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SANDCAST: Seain Cook is playing the long game in beach volleyball — and it’s working

HERMOSA BEACH, California — Seain Cook had two rules. Just two. Easy enough to follow, too: The Scot was not going to marry an American. And he was not going to marry a beach volleyball player. And then a talented setter — an American, no less, from Santa Barbara — named Courtney Kidd-Kadlubek made the most unexpected of appearances in his life.

Any plans Cook had after that have been delightfully off-script.

Even he has trouble believing, at times, the community and life he’s been able to carve out in two quick years since moving from Scotland to the United States.

“It’s kind of a fairytale,” Cook said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

And if it’s difficult for Cook to believe this fairytale of his, it’s doubly as difficult for his father. So passionate about beach volleyball is Cook’s dad that he took a sabbatical one year and traveled to all of the World Tour events, simply to keep score. That was his idea of a vacation. Now here’s his son, calling him from the United States, on his way to training with Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb. He’s heading to Mike Dodd’s house later to watch film, and oh, yeah, on the weekend? He’s going to sit down and have a coffee with Todd Rogers.

“He’s freaking out,” Cook said, laughing. “He’s just like ‘What?’”

This is no accident, of course. And do not let Cook’s invariably self-deprecating sense of humor get in the way of you buying into the supreme talent he is. There is a reason — many, actually — that he’s in training groups with Olympians. That he’s getting calls from Theo Brunner to sub in for Chaim Schalk at USA Volleyball practices.

The first time I practiced with Cook, at Marine Street in Manhattan Beach in the spring of 2021, we played against what was then a new partnership in Billy Allen and Andy Benesh. John Mayer was coaching. He’s a fine man, Mayer. Kind and considerate. Sharp as a tack. But he does not dole out unearned compliments. Afterwards, while I was stretching and everyone else had left, Mayer said: “You should hold onto him.”

Seain Cook is that good.

“When we practiced, I was like ‘Oh, we have a Scottish National Team guy coming,’” Bourne said. “This guy’s legit.”

He is legit, Cook. But here’s the rub: He cannot yet play for the United States. While he did lay to waste his best laid plans and wind up marrying that American volleyball player, Cook still does not have a U.S. passport, and might not for another year or so. Only then can his transfer from the Scottish federation to the U.S. begin, which is another two-year process. It is a minimum, then, of three years before Cook can represent the United States of America in an international tournament. Not that he’s altogether worried about it.

Seain Cook is playing the long game.

“My goal is just to continue pushing forwards,” said Cook, who only competed in two Volleyball World events for Scotland, both in 2018. “I did the CBVAs a lot last year and now I’m trying to get into the AVP, keep making that progression. If I keep hitting these stepping stones, become a USA athlete.”

And even on the AVP, in which he does not need to wait for his passport, Cook’s playing the long game. He’s working his way up the ladder in what he sees as the proper way. At the first AVP qualifier of the year, in Panama City Beach, Fla., on April 11, Cook partnered up with Logan Webber. They’d won before, those two. Won the Laguna Beach Open, twice beating Allen and Benesh. They could win again, no doubt, and they absolutely could qualify, which only required them to make the semifinals.

Yet here’s the catch: They couldn’t qualify. Webber is partnered with John Hyden, with whom he is directly into the main draw. Even if Cook and Webber won in Panama City Beach, it would be Webber moving onto the main draw, while Cook remained on the sidelines.

To the surprise of few, they did win in Panama City Beach, dropping only a single set in the process. Yet Cook isn’t the least bit jaded about missing out on AVP Austin. In his mind, he did exactly what he came to Panama City Beach to do.

“I knew what I was getting into playing with Logan. We’re planning on playing as much as we can, and I knew I wasn’t going to be going to Austin,” Cook said. “My focus was on winning. If I can win the event, I get points, I get money. Going to Austin would be amazing. But going to an event one time? Saying ‘Oh I got this wild card!’ and then getting smacked? That doesn’t make me a main draw player. I want to get points. Go to events, get points, and we can be main draw together. I’m still going to go to all of these events because I want to make money, I want to play, but there was no part of me that was sad.”

He earned points, 853 of them, bumping him up to the No. 53-ranked player in the country. It isn’t enough to put him into the main draw just yet, but again: That’s not Cook’s focus. His focus is on winning, climbing, learning the most crucial intangible skill in the game: Figuring out how to win beach volleyball tournaments.

“Early last year, I was playing with Stafford [Slick] in a CBVA, and his big thing was learn how to win,” Cook said. “Learn how to win. I think I won four or five CBVAs with different players. I won two in one weekend, that was nice. It was Manhattan on Saturday and Santa Barbara on Sunday. That really stuck with me from Stafford.”

So no, you will not see him in Austin. You won’t see Cook in New Orleans, either. But down the road? In Hermosa Beach or perhaps Manhattan? You’ll see Seain Cook in the main draw — and plenty of them — at some point. Of that, there is no doubt.

His initial long-term plans of spouse selection may have gone awry in the best of ways — Cook and Kidd-Kadlubek are expecting their first child in May — but as far as beach volleyball goes?

That’s remained delightfully on-script.

Click here to watch the SANDCAST episode.

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