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SANDCAST: Tim Brewster, the Chinese bamboo tree of the AVP

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — If you were to plant a Chinese bamboo tree today, it would take roughly five years to see it above surface again. This in spite of that bamboo tree’s constant needs: daily water, regular fertilization, space, lots of space. It’s a high-maintenance gig, growing Chinese bamboo trees, requiring an astounding amount of patience, work, and faith that, one day, that seed you planted five years ago might one day sprout. Yet the reward for all that work? For the daily watering, the constant care, the assuredness that, while you cannot see any physical signs of growth, you know that one day — maybe, hopefully — it’ll pay off?

That tree, once it alas breaks the surface, will grow 90 feet in five weeks.

Tim Brewster should know.

Not that he’s ever delved into the art of arboriculture. He is, simply, the living embodiment of it, the Chinese bamboo tree of the AVP. How else to explain what’s happened to the 22-year-old this year? He made $15,325 in prize money — and counting — in nine events on the AVP Tour, after never having made a dime in the previous five years trying. He won three international medals — one silver and two gold, a number that’s also likely to rise in the coming weeks — after never having made a podium in 18 previous events representing the United States. He qualified for the final five AVP events of the season, Pro Series or higher, despite never having made a main draw. Olympians and AVP champions fell before him: Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander (in Atlanta), John Hyden and Logan Webber (Atlanta), Theo Brunner and Chaim Schalk (Chicago). He flew up statistical leaderboards, finishing No. 1 in digs per set in Chicago, a loaded Gold Series affair.

Many were justifiably surprised by the blink-and-you-missed it growth of Brewster. Those who saw the work he has been putting in — that daily water, the regular fertilization — since he was 12 years old, inspired by the spectacle of the London Olympics, have been waiting for the inevitable breakout for years.

“Jose [Loiola] knew what he was doing this whole time,” Tri Bourne said of Brewster and Loiola, his longtime coach. “I knew what he was doing, putting this guy through the ringer, but at the same time, who else on planet earth is getting these reps? How many times have I said that up and coming players should come watch practice? Tim was at practice every day, doing his own practice, warming up, cooling down, jumping in, filling in and being that guy for us that we needed to get extra reps. For us, first of all, he’s getting better than us at all these drills. He’s doing them technically better than us, so if we could do it like Tim, we’re going to be pretty good. For us, it was a matter of time until Tim got that confidence to be that big dog.”

It’s a confidence that has been well-earned. The 2022 season was one of constant milestones. Brewster began the year with a spontaneous trip to the Tlaxcala Challenger, where he’d stun the No. 2 seed in the qualifier in straight sets.

His first major international victory over an elite team that had recently toppled Brazilian Olympians Evandro and Alvaro: Milestone.

Then came a victory in the San Antonio AVPNext with Andy Benesh, in which it was Brewster who had to carry his cramping partner through the finals and not the other way around.

His first win in a big tournament: Milestone.

Then came a Tour Series event in Denver, competing with Kyle Friend in a slapdash partnership in which little was expected out of the team from either player. A seventh-place there put Friend and Brewster into the main draw of AVP Fort Lauderdale.

His first AVP main draw: Milestone.

Then came Atlanta, and that opening round win over Crabb and Sander, in which most every athlete in the players’ tent could be seen peeking around the corner, wondering the same thing: Is that Tim Brewster, finishing off an 8-12 third-set comeback win over Crabb?

“I always said that I didn’t want to be that guy who qualified a bunch but never won in a main draw, because you see that happen, you see guys who have been in the qualifier grind for years,” Brewster said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “One of my goals was, when I qualify, I want to be able to win.”

His first AVP win: Milestone.

The result of all that winning, of sprinting from one career landmark to the next?

“I stepped onto the court against Chaim and Theo [in Chicago] thinking we can win this, instead of ‘Well, this is a really good team, it’s going to be tough,’” Brewster recalled. “It was really cool. These are guys I’ve looked up to for years and who I’ve been watching. It’s cool to know I can hang with them and beat them on any given day.”

Bourne and Loiola have known this was coming, as did Friend, and anyone else who saw how Brewster has approached the game since he was in middle school. Few are as dedicated to beach volleyball, to doing things the right way, as Brewster is. On the road, he stretches and rolls out and massages his muscles for an hour, minimum, each night. In the morning, there are breathing exercises. At practice, he is brutalized, physically and mentally, on a daily basis by Loiola, and the trash-talking Hawai’ians with whom he’s worked for years.

“That’s always been a focus of mine is to be really diligent with everything off the court, because I’m not naturally the most gifted player out there,” Brewster said. “Physically, I’m nothing special. I’m short. I just feel like for me to be successful, I need to be really diligent off the court in everything I do, whether it’s eating or how I am in the gym or studying for certain things. That’s where I try to set myself apart. Maybe I can’t outphysical some guys, but I can outthink and I can outwork. That’s been my thing is nailing everything I can control off the court so I can be successful on the court.”

Tiim Brewster-AVP Chicago
Timothy Brewster stretches for the dig/Mark Rigney photo

There were moments of frustration and doubt, of course. It’s inevitable in sport, especially when Brewster has seen his peers, namely and Miles and Marcus Partain, and John Schwengel, beat him to some of those aforementioned milestones. It’s inevitable when you’ve put in all that work, five years of it, and you haven’t yet popped up above ground. Yet there was never once a pause in all that work, never a day he skipped practice or lifting or PT. Never a time he stopped watering that seed he knew was growing.

“My parents would always say ‘You’re young, give it time’ and that’s really annoying to hear,” Brewster said. “Loiola would say the same thing. He would call me Young Brewster, and I’d get really frustrated by it. There’s so much room to grow and so much more I want to do, but this has been a great first step. It’s been a fun year.”

He might have hit the metaphorical 90 feet in five weeks in 2022, but the growth of Tim Brewster — the one everyone can finally see — has only just begun.

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