HERMOSA BEACH, California — It was a hypothetical at first. There was solely an area of 4 days between the AVP Denver Tour Collection and the Hermosa Professional Collection this previous July. Savvy Simo and Toni Rodriguez, after a finals run in Denver, opted to take the following Monday and Tuesday off. A lightweight apply Wednesday additionally completed early, as Rodriguez nursed a perpetually sore knee. Simo referred to as Josh Glazebrook, the AVP’s Senior Vice President and the person everybody calls after they have a query, request, or drawback.
“If I must make an damage sub,” she requested, “when would I want to do this?”
“Are you able to give me an hour, please?”
An hour was given.
Simo had initially solely referred to as “on a hypothetical,” she mentioned. Now she wanted to decide. Their schedule over the following weeks was packed: Challenges in Portugal and Canada, probably an Elite16 in Montreal, capped by the Atlanta Gold Collection, one of the essential occasions of the season.
“Each single occasion was extra essential than Hermosa. They had been all extra essential to us and our objectives,” Simo mentioned. “[Rodriguez] needed to make the powerful resolution to not play, which was not simple. It’s Hermosa! I’m sitting there, ‘Who’s even on the town? Who’s even right here?’”
Anybody not in Hermosa was both in Gstaad for an Elite16 or Wisconsin for the Waupaca Tour Collection. It left Simo in a determined state of affairs. Her boyfriend, Evan Cory, had an thought: What about Megan Rice?
How had Simo not considered that?
Rice, a 24-year-old rookie, had opted to not journey to Waupaca. It’s an costly journey, and there hadn’t been anybody she thought she may win with, particularly after falling within the Denver qualifier just some days prior. Her birthday, July 4, was additionally that weekend.
“I used to be simply going to be residence for my birthday,” she mentioned, “watch AVP Hermosa, it’ll be nice.”
When Simo referred to as, asking for a last-minute substitute, it was a non-decision: “Yeah I need to play!”
Simo made the decision to Glazebrook.
AVP Hermosa had a brand new 13 seed.
“Simply a possibility away”
At first blush, that workforce would have been simple to peg as a dream draw for anybody of their path. Right here was a pair who had precisely one gentle serve-and-pass between them and nil competitors reps. Rice was enjoying in simply the fifth AVP of her profession, and her first true important draw. She’d been knocked out in qualifiers in New Orleans, Huntington Seashore, and Denver, and bowed out within the first spherical of the Virginia Seashore Tour Collection. She’d competed on the seashore briefly at LMU however had a stop-start profession combined with accidents and a pandemic. Then she took a yr off.
“I used to be fairly burned out as a result of I used to be doing indoor and seashore on the identical time, so my low season was the 2 weeks in between seasons. Though everybody was like ‘You need to play, you must play!’ I used to be like ‘No, I’m going to do that by myself time. If I really feel like, after taking a summer time off and I nonetheless need to play I do know it’ll be the fitting timing.’ I’m glad I did,” Rice mentioned. “Within the late fall after I was getting the itch to play once more I used to be like ‘OK, I’m out of practice and it’ll be actually arduous however meaning I need to play and actually need to do it.’”
Solely a handful of individuals, then, had a official understanding of simply how good Megan Rice was at volleyball.
Simo was certainly one of them.
She had competed for a loaded Torrey Pines Excessive College workforce that might win three straight Palomar League titles and back-to-back CIF championships. Why wasn’t there a 3rd?
In brief: Megan Rice.
“Megan wrecked me in highschool,” Simo mentioned of Rice, who was a yr youthful and a standout outdoors hitter for Redondo Union. “My workforce is legit. Megan is available in no matter spherical of state. We had received our league, received CIF, we’re going to win state. We had a strong lineup. Then Megan single-handedly beat us. Wrecked us. It was essentially the most devastating loss to this present day. Megan ended my highschool profession. Always remember.”
It’s a superb factor she didn’t. Their paths would combine right here and once more, each indoor and on the seashore: Simo as an out of doors for UCLA, Rice as an out of doors for Santa Barbara after which LMU, Simo as a court docket one expertise for the Bruins, Rice as a court docket one blocker for the Lions. Though Simo went 5-0 in opposition to Rice in school, that reminiscence of Rice racking up kill after kill by no means left Simo.
Now, as a workforce in one of the historic AVP areas, it was time to wreck another person. Rice, regardless of the shortage of ends in her first 4 tournaments, “felt like I used to be proper there, that it was simply a possibility away to compete with a few of these good important draw groups,” she mentioned.
She made essentially the most of her alternative.
Down went Lili and Larissa Maestrini, a 21-15, 21-15 win that was beautiful in its ease. Down went Macy Jerger and Megan Rice, the champs from AVP Virginia Seashore.
“After that,” Simo mentioned, “the flood gates simply opened.”
They swept Brook Bauer and Katie Horton within the quarterfinals, then swept Lexy Denaburg and Carly Kan within the semifinals. In a blink, Megan Rice, in her first Professional Collection important draw, 10 days after being eradicated within the qualifier of a Tour Collection, was within the finals of AVP Hermosa Seashore.
“It didn’t actually shift my perspective,” she mentioned of ending second in her first profession important draw. “It felt validating that I’m not being delusional, that I’m proper there. I used to be training in opposition to these groups I need to be competing in opposition to, and I used to be beating them in apply, which I do know isn’t competitors, but it surely nonetheless felt like ‘Am I loopy? I’m proper there.’ I had been again into training and into lifting and I bought a full-time coach. While you make investments the time and the cash, you actually need to see the outcomes.”
“It’s been a loopy summer time”
It was solely the start. When Rice had made the choice, within the fall of 2022, to start competing once more on the seashore, she “did so at a bizarre time,” she mentioned. “So many individuals had been partnered up.”
Conversations with Emily Day stalled when Day introduced she was pregnant. She bounced round, enjoying with whomever was obtainable and gifted: Kahlee York in New Orleans and Huntington Seashore, Denaburg for Denver, Simo for the serendipitous Hermosa Seashore. After a finals run during which she hit .408 (ninth for the event), blocked 17 assaults (third), aced six serves (seventh), and hit solely 16 errors in 130 makes an attempt, Rice was all of a sudden thrust atop each participant’s checklist as a blocker they wanted to play with.
When Betsi Flint wanted a sub for Julia Scoles for AVP Atlanta, Rice was a simple alternative.
“She’s simply purchased in now,” mentioned Flint, who additionally coached Rice at LMU. “She has a giant arm, has an incredible serve, is nice at drawback fixing, and that’s what you want at a excessive degree.”
In Rice, not solely did she get a gifted sub, she additionally bought a participant who’s as shut a comp to Scoles as there’s on the AVP. Listed here are two bodily, bruising gamers, with swings that don’t typically get dug, who serve properly and supply a considerable wall on the internet for Flint. It’s inconceivable to say what might need occurred had they been in a position to undergo only a single apply, however storms rendered Thursday unplayable, so that they went in blind.
They took a ninth anyway.
The calls continued to return: Brook Bauer wanted a associate for Manhattan Seashore, and on solely a day or two of apply, they completed seventh. Emily Stockman wanted a blocker for Chicago they usually promptly claimed a ninth. Rice teamed up with Bauer once more for Laguna, alas competing with the identical associate twice, they usually made a run to the finals.
“She deserves to be enjoying in the principle draw. That’s the extent she’s at,” Simo mentioned. “She may simply be in the principle draw, which is wild, having by no means been by means of a qualifier. Did she get in a really unconventional manner? Yeah, however she bought alternatives and made essentially the most of it.”
The legendary AVP emcee and now host of a Los Angeles Lakers studio present, Chris Geeter McGee, has a life motto: “My greatest factor was when preparation and alternative meet, and they’ll meet, you higher be able to take a hack,” he mentioned when he appeared on SANDCAST. “You higher be able to go. And that’s the entire thing as a result of in life, whether or not it’s enterprise, sports activities, you’re gonna get a possibility, however you gotta be prepared.”
Rice knew she was just one alternative away. She had carried out the work. She employed a coach, enlisted a coach, bought herself into form. When the chance got here, within the strangest of the way, she took her hack.
Now she’s the 2023 VolleyballMag AVP Rookie of the Year. Now the alternatives will proceed to search out her.
“It’s been a loopy summer time,” she mentioned, laughing, “to say the least.”