HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — There was nothing wrong with Geena Urango.
She was, as she said on SANDCAST, “able-bodied. I was healthy, I was in shape, yada yada, but …”
But how to explain the fact that Urango, the precocious talent out of USC, the first beach player in the history of the most dynastic program in the sport, the one who made her first final in 2015 in her mid-20s, had somehow dropped from the main draw and into the qualifiers, some of which she didn’t make it out? Her ranking had slipped to the point that she didn’t make it into the AVP Champions Cup in 2020, and finished 13th, 9th, and 17th in the three events in the truncated 2021 season.
“Trying to find that partner that you really gel with is key,” she said, finishing the sentence from above. “The two, three years where I was like ‘Am I ever going to get back there again?’ Being a consistent main draw player and then going back down to the qualifier and not qualifying a couple events, it was mentally really hard for me.”
Yet here she is, after a two-year rut, and her full name, when being introduced on stadium court or the livestream, will forever be this: Geena Urango, AVP Champion. Urango, to the near unanimous delight of her peers on the AVP, who had been expecting this moment since Urango stepped on an AVP main draw court for the first time in 2012, won the Atlanta Gold Series. It marks her first victory seven years after making her first final.
And she did it, in that beautifully ironic way sports tend to go, without so much as thinking about winning at all.
“I went into Atlanta being not outcome focused and I think that was really a difference because I went in with a different type of confidence in myself,” Urango said. “I was like ‘I know what to do, I know what my capabilities are, I’ve trained, and whatever happens, happens. The only thing I can control is my effort and my attitude and my mentality that I have going in.’ It was different for me, that one, for sure, because it was ok if we lost.”
It sounds almost transcendentalist, spiritual in a way, yet it’s genuine. One of the many small changes she made this year was to begin working with a mental trainer again. As she noted, the difference between 2019-2021 Geena Urango and 2022 Geena Urango isn’t physical — although she credits much of her health to her new trainer — but mental.
“I was listening to a Dr. Gervais podcast, and it was Pete Carroll who said ‘I don’t believe there’s any such thing as balance in life. Life has too much adversity to have total control of what you do and what you can’t do. I just give my most in the present moment.’ I found that really valuable,” she said. “When I am home or I am competing, I’m fully there. That is what some people maybe lose sight of, just being able to be present.”
She’s big on team, Urango. And she has built one from the ground up: finding the perfect partner in Julia Scoles, staying loyal to a coach in Nancy Mason, bringing on a mental coach, switching to a local physical trainer. When all of those elements are in sync, as they have been in 2022, these are the results: six AVP tournaments played, two semifinals, three finals, one victory.
“This year I made a conscious effort to change a couple things in my control,” Urango said. “Those things have all worked out and it shows that making those changes can help and add up.”
It makes sense that 2021, with only three events, wouldn’t have portended an abundance of success. With just three weeks of a season, there was little on which to build. But 2022? With a potential 16 AVP events and a partner she loves, one just as big on the team element of the sport as her?
The potential was endless.
“I believe in peaking at the right time and putting in the effort together,” Urango said. “With [Julia], a bunch of us were still training in the winter time, and she hadn’t started her last semester yet, and we got a little group and we played together and I said ‘wow, this was really good.’ Immediate chemistry.”
Urango knew, virtually the first time she saw Scoles set, that Scoles was her No. 1 pick as a partner. Scoles only confirmed as much when the two met for dinner, “and we talked and she had the same mindset of she’s loyal and wants to find the right person to build chemistry with,” Urango said. “It’s reassuring to find someone who had the same idea of what their season would look like.”
It looks a heck of a lot like winning, perhaps even more than anybody could have expected, even the most bullish of prognosticators. In Atlanta, they had to beat the top four ranked teams on the AVP consecutively, knocking off Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint, Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske, and Hermosa champs Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon. No other team in the United States can now claim consecutive wins over both Cheng and Flint and Nuss and Kloth, just as no other team has made five consecutive semifinals or better this year.
Just Urango and Scoles.
It still hasn’t quite settled in for Urango, that she’s an AVP champ. It’s been a long time in the making.
“You lose six times in the finals and you’re like ‘Welp, you know,’” she said with a laugh. But her Instagram caption on Wednesday morning, written after a few days of reflection, is a perfect summation of why she is still at the top of the AVP, why, at 33 years old, she’s only just now beginning to peak.
“The way of a champion, like the river, has many reversals, setbacks, failures, and losses,” she wrote. “You will plateau, slow down, stand still, and then speed up and experience rapid growth. There will be times when you think your progress is reversing direction, only to have it swiftly spin around and charge forward once again. All of this movement is a natural progression in your evolving process of being a champion, an unfolding of events exactly as they are supposed to be. Only the champions acknowledge, trust, and accept this natural process to be so.
“Eight seasons, seven finals, and one championship later… yet this only feels like the beginning.”
So no, there was nothing wrong with Geena Urango at all.
Everything, in fact, was exactly as it was supposed to be.