It has been one year, 10 months and 24 days since Tri Bourne has stepped on a volleyball court in a competitive fashion.
Next week, at the Manhattan Beach Open, that’s set to change.
Bourne, after battling — a battle that will likely continue for the remainder of his career – an enigmatic autoimmune disease, has alas become healthy enough to compete in a tournament. And what a tournament it is to make his return: The granddaddy, the Wimbledon of beach volleyball, the Manhattan Beach Open, alongside one of his childhood friends, Trevor Crabb.
“Not only do I get to make my comeback at the biggest domestic event of the year, but I get to do it with one of my best friends and one of the top players on tour,” Bourne said. “I guess after all that talking I’ve been doing on the podcasts and livestreams, I got at least one person to think I still got it.
“The most important thing that I wanted to feel if, when I finally got to return to the sand, was that I wanted to be grateful for the whole experience. I wanted to honestly feel that what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed is so valuable that I wouldn’t change what happened to me if I magically had the opportunity to do so, and I think I’ve achieved that.”
Bourne has a history here, too. In 2016, he and John Hyden lost in a wild, memorable final to Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb 21-17, 18-21, 14-16. A year before that, the two lost in the finals as well to Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena 19-21, 17-21.
The season between, when Bourne was out, his partner this week, Trevor Crabb, fell in the finals as well, also to Dalhausser and Lucena 25-23, 18-21, 10-15.
Three Manhattans, three trips to the finals. No wins.
“Now we’re on the same side of the net just like the baby court days at the Outrigger Canoe Club,” Crabb said. “I couldn’t be more stoked.”
There was, of course, a domino effect from there. Crabb’s former partner, John Mayer, scooped up Avery Drost, who had been playing with Marty Lorenz. Lorenz is now in the qualifier, partnered with Kyle Stevenson.
“I didn’t go down a long list when deciding to play with Trev,” Bourne said. “I asked him if he’d be interested two days before the Manhattan registration. Trevor was the best volleyball player available in my opinion so I jumped at the opportunity. When you have two good volleyball players on the court I believe you don’t need to worry as much about who will play what position.
“We obviously only have a few practices together so I don’t expect us to run a very intricate system,” said Bourne, who will split block but likely play defense more than Crabb. “My plan is to be patient with each touch, play instinctual volleyball and enjoy each point that I get to play the game I love. If I can bring out the best version of Trevor Crabb then I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to be back in that familiar place on Sunday. That would be crazy!”
Crabb was understandably excited.
“I’ve grown up playing with or against Tri, whether it be on the beach or for indoor junior nationals,” Crabb said. “I’ve always known we would eventually play together at some point in our careers just not sure when. we are ready to tackle the challenge and show how good all-around volleyball players play the game.”
And, Crabb added, “I’m stoked for the opportunity to play with a great player and great friend as well.”