The National Volleyball League was a fun, if not short-lived, beach volleyball tour. It didn’t have the clout or the size and magnitude of the AVP, but that’s also part of what made it such an excellent experience for the players: It was a traveling beach volleyball family.

“It was a group of us, the top 10 teams, men and women,” said Jon Mesko, who played in 21 NVL events from 2012-2017. “We became a little family.”

A family that included Eric Zaun.

The NVL was the launching pad upon which Zaun’s beach volleyball career took off. It was where his road dog lifestyle blossomed and was showcased. For two years, he was one of the top players on the NVL, which gave him the platform to put his one-of-a-kind lifestyle on national display.

It made it a no-brainer for Mesko to seek a way to honor him when Zaun died in June.

The ideas for how to do it varied: A thrift-store shopping spree, happy hour, a fundraising tournament, perhaps.

The Eric Zaun Memorial Scholarship is what stuck. A scholarship for a beach volleyball player not unlike Zaun, someone who was hungry, putting in two-a-days, three-a-days, then going to the gym to cap it off. Someone who would soak in the experience, as Zaun did like no one else. Someone who was making their money stretch, similar to the road dog who lived in a van and illegally AirBNB’d his apartment out, to make this beach dream work.

The initial number for that scholarship was $2,000, the plan being to award a single winner. And then the beach community did what it does best: It rallied for its own. The scholarship fund more than doubled, to just shy of $5,000. When a call for applicants was sent out, several dozen replies poured in, each with their own, unique, compelling story.

In the end, so much support was given that three beach volleyball players were awarded a portion of the scholarship. Logan Webber and Megan Nash were awarded what could be labeled as “senior scholarships,” receiving the majority of the funds.

But Kacey Losik, a 19-year-old with untapped upside who recently moved from Santa Cruz to Southern California, made such a compelling case, with his playing ability, humility, character, and essay, that the committee awarding the scholarship agreed to, at the very least, cover his trip to AVP Chicago.

“I was trying to think of who would Eric have picked,” Mesko said. “Not just a friend, like JM (Plummer) — who, it must be noted, wrote a phenomenal essay and was a good friend of Zaun’s and played the Motherlode with him — or someone with depression, but who’s out there battling, who’s doing double and triple days like I saw Eric do.

“Who’s battling as hard as Eric would and who is making their money go the furthest and struggling financially like Eric did. And who’s seriously in the conversation for AVP Rookie of the Year like he earned. We wanted the scholarship winners to be following his footsteps in all of his positive attributes.”

It’s a wonderful feeling, to write winners in plural. Not one, but three.

Nash, a Canadian who finished her collegiate career at LMU and whose name you can already find on the world tour, qualifying for her first FIVB with Alex Poletto at a two-star in China this weekend, could not have been more grateful.

Canadians don’t have it quite as good as Americans when it comes to professional beach volleyball. They don’t have a domestic tour like the AVP that puts on $300,000 tournaments. So they must fly to China, to Cambodia, to Malaysia — losing far more than they earn at first. The scholarship is going to allow her to, at the very least, not stress as much when it comes to buying those flights.

Webber, a Michigan native who’s coming off his second consecutive main draw in Manhattan Beach, is one of the more promising young blockers on the AVP. Despite being an accountant by trade, he still doesn’t know how he’s made the money work this year, with the amount of travel he’s been doing.

Now he’ll have a cushion for Chicago, and Hawai’i, and a bit leftover to make traveling in 2020 much easier.

As for Losik? He once received the SANDCAST sponsorship to get him to AVP Austin. He wouldn’t have been able to play without it. Now, thanks to the wonderful, fantastic, overwhelmingly loving beach community, he can do another, and another.

“Thank you to everyone who submitted an application,” said Katie Spieler, who was Zaun’s girlfriend and a member of the selection committee. “It was touching to read each story and see how Eric lives on in spirit through people pursuing life passionately and battling through obstacles. Eric’s dad, Dave, shared a great quote with me a few days ago: ‘Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle.’

“It’s eye-opening to hear people’s personal stories and it drives that quote home. Everyone has their battles and I am inspired by the strength I read about in this group of athletes.

“EZ is cheering you on.”

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