The term “baptism by fire” is derived from a verse in the book of Matthew, preached by John the Baptist. “But he that cometh after me is mightier than I,” he said, “whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”

The fire is a metaphor. Purely spiritual. And as far as metaphors and the spirit of an endeavor go, Dan Dearing’s reintroduction into the world of professional beach volleyball, in March of 2022, could be aptly described as the proverbial baptism by fire. In his first match, six years after last appearing in a main draw, he would meet Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, a pair of 20-somethings who were running an offense and bending, twisting, shattering and setting aflame the rules of the game and doing things that had, quite literally, never been done before.

“Coach is coming up with a game plan and I’m like, ‘So I have to go up and flash this way then I have to go and seal then line and Sam [Schachter] has to slide this way,’ ” Dearing recalled on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “It was my first match ever where it felt like a double game plan, because it wasn’t like ‘Ok this is what we’re doing on the third contact, we’re going to serve here and get them in this position.’ No. I had to take care of the two, then take care of the three, oh, they hit on two. Do I take that? Or does he take that? It was mind blowing.”

It wouldn’t get any easier from there. After getting swept by Sweden, Schachter and Dearing matched up with Poland’s Bartosz Losiak and Michal Bryl, the team who would go on to win the event, one of four gold medals on the year, tied for first with Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum. As for Sweden? They are now ranked No. 3 after a thorough dismantling of Mol and Sorum in the finals of the Tepic Elite 16.

So yes, welcome back to the Beach Pro Tour, Dan Dearing.

You can consider yourself baptized now.

Dan Dearing-Theo Brunner-Trevor Crabb
Dan Dearing hits a cut shot around Theo Brunner at the Tepic Elite 16/Volleyball World photo

Last year wasn’t the fullest year for Schachter and Dearing. They played just six events on the Beach Pro Tour, as well as a pair of NORCECAs, the Commonwealth Games, and the Vancouver Open, the Canadian equivalent to the Manhattan Beach Open. It was the perfect number. Dearing was able to readjust to life on the road, as well as to the seismic shifts in the game since he had last competed full time in 2016. He met, for the first time, Daniele Lupo, and was stunned to see that the Italian defender was actually a full inch taller. He ran into Alison Cerutti and looked up…and up…and up some more, and Dearing realized what a runt he is compared to the gargantuan blockers he’d be matching up with. He was dizzied by Sweden, thumped by Poland, qualified here, lost in qualifiers there, and came out the other end an entirely new player.

“I went into [2022] kind of like a sponge, just to soak everything up, learn from Sam, learn from coach, and go out and put a product on the court,” Dearing said. “I was a little worried. I had to earn my stripes. I’m playing with Sam, such a great vet. I told myself before I stepped on the court that I’m playing with Sam, I’m going to get every single ball, and if I can handle getting every single ball we’ll be able to find a groove and I’ll be able to be a dominant player. I sponged it all up. We had some great experiences and now it’s time to raise the standard even more. I’m going into this year with a lot more confidence, learning how we play together, learning our system, learning what buttons to push. I think it’s going to be a good year for us.”

They had success, too. Plenty of it. Won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. Took second at the Vancouver Open. Won the NORCECA Continental Championships, which offered the points equivalent of winning a Challenge. Broke the nastiest pool at the World Championships, one in which the top seed, Losiak and Bryl, failed to break.

“Well when you put it like that,” Schachter said with a laugh. Yes, Schachter is accustomed to more material success. He’s 32 years old, been to an Olympics, and has won more Vancouver Opens than he could name off the top of his head. The $5,750 he earned on the Beach Pro Tour in 2022 was the lowest per-event total he’d made since 2013. He and Dearing had just one top-10 finish, a ninth at the Doha Challenge in May. But he understands that 2022 wasn’t the year to peak. It was a year to learn, adjust to a new partner for the first time in five years, and maybe pick up a smattering of on-court success along the way.

“It was a good year. We had highlights,” Schachter said. “I guess my nature is to look at the stuff we always want to work on and keep improving. I know how talented Dan is and my expectations for myself are so high. We can all relate to the struggle between enjoying and being grateful for what we’ve been able to accomplish and the positive parts of that and also the other sides of the coin where there’s so much room, there’s still all this stuff we want to accomplish. Dan and I have agreed that we want to go to the Olympics and we want to do damage when we’re there. We’ve had a whole off-season to address a bunch of stuff.”

Sam Schachter-Theo Brunner
Sam Schachter hits around the block of Theo Brunner at the Tepic Elite 16/Volleyball World photo

The adjustments and fixes and year of experience together were immediately evident in the season-opening Challenge event, in La Paz, Mexico. Dearing and Schachter qualified, beating a talented Italian team in Gianluca Dal Corso and Marco Viscovich, broke pool, and dominated Chris McHugh and Paul Burnett, Australia’s No. 1 pair who is currently No. 14 in the world. They’d fall in the quarterfinals to Brazilians Evandro Goncalves and Arthur Mariano, but their fifth marked the best finish of their partnership, and the best finish for Schachter since July of 2019.

“That first year’s exciting because there’s not a ton of expectations around the team yet because it’s so new, we don’t really know what we are yet. Dan’s coming back after a pretty long hiatus. We understood what that was, getting the experience, getting used to the new level of the World Tour, so I think it allowed us to play looser at the start,” Schachter said. “Once we figured out that we could hang with these guys, this could be something great, then we began to encounter our first set of challenges, these are our goals, we need to meet goals, some you’re succeeding, some you’re failing, but getting World Champs under our belt, some of these bigger tournaments, Commonwealth Games. It really gave ourselves some big game, big tournament experience where we can go into this year, we know we have these experiences, we know what we have to work on, we know each other better, it was a lot to build on. There was of course some frustrating times. I think I’d be concerned if there were no frustrating times because that means your expectations are way too low. I had a lot of fun.

“On the off-the-court side, how to talk to each other, how to communicate, how to connect on what we need when we’re on the court. You can’t short circuit that. You can’t simulate that in practice where the lights are on, the pressure’s there, and you’re feeling things come up that you’ve never felt before or that don’t come up in practice. There’s a lot of learning in that first year but you blink and the season’s done.”

You blink and the baptism is over, the fire has gone out. Until, of course, it’s time to do it all over again. Already, Schachter and Dearing’s suitcases are packed for a 10-week-long road trip, one that began last month in California, stretched to Mexico, and will go for a month straight in Brazil, where they’ll play in Challenges in Itapema, Saquarema and, depending on entry points and seeding, an Elite 16 in Uberlandia. The learning hasn’t stopped. It never will. But now the primary goal has shifted: It’s time to perform.

“It was definitely a challenge to come back,” Dearing said. “It took a full year to come back in that routine. Having Sam as a leader and having a coach and having a plan, I’m dialed into what I need.”


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