The first notes on the Book of Andy Benesh came a little less than a year ago, about a six-hour drive north of Hermosa Beach. Adam Roberts was there to watch Benesh’s second-round match. Playing in just his second AVP qualifier, with little points to his name, Benesh came in as the 33 seed, meaning, after a pigtail round, he, with Cole Fiers, had top-seeded Myles Muagututia and Kyle Friend.
“I saw him serve a ball, get to the net, get four blocks in a row, get an ace, and I was like ‘Who is this kid? Let’s see if he can set,’” Adam Roberts, Benesh’s current partner, said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Standard big guy stuff, right? They serve Cole and he puts up a juicy set and I’m like ‘Man! What is his name? What is his number? I’m gonna tuck that one away.’”
While Roberts had it tucked away, Benesh quietly made a few main draws. He wound up qualifying in San Francisco, upsetting Friend and Muagututia, 24-22, 21-17, and winning his next two matches. Then he and Fiers did it again in Hermosa.
It was an auspicious start for Benesh’s beach career, one that really only began in earnest a few months prior to San Francisco. He had been an indoor kid, for the most part, growing up. Raised in Palos Verdes, he was named First Team All-American, put on the VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 list, All-Area, All-League, All-Everything. Those accolades earned him a spot as a middle at USC, where he started all 26 matches as a freshman, falling just shy of the Trojan hitting percentage record.
So went the next three years at USC, where he continued to excel, eventually being named captain as a senior. But the only beach experience he had was messing around on the fours courts at 16th street.
Which brings us back to Roberts’ key question for all big men: Could the kid set?
Prior to AVP Huntington, Roberts set up a four-team practice, Benesh being one of the teams. There it was confirmed: Benesh could indeed put up a set, and after both failed to qualify in Huntington, both were looking for partners in Austin.
Roberts turned back the clock to that day in San Francisco.
Yes, Benesh would be quite the option.
Their first two tournaments, though, they fell short. A few quirky plays in the third set of the final round of the AVP Austin qualifier kept them out of main draw. Then came a first-round exit in New York and all of a sudden doubt began creeping in.
“You look at it, and it’s ‘Are we a good team or are we not?’ We’re kinda looking at it like ‘Maybe we’re not that good’ but I was thinking ‘Man, I really think we’re a good team,’” Roberts said. “Even if you look at the results, losing the round to get in, lose first round, lose first round, maybe they’re not that good, but I just kept thinking we really have something special here. To me, it doesn’t make sense when guys make lateral moves mid-season. I just kept thinking: I think we’re a good team, I think we’re a good team.”
The past few months, they’ve proved as much. They flew from New York and directly into an AVP Next Gold Series in Colorado, winning the tournament and, subsequently, a bid into the Manhattan Beach Open main draw.
In Hermosa, they qualified for their first main draw, marking Benesh’s first in a year and Roberts’ first since Chicago of 2017 with – here’s a good beach volleyball trivia tidbit – Mark Burik.
They were ecstatic, to be sure. But not satisfied. Not yet.
“I texted Adam Thursday night and said ‘We’re not done yet,’” Benesh said. “I’m not just here to go 0-2 in the main draw. I’m trying to win some matches, see if we can compete at that level.”
Oh, they competed all right. They came out and won their first main draw match 21-17, 21-11, setting up a match with fourth-seeded Billy Allen and Stafford Slick. And on a packed stadium court, they delivered the first major upset of the tournament, 23-21, 18-21, 15-11. A day later, they’d deliver another, eliminating seventh-seeded Chase Frishman and Avery Drost, 15-21, 21-18, 15-13.
“Obviously coming out of the qualifier we don’t have that opportunity every tournament,” Benesh said of upsetting main draw teams. “So when you do you want to take advantage of it. I don’t think there was a team in the draw that we were intimidated by.”
They’ll be back in the main draw again, in Manhattan Beach, now with a seventh-place finish under their belt, and a God-blessed day of rest prior to the tournament.
“It’s nice. It’s very nice,” Roberts said. “It kind of gives us a chance to really focus on a main draw. That extra day of rest is going to be very useful.”