Updates for AVP’s 2020 season and the COVID-19 implications.

Partner Bonding

Beach volleyball partnerships fascinate me. It’s just like dating. You seek out a potential partner, text them their availability, and subsequently vet them to make sure they’d be a good fit. You try each other out for a few weeks at practice. If it works out, you meet in a coffee shop to talk about your future. Throughout the process, there are exciting prospects, deal-breakers, hard conversations, and mutual wins and losses. Bonds can last for years or fizzle out quickly.

Partnerships are a marriage of two people. You spend so much time with this person—long plane rides, sketchy Uber trips, triumphant victories, and devastating defeats (some of the best partner bonding occurs at the local bar after said defeat). Friendships inevitably result while “courting” your beach volleyball partner, and this relationship is often expedited while traveling on tour. Experiences on the road make fast friends.
There’s something about being on the road with your partner—you let down your guard a little and learn a lot quickly. I’ve always found common ground while traveling with my partners. Lara Dykstra and I both love healthy food (and spend too much money on it). Cici Zhang loved reading (but she preferred law text books to my novels). Kenzie Ponnet and I are both obsessed with Harry Potter (she’s a proud Slytherin; I’m a brave Gryffindor). Jace Pardon shares my weakness for Diet Coke (though we try not to indulge it).

The following stories are just a few of the many fun moments shared on tour between teammates. We play because we love the sport, but the fun isn’t limited to match play. It’s more often found in a 24-hour diner, a broken elevator, a creepy hotel, or an uncomfortable bus seat.

Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes

I sat down with Sarah Sponcil to ask about the music video she and partner Kelly Claes made at the end of 2019. It’s a spin-off of Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” they cleverly entitled “Beach Rules.” It’s also hilarious and surprisingly well-produced. I highly recommend checking it out on Instagram.

SS“I wrote “Beach Rules” like a year and a half ago in Las Vegas after our first FIVB tournament. When I showed it to Kelly, we were both like, “How sick would it be to make a music video?” I’ve always wanted to be in a music video. So we had the idea for a long time, but things got busy with me still playing at UCLA and then the World Tour last summer. But that was our first goal of the offseason—just give the people what they want! So we talked to Mpu (one of  the AVP’s official photographers) and within the next three weeks, we hashed out the audio and three different locations. It took two days of filming and a few more months for the final product.

We’re working on another one now—maybe the first week of February (so stay tuned). I’ve written 12 songs, mostly while on the road. I write, and Kelly sings. Next, we’re doing “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. It’s about playing a defender who’s trying to cheat on us on defense (“She took a big shuffle-shuffle to her left side. I cracked a ball clean down her line. Maybe next time she’ll think before she cheats”). It’s my favorite. But I also have “Drops of Jupiter” about the transition from college to professional, and “Bye Bye Bye” about the agony of losing a match.

Kelly and I just have so much fun bouncing back and forth off of each other. We’re completely opposite people. She’s into a lot of things that I’m not, like video games and anime. So it’s weird that our personalities just work out. From the very beginning, we’ve always wanted to be open with each other. And a lot of people say that, but we get really vulnerable. There’ve been so many ups and downs throughout our partnership, and they have all brought us closer together and created a strong bond. I have so much trust in her. And I think she would say the same for me.

Troy Field and Casey Patterson

Troy and Casey promise to be a fun new partnership on tour in 2020. Both flamboyant and insanely athletic, I imagine a lot of highlights and GIF-worthy moments from these two. Just listen to Troy’s story of their first tournament together.

TFCasey and I don’t have too many travel stories since we recently partnered up, but there is one that stands out. We were in Doha, Qatar for the World Beach Games—a 4×4 beach volleyball tournament. Our teammates were Riley McKibbin, Maddison McKibbin, Taylor Crabb, and Brian Cook. It was our first game of the tournament, so we figured we would show up in style with fresh haircuts. Casey put it out to the team that one of us should get his signature hairstyle—the Suave-Hawk. I was the only one who took the idea seriously and did it.

So our hotel bathroom became a makeshift barbershop. We took a pair of the McKibbin’s beard clippers, Casey gave me the full “Casey Patterson Makeover.” I was nervous for two reasons:
1. Casey isn’t a real barber, and I had a full head of hair.
2. I had never shaved my head before or had a Mohawk; what if it looks terrible?
Thankfully, Casey did a fantastic job. It didn’t look terrible. It took some getting used to, but from then on, we wore matching Suave-Hawks in our matches. It blew up on social media and became a fun story for the rest of the tourney, which we went on to win. In all the podium pictures depicting our first 4×4 international beach volleyball tournament win, Casey and I are rocking matching hairstyles.

Kenzie Ponnet and Sheila Shaw

A little backstory for this one: the Main Draw players stayed at The Drake hotel during the Chicago AVP last season. If you’re unfamiliar with The Drake, it’s an elegant and historic hotel—Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio carved their initials into one of the wooden bars. The Drake is stunning, with its grand lobby and panoramic views of Oak Street Beach and Lake Michigan. But it’s also a little scary. It’s weird.

My room last year inexplicably had two bathrooms. The double-occupancy rooms have twin beds. Horror film audio tracks could be recorded from the floor and door creaks. And then, scariest of all, there’s the ghostly and mysterious Woman in Black who allegedly occupies the eighth floor. So while we were all excited to stay in the lavish and culture-rich Drake, a few players, like Kenzie and Sheila, proceeded with caution.

KPLast year with Sheila was the first year that I didn’t really travel with my partner. It was funny that for every travel tournament, we didn’t see much of each other than at the tournament site. Until Chicago at The “Haunted” Drake hotel. Sheila, who’s terrified of ghosts, had already researched all of the ghost sightings and stories about the haunted hotel before we arrived. When we checked in, she asked the front desk if we were on the same floor as the famous Woman in Black. I started laughing because I was certain that wasn’t true. But the front desk lady said, “Oh, she is definitely there. But don’t worry—you’re not on that floor.”


To make matters worse, I’m arachnophobic and there was a HUGE spider in our bathroom. So we have Sheila who is terrified of ghosts, and me—terrified of spiders. What could go wrong!? I couldn’t go to the bathroom because of the spider (we eventually called someone to kill it because neither of us could), and Sheila couldn’t go to sleep because of the ghosts. She bought Sandalwood and Sage to cleanse our room but still couldn’t sleep with her limbs hanging off the bed for fear of something grabbing her. We kept hearing strange noises coming from our ceiling all night. Needless to say, we got NO sleep that night. We shared each other’s fears and a lot about ourselves. We bonded and laughed through our pain. After Chicago, we were both like, “Why did we wait until the end of season to hang out with each other?!” I guess we can make up for it this upcoming AVP season.


We all share meals, rooms, showers, and clothes with our partners. Some of us share music videos, haircuts, and sandalwood.

Follow Kim on Instagram @kimesmith21.

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