HERMOSA BEACH, California — In the midst of a season that had, by early summer, known mostly lows — losing in one qualifier in Mexico and two in Brazil, skipping a pair of guaranteed-money AVPS in the process, going 0-2 in the first AVP of the season — Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn dropped to an even further level in early July.
“We had a tough week,” Quiggle recalled on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “We were both like ugh. Every day was a grind, mentally and physically. We were playing against teams and we’d do just OK. It wasn’t smooth sailing going into Hermosa.”
There is never an opportune time to be playing some of your worst volleyball, but the days leading up to the AVP Hermosa Beach Pro Series may have been the least ideal. Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil, Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, and Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson were all in Switzerland for the Gstaad Elite16, making Hermosa as wide open as it realistically gets for a high level AVP. While Quiggle and Schermerhorn had proven themselves to be an elite team in their nearly two years as partners, highlighted by a silver medal at the 2022 Espinho Challenge in which they nearly stunned Australia in the finals, they had yet to make a final at an AVP.
If ever there were a chance, Hermosa would be the one.
“I didn’t [let the field get into my head] actually because I’ve had that thought before that this is a great opportunity and then boom,” Quiggle said. “I think putting expectations on yourself doesn’t help me as a player in those moments. When I’ve had those thoughts of ‘we’re going to win this’, it could create expectations.”
She wouldn’t have to think back far in the memory bank to find a similar chance. The final event of the 2022 season took place in Tavares, Florida, in early December. The women’s field more closely resembled a lower level Tour Series than Pro, with the majority of the top talent either resting for the off-season or in Doha for the Beach Pro Tour Finals. Quiggle and Schermerhorn entered as the two seed and finished a disappointing ninth. Quiggle wasn’t going to fall prey to those expectations again, just as she wasn’t going to let a strange beginning to the year, and an even stranger week of practice, leak into her play when the tournament began.
“I think Delaney [Mewhirter] told me this, that if you have a bad warm up, you can still play the best game of your life,” Quiggle said. “I was thinking that going into Hermosa. It doesn’t matter the week we had, it just matters how we play. I remember thinking that exact thought: It doesn’t matter what the warm-up looks like, it doesn’t matter what the week looks like, it just matters how you play on the court at the moment. That’s how it went for me, and we just felt so in the flow, so free, it was relieving in a way to play the way we wanted to play.”
They played like they had never played before, largely, in that ironic way sports can go, due to the sloppy week that preceded it.
“Having that humbling week before helped me say let’s just play free volleyball, let’s have some fun,” Quiggle said. “It was a lot better of a mentality for me to go in.”
There is certainly anecdotal evidence to the benefits of that mentality: Quiggle and Schermerhorn didn’t drop a single match, marching through the two seed (Zana Muno and Deahna Kraft) and three (Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft) in consecutive sweeps to get them into the semifinals. They’d fend off a white-hot Cinderella in Molly Turner and Maddie Anderson, then another in the slapped-together team of Savvy Simo and hometown favorite Megan Rice in the finals — the finals! Schermerhorn had previous experience on that stage, in Austin of 2019. But Quiggle hadn’t, not on the AVP, anyway, and especially not in a city as steeped in beach volleyball tradition as Hermosa Beach.
“That was unbelievable to be at our home beach,” she said. “We practice here every day at eighth street and to win our first AVP in Hermosa, I had all my family here. I remember once we got to 20-16, the last point, I said ‘OK you can finally let yourself think it. You can win! We might win this game!’ Even after we won the first set I was thinking they’re going to come out, they’ll be strong, they might have had a lot of errors but they won’t do that again. We need to focus.”
Schermerhorn put the final exclamation point on an exclamation point of a week, an uncoverable block to seal a 21-15, 21-16 win for their first AVP titles. It was a week that was representative, in a way, of what the sport looks like when you stick with your partner: Days, weeks, sometimes months of struggle, all of which precede the most unexpected of breakthroughs at the strangest, most perfect time. It’s an experience that only two teams in the U.S. can really claim to have felt: Nuss and Kloth, who are entering their third year as partners, and Quiggle and Schermerhorn, who have played more AVPs together than any current partnership.
“We’ve gone through a lot of stages. Volleyball goes in waves. We’ve come so far from where we started that we know each other so well on the court. It’s really cool because I feel like we don’t do this, in America at least,” Quiggle said. “We were basically living together, we were playing together, and there aren’t many teams who do this. Taryn and Kristen seem really close, but we’re at this sister level where we can have these hard conversations on the court and go through them quickly and we know what we need to say to each other. It’s been so interesting to be able to grow as an athlete, as a person, as everything, in two years together.”
Now, when Quiggle looks back on that 2023 season, and she sees the rough beginnings, where their entry points plummeted, the possibility of competing in the World Championships quickly taken off the table, the grand designs erased, there is little regret. While that was their intended path, maybe it wasn’t the one they were supposed to be on. Had they succeeded internationally early, it’s likely they’d have been in Gstaad instead — and someone else would have won Hermosa. It’s possible they’d have skipped out on the fall’s Pan American Games, where they won a bronze medal and earned a shot at the No. 1 team in the world in Brazil’s Ana Patricia and Duda.
Both Hermosa and the PanAm Games vie for the most indelible memories of Quiggle’s career. Had her year gone as planned, there’s a chance she wouldn’t have either.
“It was such an interesting start and I’m glad we didn’t let that define our whole year. It’s really easy. I was hurting after those tournaments. My soul, my whole body, everything was hurting,” Quiggle said. “It leaves the year sort of split because internationally we had a lot of goals we didn’t reach and I felt like we left a lot on the table, it was probably mental and maybe end of the year some physical ailments, but it’s still awesome that we can take away some of these great wins. The Pan Am Games? That was one of the best memories I’ve ever had that I’ll remember forever. I don’t know if that would have happened if we weren’t on the path we had. Volleyball takes you on a roller coaster, just some turns and flips you upside down and beats you around.”
What next year will look like, no player can yet be sure. The AVP hasn’t announced its 2024 schedule, and how its proposed fall league will operate remains unclear. There will be partnership breakups, new opportunities, tournaments all over the globe.
“You can never expect where beach volleyball is going to take you, you just have to enjoy each moment,” Quiggle said. “I have this route and we’ll see where it takes us.”
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