As if his path to beach volleyball wasn’t unique enough — raised in Minnesota, little to no volleyball background aside from a little club indoor, not a clue who men named Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser were — in his nine-year career thus far, Stafford Slick may have authored his own personal record book.
Name another who has played with six different Olympians, including three gold medalists. Or anyone crazy enough to play in 17 — 17! — different NORCECAs with eight different partners.
“We might have to do some fact checking,” Slick said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “But I think I’ve played with more Olympians than anyone else. I played with Dain [Blanton], retired him, put him out to pasture. I played with Rogie (Todd Rogers) in his last event, so I retired him. I played with Rosie (Sean Rosenthal), I played with Casey (Patterson), I played with Adrian (Carambula), who wasn’t an Olympian at the time, but he is now. And then I played with Reid Priddy. That’s another thing I might have a record for: I have a lot of partners too.”
For an individual who has been playing beach volleyball for a hair over nine years, indeed, Slick has gone through his fair share of partners, though that’s less a detractor from his talent than it is an indicator of it. It’s only so often you get a coordinated, athletic, hand-setting 6-foot-8 blocker out of Minnesota.
“I guess those guys saw something in me,” Slick said. And of all people, it was Blanton, a gold medalist, who saw it first.
Slick was in his cabin in Minnesota for a July 4 getaway in 2010 when he got the call: Blanton, a gold medalist alongside Eric Fonoimoana in the 2000 Sydney Games, wanted to give Slick a shot. They’d be automatically in the main draw, Slick’s first. He wouldn’t even have to qualify.
“It was huge for me,” Slick said. “Dain was kinda poking around, looking for a big man to play with because it was the 10th anniversary of his gold medal. So he was kind of connected with some of the people in the USA office and they dropped my name.”
And just like that, Slick had his first of many accomplished partners. And yet, funnily enough, his unofficial Olympic partnership record may have never happened without his willingness to play in his unofficial record number of NORCECAs that, frankly, borderlines on absurd.
“I don’t think that would happened without me playing all those NORCECAs,” he said. Because about those NORCECAs: They were on a lower international tier than they are now. When Slick moved to California in 2009, NORCECAs didn’t count for international points. The prize money, even if you won, wouldn’t cover the expenses for the majority of the tournaments. The incentive for American teams was, well, what was the incentive?
In Slick’s case, to put your name on the map.
“In 2009 and 2010, it was trying to scrounge and figure out a way to keep playing, and at the time, NORCECAs didn’t count for international points, so it was just sign up,” Slick said. “Back when I started playing it was ‘Hey can we play in this tournament?’ and they said ‘Great!’ ”
Enough to get Slick on the map. Enough to get him a partnership with a gold medalist in just his second year attempting to qualify. Enough to kickstart a career that, two years from now, could turn Slick into an Olympian himself.
Indeed, he has come a long way from the guy with the blonde Viking locks who didn’t know who Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser were. Back with Allen, with whom he won his first AVP tournament, Slick is no underdog to make Tokyo, should that be their goal.
“When it came time to make that decision, it was something that just fit,” he said. “It was something that just made sense. That was a big part of our conversation was ‘Do our goals align? Are we making a run for Tokyo?’ I”m excited. I’m hopeful.”