The most difficult transition of Ryan Doherty’s new partnership, from John Hyden to Miles Evans, might not be the difference in playing style or personality or skill level or experience or energy level or setting preferences or serving or any of the other obvious tangibles that can make partner switching a sometimes onerous ordeal.
It might just be the high five.
We joke, kind of, sort of. Because we’re also serious, kind of, sort of.
“Our first couple times practicing, Miles kept coming in for the high five, and Hyden — we never high-fived,” Doherty said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Miles would get an ace and I’d point and he’d be right behind me saying ‘Yeah! Let’s do this!’
“This is 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning so I gotta get used to this puppy dog energy. I’m looking forward to it.”
This is the next chapter of Ryan Doherty’s career, one that is nominated for the unofficial award of Most Likely to be Made Into a Movie. Since moving on from a professional baseball career that was beginning to flatline and making the cross-country trek to California, Doherty’s path was been wonderfully circuitous and, by all means, remarkably successful. His list of partners, despite not having a volleyball background, aside from pickup games against high schoolers in South Carolina and a few Great American Volleyball events in New Jersey, is a who’s who of the best American defenders of this generation.
“I have been lucky enough to play with a murderer’s row of partners, some of the best defenders in the U.S,” Doherty said. “It started with Casey Patterson, Todd Rogers, Nick Lucena, Johnny Mayer, John Hyden, back to John Mayer, Billy Allen, and then John Hyden. I was always the younger one. As someone who tries to teach and I think I know a little bit about the game I think it might be fun to help out Miles a little bit, see if I can maybe guide him a little bit.”
That group has combined for more than 150 professional wins and three Olympic appearances, five if you include Hyden’s two Olympics with the indoor national team in 1996 and 2000. That level was never Doherty’s goal. He’s not much of a goal guy. He’s always, simply, wanted to become the best beach volleyball player he can be, a path on which he’s still traveling. Now he’s playing a different role, from student and sponge, soaking up the knowledge of those who have been able to dispense it, to doing the same for the next generation of defenders, one who has a legitimate shot at making that Olympic level in the years to come.
“He could easily move into that great category,” Bourne said, a sentiment with which Doherty agreed.
“I’ve seen Miles play for a couple years,” Doherty said. “He’s getting better and better and I don’t know how he’s going to try to turn that corner in terms of being a good player into a great one, one of the top players in the country. His skills are there, it’s just the experience, the comfort of being at the top level. I think with his natural abilities being really physical and my calm demeanor being able to bring him down when he gets a little too ramped up, I think that might help us out a bit.”
The change, in general, will likely help them both. Evans hasn’t competed in an AVP main draw since Huntington of 2016. Now, he’s straight into main with Doherty. Doherty, meanwhile, admitted this year hasn’t been his finest. Sometimes a change, not begat out of ill will but out of a need for something different, is exactly the thing.
“I haven’t been playing at a very high level, so it’s one of those things where if you’re not playing really well and you’re kinda miserable, what’s the point?” Doherty said. “Let’s try to do something different, mix it up. I have no ill feelings. I hope [Hyden] keeps dominating till he’s 50 years old. I figured I’d try something new.”
And so, in Evans, he is. And the next chapter of the fascinating book that is the life of Ryan Doherty begins.