May 4, 2022 - We are, as Geena Urango will be the first to admit, in “a new age.”

Care to count the ways? There are few better places to begin than Urango and Carly Skjodt’s winding journey into the main draw this week at AVP Austin, the first of Skjodt’s burgeoning beach career.

It begins, oddly enough, well outside of the United States, in Doha, Qatar. And it begins a little more than one year ago. In March of 2021, the country of just 2.3 million people was allowing women to compete in beach volleyball for the first time in the sport’s history. Had the Tokyo Olympics not been postponed a year due to COVID, leaving the FIVB scrambling to put on enough events to have a legitimate qualification process, it is a wonder if Doha would have opened up to women at all.

But, again: Such is the new age.

The event went well enough in 2021 that Doha remained welcoming to the women – albeit with dress restrictions, in which they will have to wear shorts, but are permitted, after much deliberation, to wear sports bras as opposed to t-shirts in 2022. It just so happened to be on the same weekend that the AVP scheduled its season-opening event in Austin, Texas.

Urango had no plans of competing in Doha. Neither did Skjodt. Neither, for that matter, did they have any set plans as to what this upcoming season might look like.  

“I saw that Carly had been playing overseas [in Portugal] and moved back, and I remember watching some of the grass stuff when her, Delaney [Mewhirter], and Katie [Spieler] played together. I said ‘This girl is a baller,’” Urango recalled. “I was going into the season without any plans in mind; I was open to whatever was going to happen. I spoke to Carly in the winter and she was leaning towards wanting to do it.”

Again, however, this is a new age. The two didn’t actually speak, as one might have done, say, 10 years ago. Instead, Urango, said with a laugh, “I slid into her DMs.”

Skjodt – pronounced Scott – was interested. And how could she not have been? Urango made her first main draw in 2012 when Skjodt was just 15 years old. She was the first USC athlete to receive a scholarship to compete in beach volleyball. By 2015, she was making Sundays on the AVP.

So yes, Skjodt was interested when Urango slid into the DMs this past winter. She just had to figure out a way to get back to California. After four years as a 6-foot outside hitter at the University of Michigan, Skjodt finished her college career on the beach, playing on court one alongside Brook Bauer at Pepperdine. But the pandemic had shut out any up-and-coming talents on the AVP, limiting its field and ensuing two seasons to just three events each, so when Skjodt had an offer to play overseas in Portugal, she took it. Which was all she needed to know that the beach – and, soon, Urango – was calling.

“I knew I was going to play, whether it was for fun or exercise or whatever, but the job I have allows me to play,” Skjodt said. “My plan was just to find a job and then let everything else fall into place, and luckily it has. I knew I wanted to play, and after Portugal, I was worn down, and I thought ‘Maybe I don’t need volleyball anymore.’ And then a month later I knew I did need it. It worked out. It’s exciting.”

It isn’t just a new age for communicating with partners, or women’s rights in the middle east, however. It’s also a new age for the AVP. As the number of beach volleyball players has boomed since the advent of NCAA beach volleyball, the qualifiers have swollen to a size far too big to be held in a single day. Under the new leadership of Bally’s, the qualification system was redone, with AVPNexts, Tour Series, and CBVA series being held as off-site qualifiers. When Urango and Skjodt finished fifth in the AVPNext Panama City Beach event on April 9-10, which served as a qualifier for Austin, they knew that, while they may not have immediately qualified, there was still a chance.

All they needed was for one team to play Doha instead.

“We saw that four teams were still signed up for Doha and were just crossing our fingers after that,” Urango said.

“We’d been crossing our fingers for a few weeks, but as it got closer, it felt like our odds were getting lower,” Skjodt said. “But we just kept training as if we were going to get in, just to be prepared.”
And then, one morning, it happened: Urango had just gotten to her car after a practice when a text message from Corinne Quiggle came in: She and Sarah Schermerhorn were dropping out of Austin to play Doha instead.
Urango and Skjodt were in the main draw.

“I was so confused,” Skjodt said, laughing.

To be fair, we’re all a little bit confused. Things happen fast in this new age, and sometimes it can be a bit strange: partnerships are sealed in DMs, countries are constantly shifting their restrictions, qualifiers are being held weeks in advance of AVP tournaments, text messages are confirming who is and who is not in the main draw.

And Carly Skjodt, who thought she might be finished with this game, is now an AVP main draw beach volleyball player.

~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew

Photo Credit: Volleyball Magazine

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