It’s the first, and most-oft, asked question when we open up the mailbox to our monthly fan question episode of SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter: What’s the latest partnership news?

Ah, yes, off-season is officially upon us.

And the latest news? There is no news. The American beach volleyball world has remained somewhat surprisingly stagnant thus far into the off-season. All we know is that Jake Gibb retired from volleyball, Phil Dalhausser is finished with the international game, and a host of teams on the women’s side are likely splitting ways.

But nobody has made any official moves. The United States is one of the only countries where the partnership carousel remains in flux. Brazil took approximately three minutes after the Tokyo Olympics to reorganize itself — Alison with Guto, Evandro with Alvaro, Duda with Ana Patricia Silva, Rebecca Cavalcanti with Talita Antunes. Switzerland’s Adrian Heidrich scooped up Leo Diller after Mirco Gerson retired. The best partnership in Italian beach volleyball history, Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai, went their separate ways and have found new teammates, Lupo with Alex Ranghieri, Nicolai with young Samele Cottafava.

The list goes on, but you get the point: The world has moved on from the Tokyo quad and onto Paris.

America waits.

It waits because there is no AVP schedule yet, nor is there a finished Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour schedule. And without a clear picture at what next year will look like, there is no sense is committing to any particular individual, as points on both tours play a massive factor in that decision.

The only real “news” so to speak, is that it does seem as if Taylor Crabb is set to continue playing with Taylor Sander, though neither have made any official announcement of any sort, so even that remains penciled in. And on the women’s side, not a single move has been made, other than the fact that it is considerable news that Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth have turned down partnership offers from players, deciding to stick together.

“Once the top is figured out,” said Savvy Simo, who, like everybody else, has not committed one way or the other, “the rest will fall into place.”

So, that said, onto other questions that we can answer with real information.

Taylor Sander-Taylor Crabb
Taylor Sander and Taylor Crabb celebrate a point in Itapema (Photo/FIVB)

What did you think of Taylor Sander’s performance in Brazil?

The Itapema, Brazil four-star in early November marked the close of the 2021 season, and the beginning of the beach career of Taylor Sander. Long one of the top outside hitters in the world, it was a much-hyped debut, as it should have been.

And it was a good one. It wasn’t great. Wasn’t spectacular. But in just four matches, he proved that he’s going to be very, very good, very, very fast. No, he and Taylor Crabb didn’t medal, or even make the quarterfinals. They were hardly competitive in losses to Brazil’s Alison and Guto, and eventual gold medalists Andre Loyola and George Wanderley, but Sander displayed a skill set with a baseline considerably higher than any recent indoor convert. His serve is already one of the best in the United States, and the best of anyone playing international ball currently, save for perhaps Tri Bourne when he has a hot hand.

He’s a magnificent passer. On the rare occasion he was served, he fended off Alison’s formidable float with ease, handled jump serves from Wanderley without much problem, and took the teeth out of two excellent jump servers in Adrian Gavira and Alejandro Huerta. Accustomed to hitting against two or three blockers, Sander, now hitting around only one — even if that one blocker was Alison or Gavira or Andre — sided out at one of the highest clips in the field.

Sure, he has holes in his game, as he very well should. The more nuanced skills on the beach — covering, turning and getting a hand on a short line shot over the block — will need to be refined. His transition setting is not at Gibb’s level, though only Dalhausser’s is. He’ll make more dynamic blocking moves at the net, which was one of the most difficult aspects of the beach transition for Alix Klineman.

All of that, and he still took a ninth. A ninth! At a four-star! Doesn’t matter if it was a watered-down four-star: a ninth is a freakin’ ninth. To top it off, Sander, in his first professional beach tournament, beat Adrian Gavira, arguably the best player to ever compete for Spain.

“So, what you’re saying is he’s good as hell,” Bourne said. “I watched two matches, and they got smashed, but it didn’t look like he was out of sorts. He had some bailout shots and made the right decisions. You could tell his instincts are in the right place. He’s going to be good. It’ll be really fun for the fans to watch because he’ll Yahtzee some balls with that crazy arm of his. I’ve never seen an arm like that.

“He’s athletic and scrappy, and he’s playing with the most athletic and scrappy defender.”

What do you think of the upcoming AVP Uncovered documentary?

For probably close to a year, Maddison McKibbin recommended, over and over and over again, a Netflix docuseries called Drive to Survive. It takes viewers deep behind the scenes into the world of Formula 1 racing, and its impact on the sport has been tremendous, reaching fans like me who otherwise would have never imagined being interested in F1 racing. When I finally got around to binging it, I texted McKibbin and thanked him for the recommendation, and wondered what might happen if someone were to approach beach volleyball with a similar concept.

That concept will arrive next summer, with the release of AVP Uncovered.

No, AVP Uncovered does not have the resources of Drive to Survive. It has the funding and backing of Netflix, while AVP Uncovered it being produced by BYB Pictures, a small creative media production outfit based in Rhode Island. But the access given is phenomenal and unprecedented in beach volleyball, and the guys producing it aren’t distracted with being players themselves, like the McKibbins.

Throughout the 2021 season, they tracked four players — Jake Gibb, Zana Muno, Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth — on and off the court, getting behind the scenes into the lifestyle aspects of this sport as well as the thrilling play on it.

It’s an idea that’s always talked about, but never actually put into motion. A series like this has been a long time coming, and while it’s not going to have the same impact that a Drive to Survive has had on F1, it’s going to open Pandora’s Box towards this type of content, reaching a wider audience than the sport and highlights simply would. People are drawn to stories, and AVP Uncovered is telling the stories of beach volleyball players in a format that hasn’t yet been covered.

Good on them.

What does off-season training look like for you guys?

Ah, the bazillion dollar question with an answer that changes every year, if not every week. Simo, who is in her first off-season after a successful rookie year on the AVP, summed it up best: “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“I know I need to be lifting more. That’s important for me,” said the former two-time NCAA National Champ at UCLA. “It’s a work in progress and every year is a bit different but I know I need to be ready. It’s a lot of experimenting and that’s a part of this whole process.”

The past four years have been experimental for me, though I’ve now come to a routine that worked well last year. It can be boiled down to three major elements:

That’s really it for me. My lifts are heavy and slow, with lots of isometric lifts — holding for long periods of time at the bottom of a lift — and mobility work. Bourne, too, is following a similar routine.

“The first month or two it’s about the body: Let’s rehab the body, figure out all the things that are hurting, get them back,” the 2021 Olympian and Manhattan Beach Open champion said. “When I was younger, it was rest. This time, I gave my trainer the body: What do you want to do with it? He just started kicking my ass right away. The best way to rehab you isn’t to rehab you, it’s to get you stronger. Joints, tendons, they respond to load better than treatment, which I just learned.

“We’re just going for it, twice a week to start, then ramping up to three times a week. I’m going hard. Your body responds better when you’re strong. Your muscles are protecting all the weak areas so they can rest. Load helps tendons. Isometric holds — wall squats, stuff like that — will heal it.”


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