Reach the Beach: Avery Drost


The very first time I ever played beach volleyball was at East Beach in Santa Barbara, CA. I had just started school at Westmont College in SB, and some of my new friends were taking the quick shuttle down the hill from Montecito to the beach to hit the ball around. 

If you know East Beach, you know those courts have some of the most legendary history in the game. Great players like John Hanley, Henry Bergmann, Karch Kiraly, Dax Holdren, Todd Rogers, and this guy named Phil Dalhausser all played there – along with so many more of the best to ever do it. Of course, I didn’t know one thing about any of that when I first showed up. I just know that from the moment I first played it, I fell in love with the game with all my heart.

I had never really loved anything the way I loved beach volleyball. The love didn’t come and go with my mood or whatever else was going on in life – it was there all the time. Even to this day, after all the practices and travel and tournaments, I still wake up excited to go to the beach and play.

I had first started to learn just the very basics of indoor volleyball when I was a junior in High School. I grew up in Redlands, CA, which is a few hours inland from the coast, so volleyball didn’t have much traction for boys in the area. Even so, I thought right away it was just so much fun to play, I remember wishing I had discovered it sooner.

I definitely wasn’t thinking at all seriously about volleyball in college. For some reason, I knew I wanted to go to a smaller school (I didn’t like the idea of getting lost in the crowd on a big campus), and I started to get mailers (postcards that come in the mail from colleges inviting you to apply; do they still do that??) from a Christian school in Santa Barbara called Westmont. My mom told me it was a beautiful place, and that my aunt and uncle had met there.

I visited and immediately felt at home; I applied and got in. I remember talking with my counselor about NAIA sports on campus and this scrappy men’s volleyball team that they had. For the first time, it crossed my mind that maybe I had a chance to play! I really had no idea at the time that God was starting to get a hold of my life and leading me in a way I never would have imagined for myself. 

I was really bad when I first started to play in college. I was trying to learn everything at once, from basic techniques to BIQ systems. I had just finally got to my full height (6’4”) but I was about 175 lbs. and not very strong. I was athletic and fairly coordinated, but volleyball is way different. I hated all the mistakes I was making, and I took it pretty hard when I failed – but that love had taken hold of me so strongly that all I could think about when I wasn’t playing was when I would get another chance to do better. I kept working at it and never thought about quitting.

And then there was beach.

Every spare minute, I went to the beach to play. I was always losing, and looking bad doing it. My indoor friends and I played pickup games with the Nooner crew at East Beach – guys you never had to call ahead to set up with; they were just there. They had all the old-school tricks to throw at you, and they loved beating a young, athletic kid like me.

Once in a while, I would get a call to be a practice dummy for some of the local pros. The first was Dax Holdren; he shot me a text one afternoon to see if I could make it down the next morning. It was a weekday, and I had class, but it wasn’t even a choice! I went to the beach and was in awe of how easy he made everything look. He pushed me hard in those sessions and talked plenty of noise about my sketchy hand setting and overall error-prone ways. I’ll never forget one day when Dax, almost under his breath, said, “At least the kid can pass!” Even a tiny good word like that was enough to make me believe that maybe I could actually play. 

There were other great players around the beach at that time. Dalhausser and Rogers were already dominating the world; sometimes I was lucky enough to help out at their practices. I don’t think I even totally understood how special that opportunity was. Randy Stoklos used to talk to me a lot about blocking. Stokie was larger than life to us, and he had a hilarious but super understandable way of explaining the game. 

My best friend on my indoor team at school was my buddy Matt Schroeder, who grew up in NorCal, but his dad Andy was a member at the Outrigger on Oahu. Matt was raised playing beach with his pops. I think it was Andy who helped one day to set up a lesson for me and Matt with Stokie at East Beach. The plan was to go early. It was 7:30 or 8am in April in Santa Barbara, so it was pretty cold. Stokie was running about half an hour late, so we were just peppering and waiting for him to make it. I’ll never forget him finally walking up, and from the grass near the street, just yelling at us, “Buoy swim, GO!!” We looked at each other and then back at Randy. Was he for real? Again it was SB in the early spring, and the water was freezing. But he said it again, “Buoy swim, GO!!” So we just went. There was a buoy out in the water straight out from where we were waiting, maybe about 75 yards from the shore. Enough to be a legit swim. We got back, dripping and cold, and started our lesson. I don’t even remember what we did; I just remember how much we respected Stokie, and maybe we were a little afraid of what would happen if we didn’t listen!

Something that always stands out to me about that time in my life when I was learning the game and taking my beatings was the kind of tough love and structure volleyball provided for me. I was away from home, but home wasn’t super stable at the time. My parents had split up. I was the oldest of four kids, so there were a lot of logistics to cover just to keep things going. There was some growing up and coming-of-age stuff that I hadn’t fully learned before I left for school.

From the very beginning, I always held such a reverence for the game and the people who played it. It just meant so much to me to earn the respect of other players and prove that I could hang. I still never genuinely dreamed of playing on the AVP. I just remember wanting to be a good enough player to have cred at East Beach.

I’m so grateful that the cred was hard-earned. Guys were hard on me because by then, I had filled out more and was one of the bigger and stronger guys around – but that wouldn’t matter if I didn’t have the skills and the mental toughness. A lot of those lessons you learn from sports about honor, resilience, respect, and dealing with failure, I learned at the school of East Beach – from my peers and the older guys. And again, at that same time, there were people at Westmont who were modeling for me a committed life following Jesus, and I was drawn to the boldness and the strength they lived with. I saw that they were filled with purpose, confidence, and gratitude. Guys were tough on me when my behavior was dumb and I acted immature. But even though they didn’t let me off easy, they didn’t bail on me – they helped me grow.  

Fast forward to graduation – we had experienced a handful of great years on the indoor team, and I was finally playing some respectable beach volleyball. In school, I studied Pre-Law Political Science, and my plan had always been to go to law school, purely because I had been pretty good at speech and debate in High School. I thought I would have talent as a lawyer. I never even really thought about whether I would enjoy the job.  The second semester of senior year, I had started an unpaid internship with a personal injury attorney in town. After graduation, he gave me a job as a legal assistant. I was still trying to play as much beach as I could, but now my reps were way more limited. I was working 9-5, and the work wore me out. Schroeder and some of my other friends were working valet parking cars in the evenings and still playing beach volleyball every morning. I wanted that. 

I quit my law job and started hotel valet parking in the evenings, personal training at a gym, and working construction on off days. I went to the beach almost every morning and just kept playing for about a year.  

It was an awesome time to be around East Beach because there were also so many young players who were training consistently. Besides me and some of my Westmont teammates like Schroeder and Pete Rumford, there were guys from UCSB like Andy McGuire, Ben Brockman, Aaron Mansfield, Armen Zakarian, and this guy from Connecticut named Theo Brunner who was always pretty good at blocking. There were also SB locals who were a little bit younger than us, like Will Montgomery, Miles Evans, and Jeremy Casebeer. Katie Spieler was just a kid running around on the beach (her dad was part of the Nooner crew!). But she was already schooling people, and we all knew she would be special. Today, Katie runs an academy training players at East Beach, and we are all so fortunate that she is preserving that legacy and teaching another generation about the game.

I think it was really only somewhere in the middle of that year that I started to think about having a chance to play professionally. Schroeder and our buddy Connor Hastings (his dad Jon Hastings used to publish Dig Magazine) qualified for the MBO that summer, and me and Andy McGuire started to play together a lot and maybe dared to dream.

This story wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention George Richardson, aka “Jorge” or “Peño,” who was part of the Nooner crew and who also had years of experience traveling around following the AVP and the World Tour. Jorge was really the first person to encourage me that I had a chance to “make it” and play. I’ll always remember his key message to me: He told me that other players were afraid to fully commit because they didn’t want to deal with the consequences if they failed – but that I had a chance because I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I wanted it with all my heart. It was pretty simple advice, but I’ve noticed that to be true as time goes on.


Even to this day, after all the practices and travel and tournaments, I still wake up excited to go to the beach and play.


Later that summer, I was making trips to the South Bay to play in tournaments. I knew the first time I drove down Rosecrans and got to the corner at Highland in Manhattan Beach that I wanted to live down there and play volleyball in that environment. On one trip, I was hanging out with a girl I had met a few weeks ago in Ventura, CA, while I was training with some local guys. Her name was Aly Wightman, and I saw her across the beach while she was playing with some of her friends on the ladies’ court. We had been talking, and now she was with me to watch me play in an Open tourney at Manhattan Pier with my buddy Hylas Smith. We went uno-dos and were out!! But somehow, she still liked me. We stuck together when she went off to nursing school in Denver, and I moved to the South Bay in January 2010 to start training with some of the USAV development national teams that had given me an invite.  

That summer in 2010, I qualified for my first AVP Main Draw with my buddy Chris Icaza, an MB local who could FLY and always made the game look cool and easy. I played a lot in 2011 with Andy and Will Montgomery, who became and still are some of my best friends. We worked our asses off, sometimes qualified, sometimes just missed, but we always loved competing. In June 2012, Aly and I got married, and a few weeks later, I was in my first final on the Jose Cuervo tour with Ty Tramblie, one of my favorite partners ever, who I owe SO big for taking a chance on me and teaching me everything he did at that time.

Since then, I look back at all the great guys I’ve been blessed to play with – and it’s honestly hard to believe. Chase Frishman, Casey Jennings, Ty Loomis, John Mayer, Trevor Crabb, Sean Rosenthal, Ryan Doherty, Miles Evans, Billy Kolinske, Derek Olson, Eric Zaun, Miles Partain, Grant O’Gorman, Eric Beranek, Mark Burik, Gregg Weaver, Andy Benesh, Travis Mewhirter, David Lee, Evan Cory, Phil Dalhausser, and many more…

There’s honestly no end to the stories I could tell of people in volleyball who took a chance on me and helped mold me into who I am today. I look back on it all and see an undeniable way that God has used volleyball to challenge me, humble me, provide for me, and draw me closer to Him. Literally, almost everything I have I owe to the way He has used the game in my life – but the greatest gift has been knowing Him the way I do now, thanks to the way He pursued my heart. I couldn’t even explain it unless I could sit and tell you about it for days.

The crazy thing is, this story is far from over. I still feel that same passion for this game that I’ve always felt. And like any good love story, it deepens and matures over time. Sometimes, I tell younger players who are getting into this that they should never take their entire life and put it on the side to focus just on volleyball. No one thing, not even volley, takes the place of everything that goes into an overall full life. But I also say that giving so much of myself to volleyball over the years while I built a family and a life off the court has enriched my life way more than I could ever imagine. The daily grind, the adventure, the highs and the lows. They’re like wrinkles in my skin that add character, and they sharpen me for life’s even bigger tests that are still in front of me.

All the way down to my core, I truly believe that my best days as a player are still to come, and that feeling fires me up! I’ve had a really comfortable ease in my heart for years now that whenever it becomes clear that it’s time to move on, I’m gonna be great with that and ready for the next thing.

But, as it’s been spoken before, “When it’s time to stop, I’ll stop. But until then, I’m never stopping.”  

Category: Athlete Stories

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