a competitive event since last summer’s short-lived AVP Champions Cup, and it had been since February of 2020 that she had stamped the passport and competed on the FIVB. And on the day she finally boarded a plane for the Bulgaria one-star, her partner was texting her that LAX was out of power? That all the flights were cancelled?

Is that even possible?

Pshh. Good one, Corinne.

“I thought it was a joke,” Wheeler said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Then I kept reading and I was like ‘Oh my God, she’s not kidding.’”

Oh, no. Quiggle was not joking in the least. She had showed up to the airport prepared to board an Aeroflot flight to Amsterdam, where she’d connect to Sofia, Bulgaria, where her and Wheeler would be competing before flying out to Sochi, Russia for a four-star. It would be their first international event as a team, and their first since competing in the AVP Champions Cup in the summer of 2020.

If only LAX could turn on the lights.

So Quiggle, like hundreds of others at LAX, waited. Eventually, she was put on a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, where she missed her connection to Sofia by hours. She spent the night in a swanky lounge, met some interesting people, ate some good food.

“Honestly, the whole time, I was going through all these things, and I was like ‘Man, I am just so happy to be traveling again.’ It just feels so good to be traveling again even though it took me 36 hours and way longer than I thought.

“The whole time I was just so happy to be traveling again. It’s great. It all turned out all right.”

It would turn out far more than simply all right.

Despite the delays, despite losing an invaluable practice day in a strange country on a 10-hour time difference, Quiggle and Wheeler were able to play a phenomenal tournament in Bulgaria. They navigated their first international qualifier as a team, beating a good, young Spanish team, 23-21, 24-22, before coming back to beat a Dutch pair in three, 18-21, 21-16, 15-9.

They might have been a bit shaky. They might have barely been able to get their serves in bounds. They might have all but forgotten what it was like to compete again.

But goodness did it feel good to be back on tour.

“Even in a normal competition, let alone adding the fact that we flew here to get into the qualifier of a one star, it was a lot of pressure we put on ourselves,” Quiggle said. “All that travel, we want to make it worth it. This was a big goal of ours starting out. Being at the qualifier, we’re at the service line with our knees shaking and our hands shaking and I’m like ‘Oh, my gosh, I know how to serve.’

“All the work you put in, you fall to the level of your training, and we both know how much work we put in, and there’s that level of respect that we can get as a team. When [Allie is] at the service line and she’s going for it, we’re on the same page. We do a good job of not putting undo pressure on each other. We calculate that together: We put in the work, we did it, let’s play to our heart’s desire without putting all that pressure on ourselves and that helps alleviate some of the nerves but it also builds some of that confidence back up.”

The further they made it in the tournament, the steadier they became. They wouldn’t drop a single match in Bulgaria, winning the finals over Venezuelans Gabriela Brito and Norisbeth Agudo, 21-18, 21-16, marking both Quiggle’s and Wheeler’s second medals on the World Tour.

“Starting from the beginning until now, we’ve improved a lot of our competition play,” Quiggle said. “Starting out, we were very nervous in the qualifier, making a lot of soft errors, serving just in the court, and being able to get over that step of not competing for a while and now we have that focus of competition and we’re able to raise our game and that’s what I really enjoyed about competing this whole time. We’ve gotten better every match, every game, we’ve improved.”

They wouldn’t medal the next week, in Sochi, Russia, where this podcast was recorded. Yet the ironic fact is that they played better in Russia than Bulgaria. They were simply stopped in the final round of the country quota by Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings. But it was close, 17-21, 20-22. It was progress.

Good enough to leave them wanting more, more, more.

More travel. More competition. More opportunity.

“I love the pressure,” Wheeler said. “It’s so fun for me. It’s awesome. It’s fun to have that kind of pressure in life. Gotta soak it in. It was more just excitement. It wasn’t nervous really. We just wanted to get out there and play our best ball.”

They took one week to return to California and train with their coach, Arthur Carvalho, before hitting the road again for Bulgaria, where another one-star awaits, another shot at a medal.

“It’s not the Olympics for this year, but in the future, the Olympics are both of our goals and definitely on our radars, so right now, we want to do everything we can and earn as many international points as we can to set ourselves up on that path for 2024,” Quiggle said.

That’s our faraway goal, and then we have a bunch of intermediate goals, one of which was win the one-star. So that was very happy, check that one off. It’s cool to see you’re training towards something very hard, and there’s the little steps on the way to the big one.”

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Corinne Quiggle attacks during the Sofia gold-medal match/FIVB photo

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