Karissa Cook is a self-described “inside cat.” She doesn’t need to go anywhere to have fun. Doesn’t really need to see anybody, aside from her fiancé, Shayne Skov, and her pup. She’s good with that.
So when Katie Spieler, her partner throughout the 2017 and 2018 beach volleyball seasons, asked if she wanted to play in a NORCECA playoff for a one-off event in a pinprick of an island named Martinique, she felt very little compulsion to do so. But she did, because Cook loves Spieler, and she does – though she rarely admits this out loud – love volleyball, even at the end of a year.
She was in.
And so began one of the strangest, world-crossing, successful years of Cook’s life. Her and Spieler would win gold in Martinique, which wasn’t so much a beach tournament as it was “jungle ball,” as she dubbed it on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, seeing as it was played in the middle of a tropical forest, in a grove of cleared out trees.
In reality, it would be one of the most normal events Cook would play over the next calendar year. A month later, Cook and Spieler were chatting again, about a new, slightly absurd invitation to play snow volleyball in Russia in December. They added Allie Wheeler and Emily Hartong to the crew, and thus the “Snow Dogs” were born.
“I feel like this year is still bookended by Moscow because that was the origination of the snow team,” Cook said. “Looking back on these 12 months, I’m like ‘How did we get roped into all these strange, amazing country trips and all these amazing environments?’
“Basically, USA keeps emailing and we keep saying yes. Every time, I’m like ‘I’m done for the year’ and then I get an email saying ‘Do you guys want to…’ and I’ll probably say yeah.”
For Wheeler, there is never a hesitation. Not anymore. She said yes immediately to Moscow, and everything thereafter.
Did she want to play snow volleyball in Austria and Italy, three weeks before the AVP season? Yes. And another in Argentina? Yes. How about a fours tournament at the inaugural World Beach Games in, of all places, Doha, Qatar?
“It’s always just ‘Yes,’” Wheeler said on SANDCAST.
It’s easy to see why, too. Every time she’s said yes, she’s returned home with gold. When she agreed to play a one-star FIVB in Vaudz, Liechtenstein, with Lara Dykstra in August of 2018, as the No. 12 team in the qualifier, they wound up winning the whole thing. Perhaps her decision-making is expedited by the fact that her goal is rarely about the winning, though for anybody as competitive as Wheeler, a national champ at USC, winning is always a plus.
“For me, I think about it — in Liechtenstein, me and Lara were down, 13-12, in the third set in the quali, obviously terrible scenario, so we were like ‘All right, it’s a win-win. If you lose you get to travel. If you win you get to play more volleyball,’” Wheeler said. “We ended up winning that match and then won the whole tournament so it was pretty cool.”
Everything about this year has been cool for the two. Cook has won events in a forest (Martinique) and in snow (Moscow). She won her first AVP, in Austin, and claimed gold at the Pan American Games with Jace Pardon in Lima, Peru. Together, her and Wheeler, adding Geena Urango and Kelly Reeves to the snow team, won the inaugural World Beach Games in Doha.
“This year, I went into it with a lot of uncertainty, but my only two goals were to not get burned out and be really conscious with my limits and not doing too much because I feel like I have to,” Cook said. “And then just to play with really good people. I think getting slightly more points than opponents was cool, but it was just a cherry on top. Winning helps, it definitely makes it more fun, definitely preferable, but I can’t control that.”
So here’s what they can control: The mindset and the team they bring with them. They’re all close friends now, the snow dogs, and the two “desert queens” in Urango and Reeves. Good friends and world champs.
“Well they’re going to pay for us to go to cool places so long as we keep winning,” Cook said. “So let’s do it.”