Avery Drost is confused.
Now, before we go too far, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually kind of good, particularly with one of the bigger events of the season approaching in a King of the Beach format.
For the past seven or so months, the 34-year-old has been training as a left side defender, the exact opposite of what much, but not all, of his career has been. And then, last weekend, he teamed up with Miles Partain, switched back to the left, and to blocking, and won a tournament at Hyden Beach.
“Blocking, defense, left side, right side,” he said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I just keep confusing myself. After playing right side and defense with Doherty I go back to playing left side and full-time blocking with Miles.”
His is a problem of the enviable sort. Where many beach volleyball players might be struggling at a certain position, and therefore be uncertain as to where their future lies, Drost thrives in virtually all of them. In 2016, for example, he took a pair of thirds — one as a left side full-time blocker with Gregg Weaver, the other as a right side full-time defender with Bill Kolinske.
One might think that Drost had ample to prepare for the switch, a few weeks to get the appropriate number of reps and touches and practices at his new position on a different side with a different partner.
He had one week.
His ability to thrive anywhere on the court, thus creating no small bit of confusion over where he should play in the future, is, oddly enough, derived from an absolute certainty. He may not know what position is best, but he does know exactly what type of player he is. He doesn’t try to mimic the effortlessness of a Taylor Crabb, or the long and lean body type of a Phil Dalhausser. He’s found the body type, and style, that works for him.
It just so happens to work everywhere.
“I’m not an effective player unless I’m going full speed,” Drost said. “I gotta jump serve hard and bust it to the net and max jump. Even my side out game. It’s not like Taylor’s, where he makes it look so easy. I’m having to work, and I had to accept that. Some players play with a certain kind of smoothness and that’s who they are. Other players have to accept that they’re a more physical workhorse style, and that’s who I am.”
And who Avery Drost is really isn’t that difficult to identify: He’s a phenomenal beach volleyball player, the ultimate utility man, someone who will never be shy on partner options because, well, he’ll take whatever side and position the other guy doesn’t want, and he’ll do it well.
Everybody needs one of those guys.
But still: His goal is to win an AVP tournament. To make enough money to continue providing for his beautiful family of four. That calls for a decision: Where is he most effective? Where is his ceiling the highest?
Can he win an AVP as a smaller blocker?
Or would it be easier to do so as a bigger defender?
He had a conversation with Todd Rogers not too long ago. It was Rogers who saw the writing on beach volleyball’s metaphorical wall long before the rest of the world did: The game was getting bigger. He took what was a great thing with Sean Scott and saw something, literally, bigger: He dropped Scott for Phil Dalhausser, getting an extra four to five inches at the net.
That was 2007, when Dalhausser was one of the biggest men on the World Tour. Now he’s hardly even scratching the top 10, with giants such as Oleg Stoyanovskiy, Konstantin Semenov, Julius Thole, Christiaan Varenhorst, Robert Meeuwsen, Paolo Nicolai, among others, populating the FIVB rankings.
“I remember talking to Todd Rogers, and he said the way things are evolving, the way they’re going, if the block isn’t a serious threat on the World Tour, it’s just going to be so hard to win games,” Drost said. “Everyone’s detonating balls, and there are teams out there who are doing it with blockers our size, and doing it really well, but it turns up the pressure on your side out. You’re just going to have a really low margin of error on all the facets of the game. If you’re not shutting them down with the block, the pressure is on you.
“So I’m so confused still. A lot of my strengths can be used as a blocker. One of the things I think I do well is set my partner in transition. I’ve always been able to help my partner create and get it done. That’s why I’ve always played well with partners who get a ton of digs, like Chase Frishman or Miles [Partain] right now. At the same time, guys can beat me up as a blocker, but instead of being a small blocker, I can be a big defender, and with a big blocker, you have so much more control over the game. You can dictate that they have to do something more advanced.”
Where he goes, he is still unsure. For now, however, he doesn’t have to be sure. For now, his skill set makes him one of the best picks to win his pool at the upcoming Best of the Beach event in Tavares, Florida the first weekend of November.
For now, being the best utility man in beach volleyball is exactly what he needs to be.