July 31, 2006
It must be something they put in the water in Malibu, California that makes volleyball players from Pepperdine University so successful. Not only do the Waves consistently field top teams in the NCAA, but several alums from Pepperdine have gone on to have successful careers on the beach as well. Chip McCaw, George Roumain, Scott Wong, and Olympic gold medalist Dain Blanton are among the current players on the AVP to come out of Pepperdine and do well on AVP tour, but three grads in particular have stood out this season for the Waves.
The first two, Brad Keenan and John Mayer, formed a team during the off season and have climbed through the ranks to become a staple on the main draw. Keenan is playing in his first season on the beach, while Mayer made his debut last year. After playing through the qualifiers in the first few events of the season, Keenan and Mayer broke through in Hermosa Beach and made it all the way to the semi-finals. They ended up with a third place finish.
Their high finish came as a surprise to both players.
"I don't think we'd ever thought we'd get a third this year," Mayer said. "Maybe down the road next year, or in five years -- who knows."
The early success of Keenan and Mayer came quicker than many would have ever expected, but it illustrates just how competitive the men's side of the AVP tour can be.
"It's definitely wide open," Mayer said. "Anybody can beat anybody, but there are a lot of good teams. I think you can go from getting a third to getting a seventeenth the next week."
Sean Rooney was a teammate of Keenan and Mayer at Pepperdine and has had his taste of success on the AVP tour this year as well. Rooney has been partnered with five different players, including Mayer, since his beach debut in 2005. This season, Rooney has found the most success with Nick Lucena. After opening their season together with a seventeenth place finish in Tempe, Rooney and Lucena reunited in Seaside Heights. They finished fifth, which is Rooney's best finish on the AVP tour.
It is ironic that Rooney has done so well after coming to the beach nearly by accident. He said a summer school course required to complete his degree the summer after he graduated inadvertently led him to play in the sand.
"It was one class in the afternoon, so I didn't have much to do in the morning," Rooney said, "so I went down and started training with John Mayer every day (on the beach)."
While the early success of Keenan, Mayer, and Rooney is remarkable in itself, what is truly interesting is that these guys opted to try out a career on the beach rather than devoting themselves to continuing to play indoor full time.
"The trend was to go straight to the national team right out of college," Rooney said. "That's why I think it's interesting to see now a couple players are coming out. It's good to see some competition out here from the young guys."
Keenan was not without opportunities to keep playing indoor volleyball. He was a first team All-American twice and a winner of the AVCA Player of the Year Award in 2002 while at Pepperdine. When his attempts to join the indoor team last summer didn't work out, he still had a volleyball itch that he couldn't scratch. Keenan found the answer with Mayer out on the beach.
"I swore to myself I'd never come out to the beach, but you get addicted," Keenan said laughing.
The fact that he and Mayer were teammates together at Pepperdine didn't hurt either.
"It's an easy decision when you already know how a guy is going to play on the court," Keenan said.
Rooney has tried to play the balancing act with indoor and beach since he graduated in 2005. He said the short indoor season (which occurs in the winter) allows him to still train and play a full season on the beach.
"I feel like whichever way I go, if I work hard, I'll find some success. I don't know ultimately which would be better for me."
However, the beach lifestyle has a very strong appeal.
"I know which one I have more fun doing," he adds.
The question that remains for college players who want to keep playing is this: Should they keep playing indoors, or come out to the beach? The answer is harder to pin down than ever, especially since the opportunities on the beach have been growing rapidly over the past few years.
"I really enjoy doing this when I'm not doing indoor," Rooney said.
Coming to the beach can be a breath of fresh air to players who have been playing indoor non-stop for several years, even if it means starting at the bottom and working their way up. Mayer says he welcomes the opportunity.
"The great thing about the beach is that it's always different," he said. "It's always a different challenge, and I think that's what makes it fun."
With Keenan, Mayer, and Rooney continuing to improvel on the beach, these three former teammates appear to have very bright futures on the AVP Tour.
(Story courtsey of AVP website, http://avp.com/news/article.jsp?id=5986)