About four hours before Tri Bourne, Savvy Simo and I recorded our latest episode of SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, Simo gave me a call. This episode was her second on the show, but first as one of the hosts, a role we’d love to have her do a bit more of, adding a female voice, a young voice, a good voice.
She wanted to know if there was anything she should know beforehand, what her role would be, any kind of direction we could give her. I called her back, and gave her the detailed rundown of how Tri and I had run the show for the past three years: “We’re just gonna wing it.”
Some things change. Some things never will.
Today marks the three-year anniversary of SANDCAST, which debuted on the final Wednesday of October of 2017. For 156 consecutive weeks, we have put out a podcast, a time frame in which the beach volleyball landscape, as well as the makeup of our lives, has changed an astonishing amount.
When we began the show, Tri wasn’t sure if he’d ever play beach volleyball again. He weighed somewhere between 165-170 pounds and couldn’t do much. He’s since won a tournament in China, a tournament in which he thought his prize was a Porsche, and is the second-ranked team in the United States’ race for the Tokyo Olympics.
His partner, Trevor Crabb, has had no small evolution, either. When the show launched, Trevor was partnered with Sean Rosenthal. He was the guy who couldn’t win a final: Seven of them he’d been in, without a single win to show for it. Never Trevor, the saying went, when he decided to put on his black hat and talk trash to anyone who would listen, and especially to those who wouldn’t. He, too, has since won: The Grandaddy, the Manhattan Beach Open; and the Porsche Cup, with Bourne.
A number of our guests have undergone similar transformations. Kelly Claes, our third episode, has switched partners, from Sara Hughes — “Sare Bear,” as she called her in the episode — to Sarah Sponcil. They are now a rapping, traveling, Olympic-aspiring duo — and they’re out of college.
They’re finding their way, those two, especially now that they’ve landed on the perfect coach, Jordan Cheng, to set them on their ideal paths. He’s got quite a story, Cheng, and he told much of it on a recent episode, his leap of faith, abandoning a secure job at UCI to coach Reid Priddy on the beach.
Then again, was it such a leap of faith to coach Priddy?
The guy’s a legend, an Olympic gold medalist, a go-getter whose brushes with failure are few. “Double black belt status,” is what Priddy said he was going for, when we had him on, one of the most downloaded episodes yet. He’s inspiring, that guy, and impeccably humble, a trait we’ve found in every Olympic medalist we’ve had on the show, which is quite a few.
We used “humble” in our title when we had Rich Lambourne, coach of Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb and Priddy’s teammate on the gold medal winning 2008 indoor team, on the show. He’s far more than just the guy with the enormous biceps and abs that’ll make a Greek God blush. He’s brilliant, articulate, humble, hysterical.
The laughs, however, came in the most supply from Eric Zaun, whose name I still cannot write without a pause and a deep breath. His is the only episode we’ve aired twice, and it’s the one I listen to whenever I need a laugh, when I just need to hear that sarcastic, maniacal kid I love so dang much.
Yes, we’ve been through ups, the highest of highs, and with Zaun, we, the collective beach community, have smashed into the lowest of lows. But as our resident Honeybee, Katie Spieler, once said, on a snow volleyball trip to Austria and Italy: “Keep your highs high and your lows high.”
She’s a favorite on the show, another two-time guest. It’s amazing to me, in retrospect, that we had Zaun and her on back to back episodes, before they ever dated or really knew each other, before the three of us became a little Road Dog family. Fitting, I suppose, as many strangely perfect occurrences in life can be.
Brooke Sweat’s had a few of those. Big into faith, Sweat knew it was no coincidence that, while she was considering retirement, a little-known player named Kerri Walsh Jennings reached out: Would she want to try to make one more run at this thing? Would she want to go for the Tokyo Olympics?
“From considering retirement to playing with the GOAT,” we dubbed that episode. We have yet to have the GOAT on the show, but we have had many who can be considered on the short list of the greatest of all time: Sinjin Smith, Mike Dodd, Tim Hovland, Adam Johnson, Randy Stoklos, Sean Rosenthal, Phil Dalhausser. I’d put Geeter on that list of GOATs as well, though for obviously different talents: Will any emcee match his charisma, his swagger?
Probably not, but Mark Schuermann, in April of 2019, even admitted there isn’t much sense in trying. Nobody else can be Geeter. But he can be the best Schuermann he could be. That’s what all of our guests are trying to do, even if they don’t know exactly what that “best” looks like.
Heck, Tyler Hildebrand didn’t even know how to properly name his job, or job description, when he came on the show. It didn’t really matter, though, for no matter the specifics of his role, we still called him “the most passionate man in beach volleyball.”
It’s funny, because he’s back at Nebraska, and on his way out of beach volleyball now. Many of our guests are headed that direction, if they’re not already there. Brittany Hochevar is a mom, and Caitlin Ledoux is about to become one. The Witt twins, Madison and McKenna, have begun to explore life outside of volleyball. Nicolette Martin’s — apologies, she is now Nicolette Arnitz, yet another guest who has married since her first appearance on the show — bloomed as an artist. Ryan Doherty, one of the few two-time guests on the show, is likely finished, and if you listen to the end of our second episode with him, you can see that his passion lies more in business, and denouncing Tesla’s every move, than it does in beach volleyball. John Mayer is still very much in the game, though his full-time role is no longer the Mayer of Defense, but helming LMU’s gritty beach team, which is now a full-fledged contender in the west.
The college game, we’ve seen grow from infant to nationwide beast. Russell Brock has divulged the secrets of building a powerhouse in the south at LSU, Brooke Niles has spoken on the consistency of greatness at Florida State. Dain Blanton’s excitement was infectious when he spoke on accepting the coaching gig at USC.
And, gosh, how many Trojans can we possibly have on the show? Claes was the first — not including Bourne — but of our first 10 episodes, four of them included a Trojan.
April Ross, of course, was one of them, and she accidentally let slip her new partner for Tokyo: Alix Klineman.
“A glimpse into greatness,” we called that episode. The past three years, in which Ross and Klineman have won 12 AVPs and have established themselves as shoe-ins for Tokyo, have been more than a glimpse: They have been a wide open window into the work ethic and dominance of one of the best to ever play this game.
So, yes, many things have changed over these past three years. Our guests have evolved, changed, grown, developed. Tri’s now been married three years and has a charging little girl of his own. I’ve been married less than one, to the girl in the onesie who just wants to have fun.
But the greats are still the greats, we’re still putting this show out every Wednesday.
And we’ll be winging it for another three years and more.