Usa Beach Volleyball Olympics

Creativity is one of Katie Spieler's strong suits on the beach volleyball court.

Her palette of shots, serves, sneaky plays and great defense can make the best pro beach players end up with a face full of sand and empty-handed as they scramble to pick them up.

Spieler got creative when it came to training during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the beaches were closed in Los Angeles and Orange counties and the nets taken down at East Beach, Santa Barbara’s pro beach volleyball player still found a way to get in the work to improve her game. 

Spieler will put her creativity to use this weekend with partner Delaney Knudsen Mewhirter at the opening tournament of the AVP Champions Cup Series in Long Beach. 

The AVP, the domestic pro beach volleyball organization, is conducting a series of three tournaments for men and women in place of a 2020 season, which was canceled because of the pandemic.

The three tournaments will be played at an enclosed outdoor facility in Long Beach. No fans will be permitted.

Each tournament will be run separately, with a $200,000 total purse, plus a $100,000 bonus pool at stake for the teams with the top finishes.

Amazon Prime Video will offer live coverage and stream matches throughout the entire event series. NBC will broadcast an early round men’s match on Saturday (2 p.m. to 3 p.m.) and the women’s final on Sunday (1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.). NBC Sports Network will present one finals match in the second and third weekends, respectively, which will also be simulcast on Amazon Prime Video.

“Since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have stayed committed to our athletes, fans and partners to find a safe and responsible way for our sport to continue in 2020,” said Donald Sun, owner and CEO of the AVP. “The AVP Champions Cup Series allows us to keep our footprint small, regulate safety protocols and still provide top-flight beach volleyball competition for fans to watch via our long-standing partners NBC and Amazon Prime Video.”

Katie Spieler got in some solid training sessions with her family during the statewide lockdown in the spring. Click to view larger Katie Spieler got in some solid training sessions with her family during the statewide lockdown in the spring. (Mpu Dinani / @AGamePhoto photo)

The first tournament is the Monster Hydro Cup, this Saturday through Monday. The following events are July 25-26 and Aug. 1-2.

Spieler said she is excited to be playing. She and Knudsen Mewhirter will play in Friday's qualifier.

“I’m grateful for the AVP. It kind of worked to make something come together this year, and they got creative,” the 5-foot-5 Dos Pueblos High and University of Hawai'i alum said. “I’m sure they had to go through a ton of hoops to find a solution. It’s a smart move by them. It could be really huge for our sport.”

There are several teams with Santa Barbara ties in the Champions Cup. Carly Wopat (Dos Pueblos alum) and Brittany Tiegs are also playing in the women's qualifier, while Miles Evans (DP, SBCC and UCSB alum)-Ricardo Santos, and Avery Drost (Westmont alum)-Ryan Doherty are in the men’s qualifier

The main draw includes Jeremy Casebeer (Santa Barbara High alum) with partner John Hyden, Theo Brunner (UCSB alum)-Casey Patterson, and former Santa Barbara residents Nick Lucena-Phil Dalhausser.

The tournament draws were based on points earned from last season. The top six teams were placed in the main draw and the next 12 in the qualifier. The qualifiers will play in a single-elimination format to fill to the final two spots. The eight-team main draw will be double elimination.

Spieler and Knudsen Mewhirter played the majority of last season together, and they have history. They played their first AVP event together back in 2014 and qualified for the main draw at the prestigious Manhattan Beach Open. They lost in the first-round to No. 1 April Ross and Kerri Walsh and were eliminated in their second match, but they still won $250.

Last season, they took a 15th at the Hermosa Open and seventh at the Manhattan Open, upsetting third seed Karissa Cook and Jace Pardon. They also played in Chicago and Waikiki, Hi.

Last weekend, Spieler and Knudsen Mewhirter finished second in an open division sand tournament at the Waupaca Boatride, an outdoor volleyball festival in Oshkosh, Wis. The pair also won the festival's three-person grass title, playing with Carly Skjodt, a former Michigan indoor standout who transferred to Pepperdine for beach volleyball.

Spieler can thank her parents, Paul and Kathy, for helping her prepare for this pandemic-impacted season. 

When she couldn’t hook up with her partner for training in the South Bay area because the beaches were closed in L.A. County, or play at East Beach because nets were taken down, Spieler gained access to a private court in the Santa Barbara area and brought her parents and sister, Cara, to help.

She won her California Beach Volleyball Association "AAA" rating with Cara at age 15.

“My parents became my training coaches,” said Katie. “I basically taught them how to drill me and have one of them set me. They were like my training partners. I pretty much limited it to them and also my sister, who is a player.”

The workouts went well.

“It was actually phenomenal,” she said. “I got to work on little things in my game that I really didn’t have the time to slow down and get to. I really feel like I made some good leaps in my game and it feels really good now coming back and putting it to the test in a live game.”

She also got some local coaching from Laguna Blanca volleyball coach and athletic director Jason Donnelly, who has worked with several AVP players in his career.

“He is like the only coach I’ve ever had. He also was a big influence,” she said of Donnelly.

Spieler additionally contacted an Olympic champion for some pointers, three-time beach volleyball gold medalist Misty May-Treanor.

“I asked her a few questions about how she would train during this time if she was still playing,” Spieler said. “She responded and said, ‘Send me film, I want to see you play live and then we can make it more specific to what you need to work on.’”

Spieler said May-Treanor’s feedback was fantastic.

“She had all these gold nuggets of things she thinks I can get to the next level with, but I have to change and get this as part of my game," Spieler said. "And, it was all things I can do on my own or with somebody tossing me the ball.”

While doubles is her favorite game, Spieler also enjoys playing fours, threes "and all the different combinations of volleyball."

She represented the USA Volleyball in four-person snow volleyball tournaments in Russia, Austria, Italy and Argentina.

In Austria, she said center court was at the top of the gondola in the Alps.

“Before going to Moscow, people thought we were crazy, but we had the best time of our life,” she said. “The 3-v-3 snow version of volleyball is actually one of may favorite versions of volleyball I ever played. It’s such a fun mix between indoor and beach. It’s so different and I like that. I like being creative.”

That creativity helped her continue coaching kids in her and Dana Kabashima’s East Beach Volleyball Academy during the statewide lockdown in the spring. 

“I offered to write up practice plans for the kids and it was really similar to what I was doing on my own. All they needed was a volleyball and a helper,” she said. “They had the option of doing Zoom practices twice a week. That was surprisingly helpful.”

She said after two months of Zoom video sessions, “the kids’ ball control was so much better. It was kind of telling that if you just have a volleyball, you can get better.”

A little creativity helps, too.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Source : https://www.noozhawk.com/article/katie_spieler_taking_her_volleyball_creativity_and_game_avp_champions_cup

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