Last weekend’s CBVA could have gone one of two ways for Agnieszka Pregowska. Her initial estimate of the day allowed little room between the two.
“Morning of, I told Heather [Friesen], ‘Hey I don’t know if I’m going to win one game, I don’t know if I’m going to win the whole tournament,’” Pregowska said. “I’m just going to see where I’m at and hopefully it’ll be fun to be back in a competition.’ That was my mindset. No pressure. I was hoping that my body would get me through the day. It took a lot of doing but that was my mentality: whatever happens, happens.”
Whatever happened just so happened to be an undefeated run to a tournament victory for Pregowska and Friesen, the first tournament Pregowska has played since giving birth to her son, Sebastien, a little more than eight months ago.
“This weekend was my trial run. I didn’t know how I’d feel mentally and physically,” Pregowska said. “I think I still have a lot of physical work to do but mentally I have that fire back so my mindset has shifted a little more to putting my head down and being serious. But gosh, I’m still eight months.”
Just eight months post-partum or not, she’s playing a similar brand of beach volleyball that led her to a career-high fifth-place finish at a tournament in San Jose in 2018, where it took an Olympic duo of Anouk Verge-Depre and Kerri Walsh Jennings to knock her and Jess Gaffney out. And the win was far more than a casual CBVA win, far more than a tune-up tournament, a litmus test to see how her body would handle the competition.
It was the first step to potentially qualifying for the AVP Hermosa Beach Open this summer. With the restructuring of the AVP’s schedule into a three-tiered system – Gold, Pro, and Tour Series – there has come a subsequent restructuring of the qualification system. Select AVPNexts, for example, are now serving as qualifiers, such as last weekend’s tournament in Panama City Beach, Florida. But so are CBVAs, which will be running a pair of series to serve as qualifiers for Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. Last weekend’s CBVA in Santa Monica served as the first of three tournaments in the series, with teams using their best two finishes in the final standings.
Joining Pregowska and Friesen at the top of those standings are Hagen Smith and Jake Dietrich, who beat the hard-hitting, up-and-coming team of Leor Schiffer and Alexander Biz in the finals. Tying for third on the men’s side were Dylan Maarek and Curt Toppel, and Tomas Salava and Kyle Stevenson.
Pregowska and Friesen beat Taylor Hagenah and Ensley Alden in the finals, with Chanti Holroyd and Alexandra Loitz, and Simone Gibson and Victoria Ashkinos tying for third.
“I haven’t been competing because I haven’t felt ready. It’s been a challenging time and every woman goes through post-partum differently but I just had such a challenging time,” Pregowska said. “I didn’t know if I was going to compete this year or not and this weekend was my opportunity to see if I could compete and physically do it. We won, but there’s a lot that goes into that. Physically, I’m not 100 percent yet. I’m still dealing with postpartum injuries and your body definitely changes. I just didn’t know if I still had it and I didn’t know if I still had that spark.
“As soon as I started playing I felt that fire back again, and I haven’t felt that in so long. Once I got that, it was just like ‘Ok, I got this.’ We won the first game, then the second, and the third, and we got to the playoffs. There was a moment when we got to playoffs and I said ‘Ok, we’re losing, but I had a baby. I’m a mom. I went through hell and back. I can do this. My body can do this.’ I was hurting. It was the semifinals, I was hurting, and I wasn’t sure if I could finish but that came out of me. That fire just ignited. If I can get through labor, I can get through anything.”
Should the next two tournaments go as planned, she could, potentially, get all the way into the main draw.
The next CBVA in the Hermosa Wild Card series will take place on April 30 at the Manhattan Beach Pier. The final tournament in the series will be held on May 28 at the Hermosa Beach Pier, alongside $2,000 in prize money.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew