My Favorite Match: Steph Sun

AVP Ownership Steph Sun has watched a lot of volleyball in the last decade. Embarking on her 10th season as the First Lady of Beach Volleyball, she’s logged countless hours in Club AVP, shuttled her two youngest kids through the sand from court to court, and talked to roughly one million fans, athletes, sponsors, staff members, executives, and volunteers. She’s Mrs. Volleyball, and she wears the title well. 

Steph has a broad, infectious smile and warm personality. She is ridiculously intelligent, always dazzling me with her conversation skills and ability to simultaneously field three different lines of inquiry. Her job description is complicated and nuanced – basically, make sure everything goes smoothly while radiating that there’s nothing that could possibly go wrong. Overseeing an AVP is a spectacle in energy, and the Suns nail that at every event in every city. 

However, everyone in the DJ booth (aka AVP Command Center) knows exactly when Steph no longer wants to engage in conversation. And that only happens when she’s ready to intently watch and enjoy volleyball. I’ve seen her many times on a stool, nestled between DJ Roueche’s and Mark Schuermann’s stations right up next to the edge of the booth. She’ll still likely talk to anyone, but only if it’s about the game. With her impossibly classy straw hat and sunglasses, she holds her face in her hands, elbows propped on the railing, soaking it all in. 

So I wasn’t surprised when she shared with me her favorite match. It’s actually one she wrote about last year (a piece I highly recommend reading, especially the part where her husband, Donald, drops completely out of the blue that he wants to buy the beach volleyball tour). 

Marrying Steph’s description of her favorite match with what I’ve seen of her at every AVP tournament – it all makes sense. No one likes beach volleyball more than Steph Sun. Except maybe Donald. But Steph’s the one I see – back to the staff, face to the court and fans, leaned over the railing – like a kid in a candy store trying to get just a little… bit… closer. 

“There are a lot of matches that I love,” Steph says. “Any time there’s a lot of emotion involved, I pace back and forth watching. But one match really sticks out in my mind more than others. And that was Santa Barbara 2012, the first event I ever went to.” Let me set the scene: 

It’s the Suns’ first year as AVP owners. Pre-ownership, Steph knew hardly anything about volleyball save that she was bad, and Donald was pretty good. But she wholeheartedly believed in her husband and backed his purchase. At the time, she was working in fashion,  a job she fully intended to continue. But after the first tournament in Cincinnati, Donald came home and said he couldn’t do it alone. He needed Steph. 

Obviously, he was right. Steph came to the next event and crushed it, meeting and charming everyone she met. It was three days of constant conversation and being “on.” By the end of Saturday, Steph desperately needed a break. So late in the evening, as the sun was setting and the Men’s Semifinals were on Stadium Court, Steph tucked herself away. On a quiet spot on the sand, off to the side where no one knew where she was, Steph watched a little of this volleyball thing which she was now inextricably linked.  

“I had only seen beach volleyball on TV. I did not know what to expect. The match was Rosie and Jake Gibb playing against Sean Scott and John Hyden. I just sat there and watched. I was so tired, and I wasn’t really paying attention to most of it. And then there was this crazy rally that actually caught my attention. All of a sudden, Rosie went up, and he flipped backward and hit the ball straight down. Backward. 

“I knew something insane had just happened – the entire stadium went berserk. The roar from it was so powerful. So after that, I paid attention. I just thought: these athletes are superhuman. That match made me a beach volleyball fan for life.” 

For the last near-decade, Steph has poured her heart, soul, and resources into this sport. Running the AVP Tour is no cakewalk, especially in the pandemic. We’re all anxious to get back on the sand or in the stands. But trust me – no one is more ready than Steph. Except maybe Donald. 

“I will die being a beach volleyball fan. There’s no other sport on this planet that has the agility and the power of our athletes. It doesn’t matter who you watch – a kid, a woman, a man – the amount of athleticism that comes from beach volleyball athletes by far tops any other sport. It deserves all of the credit. It’s the best sport ever.”