You know what they say about plans. Some say that when God hears you making plans, he just laughs. Mike Tyson claims that everybody’s got a plan, until they get punched in the face.
Eric Beranek had plans this year. He was going to get a coach. Play the year with one guy. Do it the right way, finally.
Then God chuckled, and Beranek was, proverbially, punched in the face. He began the year well enough, with Curt Toppel. Straight into main draw. But Toppel was, well, “Toppel,” Beranek said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. He said this with a laugh, because Toppel is Toppel. Full-time job. Kids. Just had enough points to make main draw, so why not go out and play?
Beranek knew, though, that Toppel wasn’t his full-time guy. Wasn’t into it like he was. So he turned to Marty Lorenz. That, too, went fine enough at first. They made main draw in Austin. Played well, too. Only thing was, Beranek had a cyst on his tailbone. Didn’t tell anyone but shew wee, you should have seen that thing. Went to the hospital right after he got home, and the surgery seemed to go ok, until, an hour later, he was sitting in the bathroom, body rejecting everything, plunging into septic shock.
He spent a few more days in the hospital. Had to skip New York, and then Seattle, though the latter turned out to be a bit serendipitous. When Lorenz called Beranek to tell him he couldn’t play Seattle, Billy Kolinske phoned no more than two minutes later, asked him to play the Pottstown Rumble, a big money grass tournament just south of Philadelphia.
“I still wasn’t quite right,” he said, but he went anyway, and wouldn’t you know it, they made the finals. Won a good bit of cash, too. Maybe this year was looking up. Going to turn around, close on a high.
Somewhere, God laughed.
Maybe he knew Beranek was about to get punched in the face again.
The day before AVP Hermosa, where he was set to partner with Lorenz again, Beranek’s girlfriend broke up with him. Then salt was then poured in by Dylan Maarek and Dave Palm, who knocked him out of the final round of the qualifier.
“I didn’t play two AVPs, don’t qualify, girlfriend breaks up with me, ‘I’m like, awesome! We’re back. All time low. Sweet!’” Beranek said, laughing. But here’s the thing about slamming into the bottom: You bounce.
And he did. He set up a practice with Corey Glave, just the two of them. He told Beranek that the player he once knew only wanted to win. He needed to become the player who expected to win.
“You gotta find that, and you gotta work super hard to get back,” he told him.
“Ok,” Beranek said. “Here we go.”
Here we go meant eighth seed in the AVP Manhattan Beach qualifier. No longer with Lorenz, Beranek was back with Kolinske, his Pottstown partner. Lorenz almost encouraged the move. He had trouble dialing in Beranek’s set in transition. Kolinske, who’s world-class at the art of transition setting, would be a better partner for him.
That’s one plan God didn’t laugh at.
They qualified, and then, after dropping their first match to Ed Ratledge and Rafu Rodriguez, they battled back to win a three-setter over Travis Mewhirter and Raffe Paulis. Their legs were toast. Didn’t matter. They rallied, one more time that day, to beat John Hyden and Theo Brunner. With six matches on their legs, they were moving onto Saturday.
“Holy crap,” Beranek thought. “This tournament just started.”
It would have been funny, for anyone in the stands, to see Beranek’s dad there. He’s made quite the turnaround. He’s his biggest fan now, Mr. Beranek, but a few years ago, to imagine his son competing on a Saturday at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open? No way.
He’s got his own Aerospace manufacturing business. His son was set for life. Didn’t matter if he had dropped out of OCC, dismayed by grades and volleyball. Eric had a job.
“You’re set!” he used to plead with his headstrong kid. His friends weren’t much different. When Beranek told them he wanted to play beach volleyball professionally, “they looked at me like I was crazy,” he said. “They said ‘Ohhh, you want to be an actor too? You probably have a better shot at that.’ That was a funny and weird thing I struggled with.”
So his friends would laugh, and his dad would send his daily offer: Want me to help pay for trade school? Stay in the shop? Want to be a hairdresser?
Nope nope nope.
He may have dropped out of OCC, but he had his own kind of education in mind. He skipped work one day and biked down to the strand to find Holly McPeak. He asked if she knew of any coaching opportunities available, and she said no, but there’s this guy, always dressed in Pepperdine gear. Name’s Marcio Sicoli. He’d be down at 15th street tomorrow morning. Go find him. So he skipped work again, found Sicoli, and for the next four months, became the world’s most dedicated ball shagger. From 8-10, he’d be with Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, and from 10-12 he’d work with Kolinske and Casey Jennings.
He took the work he saw them doing and applied it to his own game. The results, as they do, lagged at first. Took their time to come in. But a main draw in Seattle of 2018 led to Hermosa, and Manhattan, and Chicago.
And then he made plans for the 2019 season, which is when everything began to dissolve – crystallizing only when Kolinske, in a poetic reunion, needed a partner. Then came Manhattan, qualifying, stunning one team after the next: Hyden and Brunner, Avery Drost and Chase Frishman, Ricardo Santos and Sean Rosenthal, Chaim Schalk and Jeremy Casebeer.
And now they were in the semifinals?
The kid who had to trick his way onto the court at OCC, telling the starter that the coach wanted him in instead, only for the coach to notice, one play in, and yank him?
Oh, yes. He had made the switch Glave wanted. Eric Beranek expected to win.
“It was ‘We need to win. How are we going to win?’” Beranek said. “We were playing good ball. I’m playing good volleyball against these guys. We can beat them.”
He’s able to sit back, relax now. Now that the legs aren’t feeling like jello and the adrenaline has reduced his heart rate to somewhat normal. He didn’t know when his time would come, only that it would.
He simply had to be ready.
“Everyone’s timeline is different,” he said. “Some people will say ‘I’m this age, so I should be doing this at this age because he is,’ but there is a lot of those pressures and I think it’s easy for younger guys, girls, to look up to people, the superstars who come out of college and are placing super high. There’s a lot of that. There are girls my age that are in contention to winning tournaments. I thought ‘Man, when is that going to come? Am I going to be 25? 26?’
“I didn’t really know, and I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to do that. I just said it’s going to come when it’s going to come. Everyone has their own timeline, so I’m just going to keep grinding.”
The one plan God doesn’t laugh at.