My Reach the Beach journey, though I would vehemently argue that I am still always actively Reaching for the Beach, began on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. Of course, “sandy” only describes such shores about four months of the year. Snowy shores would be a bit more accurate.
I grew up as a hockey, then basketball, then football player (yes, my very slender self played high school football, shocking as that may be). I didn’t start playing beach volleyball until I was 15. My family lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan; my sister and I played an entire summer going back and forth between Holland, Grand Haven, and Muskegon, Michigan. From that point on, I never really stopped playing. Each season, I tried to play in a higher division. Eventually, I competed in the highest division in every Michigan tournament.
In my junior year of high school, I joined one of the state’s only boys’ indoor club teams. Miraculously, I got recruited off of a single ninety-second highlight film that, looking back on now, is cringeworthy at best.
I spent four years at Cincinnati Christian University (CCU) playing NAIA volleyball and sneaking in beach practices at Grand Sands Volleyball, coached by the legendary Chris Luers. Well, as much as I could without my indoor coaches getting too upset about it.
Cincinnati still holds a really special place in my heart. Aside from the endless lessons I learned from my amazing college coaches – Mick Oppy, Nick Toth, and Adam Miracle – it’s also where I played my first AVP Qualifier. After winning our first-round match, my partner Chad Bergman and I felt a pretty strong sense of false confidence going into our second round against Ed Ratledge and Jason Lochead. Needless to say, we were put back in our place with relative ease on their part.
Watching the rest of the Main Draw that weekend, I knew that playing on the AVP was something I wanted to wholeheartedly pursue. I graduated from CCU with a Bachelor’s in Accounting and a minor in Biblical Studies in Spring 2018 —although I was not actually present for the final week of college because of the 2018 FIVB 4 Star event in Huntington Beach.
That event was the first time I realized I may actually have a future in this sport. Fellow Michiganander David Vander Meer (whose dad was my first coach and brother was one of my first partners) and I miraculously qualified for the Main Draw. I still tell people the story of how awestruck we were standing in line to get our player credentials with Bruno and Alison in front of us and April Ross standing behind us.
Unfortunately, I missed the rest of the 2018 season with my third detached retina, requiring surgery and an eight-week recovery. But that’s another story for another day.
In October 2018, I left Grand Rapids, Michigan in my first car, which I had bought for $1,000 about two weeks before, and headed West. Somehow my 2005 Camry, leaving Michigan with 250,000 miles on it, just kept rolling.
I moved into a house with Mark Burik, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made. Mark introduced me to several high-level players and coaches. I quickly got into training groups that I really couldn’t believe I was ready for.
For the next year and a half, my basic philosophy was that if I played more volleyball than everyone else, I might get better quicker than they would. Come to think of it, that still seems to be my philosophy.
Since then, I’ve had the incredible privilege of traveling quite literally all over the country, playing every tournament I can, and becoming part of the coolest community you could imagine. In 2021, after less than three years living in California, I played my first World Tour event and all three AVP Tour stops. Oh, and 37 other tournaments. Yes, I went back and counted every single one.
Reflecting on these years, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Whatever the rest of my volleyball career has in store, I’m so grateful for the memories made and the chances I’ve had to glorify God through the talents He’s given me, the doors He’s opened, as well as the ones He has closed.