Updated: Apr 6, 2020
While I had always wished that my first AVP Main Draw would be as a player, I have to admit, this was even sweeter. I had played beach volleyball for nearly 20 years. I had competed against the best players in the game. I had gotten the opportunity to close out my career as a player with the guy it all started with. Short of actually qualifying for the AVP Main Draw, my career as a player was everything I could have hoped for. Now, I was full on into coaching. My playing days were behind me.
In August of 2019 I got the call. Claire Coppola and her partner Kristen Nuss had won the 2019 NCAA Pairs National Championship. They had also qualified to play in the gran-daddy of them all... The AVP Manhattan Beach Open... When Claire asked me to coach, I couldn't have been more honored. You see, Claire Coppola is an RPM Sand Legend. Her work ethic and determination are unrivaled. She put in countless hours outside of practices with private lessons, and work on her own to become the player she is today. Every time someone told her she couldn't do something, or that she wasn't good enough, it just added another log to the fire in her inferno.
What Claire probably doesn't even realize is just how much she has inspired us as coaches over the years. How much her relentless pursuit of her dreams and the stories we tell athletes about her as a result has inspired a new generation of players as well. How much when she comes to practice even long after leaving our program means to us. So when Claire calls, regardless of what it is about, we jump at the opportunity to help. This was no different.
I was really excited. My family all came out to Manhattan beach. My mom and sister and nephew drove through the Arizona heat with no air conditioning in their car just to be there. It was aweseom! My mom even got to meet one of her all time favorite athletes, Steve Nash, in the Club AVP. As much as I love my family, I couldn't have been more happy that they were there! I love that we always all make the time to be there for each other's big moments!
The first round match was played on Court 1 and was live streamed on Amazon Prime like they all are. The match was against Carly Wopat and Traci Callahan. I was also working with Chase Budinger and Casey Patterson that weekend. I had been scouting for them all season. I missed Claire's first game because there was a time conflict. They lost a close match and dropped into the contender's bracket against Carly Wopat and Traci Callahan. There is NO WAY I could pass up the opportunity to have my first match as the coach in the box at the AVP be with anyone else but Claire so, I left the guys and went over to their court. I was elated! After warmups, I settled into the box and started scribbling notes down as the match progressed. Game 1 was back and forth. at 18-19 we called timeout. We made a couple of adjustments with our block and switched up a couple of things on offense. We came out and immediately took the lead. It was an absolute battle from there! Back and forth, back and forth. We had opportunities to close out the match and so did they. Ultimately we lost the first game 28-26.
The second game started and we stayed with our gameplan. The girls went out and fought for every single point. Claire had adjusted her block to Carly's powerful angle swing and came away with a huge block that fired her up! I was fired up too! It was so awesome to get to coach her again! It felt like it had been forever and not time at all, all at the same time. I loved every second! Some incredible defense by Kristen, some big points in transition by Claire. This game was going exactly how we scripted it. A very large, muscular man was standing behind our box cheering obnoxiously for the other team. He was screaming about calls and every time they would score he would yell out, "All day!", at the top of his lungs. As we neared the end, we were in the lead and we didn't look back. We finished the match off 21-18.
With the match tied 1-1, we knew that a fast start coming out in the third was important. We had the momentum and coming out and scoring some points in the third was going to be big for us. As we sat in the box between games, we talked about what was working and what we wanted to do to start the match. Unfortunately, the game just didn't start the way we had hoped. We got down four points early on. The girls battled as hard as they could, but in a short game to 15, we just didn't have enough points to close the gap. We lost the game 10-15. When the match was over there was some frustration, and some disappointment from the girls. I felt bad that I wasn't able to make the adjustments to help them close the gap in the third. They had fought hard and it was really hard for me to see how they felt at the end wishing I could have helped more. Claire, in true Claire fashion, was upset because she is a fierce competitor, but she was also graceful, and kind, and gracious. She, Kristen, and their families thanked me for working with them and I thanked them for the opportunity. I was honored. I truly was. While I may go on to coach a lot more matches on the tour, i hope i do, there will never be another first match. There will never be another first memory. There will never be another Claire Coppola.
If you enjoyed this post, give it a like. Feel free to check out my other posts while you are here too! There are some good insights on a variety of beach volleyball related topics along with products I genuinely recommend!