Billy Kolinske won’t forget looking at the hill, the one with his car parked at the top. Earlier that morning, he had parked there for his first beach volleyball tournament, and he did what he had always done for all of his grass tournaments: He lugged a cooler packed of food and drinks for the day. At the earliest, he’d be finished by one in the afternoon, maybe, if the day went well, 5 p.m.

But this wasn’t grass. It was beach. And when Kolinske got spanked by a couple of guys in their mid-40s, his day was over by 9:15.

“I remember I lost, and I was so pissed, and I’m like ‘I’m not lugging this thing all the way back up,’” Kolinske recalled on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I’m at least eating a sandwich. I remember that day, I lugged that cooler all the way back up, and I’m like ‘I’m figuring out how to play this game.’”

He has since figured it out quite well. In 2016, just his third year playing multiple AVPs, Kolinske logged four top-10 finishes, including a third in New York with Avery Drost. This past year, he took to the FIVB full-time for the first time, making a $10,000 commitment at the start of the season, beginning a circuitous year with Miles Evans that took them from Morocco to China, Sydney to Iran, Lucerne to the Czech Republic.

And, yes, it also took them to France and the Eiffel Tower. Just, uh, well, don’t bring that one up.

“It was our second FIVB, which we didn’t actually end up playing,” Evans said, smiling ruefully. “Bill booked the flight, $2,000 bucks, probably could have been about $400. So we go down there, and it’s the first time that there’s a qualifier for a one star, so they have a 12 page document, and on the sixth page it says there’s a players meeting that we need to attend, and there’s never been a players meeting before. So we miss the players meeting, and we tell them 10 minutes after it ends that we’re there. We told them a week before that we’d be there, and they don’t let us into the tournament.”

As it can sometimes go with international tournaments. Sometimes your bag gets delayed when playing in Morocco and you have to play in some hideous board shorts just to get something that matches. Sometimes you have to get a new flight to China because the name on the ticket says Bill and not William, and there’s nothing the airport will do about that disconnect. Sometimes you win a silver and a bronze medal in the Netherlands and Australia and still come away down more than $1,000.

Such is the nature of the beach volleyball ladder: You invest $10,000. You get your finishes. You build your points. You climb.

Now Evans and Kolinske are in four-star main draws, their first being at The Hague after the New Year. Now they’re one of the top teams in the United States. Now they’re playing against the best in the world, and holding their own when they do so.

“It’s been an interesting year for us,” Kolinske said. “We’ve been playing tournaments these last 14 months pretty consistently, which I like playing year-round. I think it’s worked out well for us.”

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