AVP DASHBOARD

Reach the Beach: Andy Benesh

In many ways, I fell into the beach volleyball world through pure chance. 

The first instance was my sophomore year at Palos Verdes High School. I had just been cut from the basketball team for being too short and scrawny to compete with the older kids. But because California requires high schoolers to do two years of physical education, getting cut created a problem. Since I was no longer in a sport, I was placed in PE and had to run around the school every other day. I hated running (and still do). 

To get out of PE, I planned to join a sport that didn’t require conditioning. I landed on sailing. But after talking to the coach, the sailing team was way too expensive. So I had to pick another sport that I considered to be light on cardio. Ergo – volleyball.  

My first introduction to volleyball was on the beach courts at PV High, generously donated and built the year before by the Delgado and Marcell Families. Although it was a lot more cardio than I had anticipated, I fell in love with the sport. It also helped that I hit a huge growth spurt. By the beginning of my Junior year, I had grown from 5’10 to 6’7.

I had the opportunity to join a top-tier indoor club, SCVC. After missing the cut at the initial tryout, some spots opened up due to players transferring to the rival club MB Surf. With the help of my friend who was already on the team, I got an invite to their first practice. 

The coaches for that team, Cam Green and John Xie, were assistants at USC. They helped me learn how to read the game at a very high level. I was starting on the #1 club team in the nation. We won Junior Nationals in my junior year; the interest from college scouts grew. Although I took official visits to other schools, I knew where I wanted to go for college. I wanted to keep learning from Cam and John, and with Jeff Nygaard (AVP Legend) and Bill Ferguson as the other coaches, it was a no-brainer. 

I won a starting spot my freshman year. Playing alongside guys like Micah Christenson and Lucas Yoder. Micah helped grow my volleyball IQ; Lucas is one of the gnarliest volleyball players I’ve played with. Although some of the years at USC felt disappointing, I became a better and wiser volleyball player through my experience there.

The best volleyball coaches and minds in the nation surrounded me throughout my most formative years. During the summers between my junior and senior college years, my former teammate at USC and AVP pro Maddison Mckibbin recruited me for his stacked 6-Man teams at the 2016 World Series of Long Beach and the infamous Manhattan Beach 6-Man. In those tournaments, I realized I could hang with some of the best players on the beach.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2018, after a less than enjoyable experience playing overseas indoor in Switzerland, I decided it was time to hang up the volleyball shoes and get a big boy job. I was mentally burned out. I also had an array of accumulated back injuries from college. It felt like I had nothing left to give to the sport. 

I accepted a job as a financial advisor at AXA Advisors in March of 2018. Before starting, I had to study and pass the financial exams. My friend and former high school teammate Cole Fiers asked if I wanted to play beach with him. I figured I would use that as my workouts in between study sessions. We ended up playing almost every day that spring, along with Hagen Smith and my former teammate Lucas Yoder.

Although I intended to start my job in September of 2018 after completing my exams, Cole and I flew out to Austin to play in my first AVP qualifier that May. After miraculously winning our first match, we had to face Hagen and Lucas. Go figure; we had to play the only people we trained with for four months in our very first tournament. They kicked our butts. 

The next tournament was in San Francisco in late June. We were a little bit better than in Austin. After taking down the #1-seed in the Qualifier, Kyle Friend and Myles Muagututia, we made it to our first AVP Main Draw. Better yet, our friends Lucas and Hagen qualified about 15 minutes after our match finished. 

We were severely outmatched in the Main Draw, facing the #1 overall seed Billy Allen and Ryan Doherty. We went 0-2 barbeque, but that feeling of qualifying sparked something in me. We qualified a couple of weeks later at the next AVP tournament, right in my backyard in Hermosa Beach. Again, we couldn’t make a dent in the Main Draw, losing our first two matches. I skipped the final event that year in Chicago, thinking I was officially retired from volleyball and ready to start a new career.

After about eight months of cold calling 300 people a day (without much success), I felt the spark inside me growing. I couldn’t forget that feeling of qualifying, that desire to keep trying. My boss encouraged our team members to show a motivational video at the beginning of every day to get people ready to cold call. One day, one of my colleagues showed a video from a famous entrepreneur named Gary Vaynerchuk. He said, “If you are looking forward to Friday and dreading Monday, you are not doing what you are meant to do.” That altered the direction of my life. That single quote gave me the courage to tell my boss I didn’t enjoy any aspect of the job. When he replied, “You’re not supposed to,” – I quit. That wasn’t going to be how I lived my life.

With a bunch of student debt and almost no money to my name, I bet big on myself. I was going to do everything I could to become a professional beach volleyball player. I traveled to all the events in 2019 with my then partner Adam Roberts. We qualified twice, taking a 7th in Hermosa and a 13th in Manhattan. Although there were a lot of losses that year, the 7th in Hermosa made me feel like I wasn’t entirely crazy for trying to pursue my dream.

During the 2020 season, I played with Eric Beranek. Although we didn’t play as well as we wanted during the Champions Cup, we extended our season and went to Florida to compete in some local tournaments. We went undefeated in every tournament we entered and had a lot of fun on the side. 

Billy Allen (a guy who stomped me just three years before in my first Main Draw match) gave me a call in the offseason before 2021. We teamed up. I was really excited to play with Billy, who is criminally underrated on the AVP. Being so steady, calm, and consistent might not always turn heads, but it wins you a lot of matches. We snuck in as the last team in the Main Draw for Atlanta, and we made the most of it. We took 5th in Atlanta, which moved us up in the rankings and took an enormous weight off our shoulders. We were no longer on the bubble of slipping into the qualifier. After a disappointing loss in the Quarterfinals, I felt like we had more to give. 

We took 3rd in the last two tournaments of 2021, beating household names in both. Winning against guys like Ricardo, Phil, and Jake (three of the best five blockers of all time) was surreal. I finally felt like I had made it as a serious contender. I have a lot of growth and learning to do, but the top guys don’t seem as far away as they did six months ago. I am excited for the opportunity to try to catch them and become the best player I can be. 

As any beach volleyball player would tell you, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. But it sure beats the hell out of 300 people a day telling you to go screw yourself. I now get to train with the best players in the world, the beach is my office, and I love my day-to-day life. Looking back, it’s funny how unplanned and random the events were that led me to play volleyball. Who knows, in an alternate universe, I may have been a world-class sailor.