Pro bringing the beach to Aspen’s courts
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” On the surface, Aspen and volleyball hardly seem to go hand in hand.
The sport, however, does have strong ties to the Roaring Fork Valley. Notably, the MotherLode Volleyball Classic descends on this ski town every summer, and Basalt High School’s squad has won consecutive 3A Western Slope and district tournament titles.
Erin Byrd hopes to build on that tradition.
“People here like volleyball,” the 27-year-old Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) Tour player said Tuesday as she lounged at a picnic table at Koch Lumber Park. “They like being outside, and it seems like they’re interested in learning beach.”
Byrd’s fledgling Mission Beach Volleyball Camps, which aim both to generate excitement and introduce the sport to boys and girls across the country, is heading to Aspen on June 30. The former University of Wisconsin standout will team with a group of coaches to provide instruction to 9- to 18-year-olds. Among those joining her is Clayton Dahlman, who led Basalt to 22 wins last fall.
When plans for a camp were first bandied about nearly four months ago, Dahlman said he had no reservations.
“This was a go go go from the start,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve been reaching out to the girls and encouraging them to take advantage of a great opportunity like this. … One of the best volleyball players in the country is coming to rub some volleyball magic off on our young players.”
Byrd also is eager. She developed a passion for teaching while helping run youth camps at Wisconsin. Being the oldest of five children and 16 cousins also prepared her, she joked.
More than anything, Byrd said she is excited about introducing beach to young players, something rarely offered to those outside southern California.
Byrd didn’t play on the sand until she moved to San Diego at 24.
“I’ve learned so much [in the last three years], and I want to pass on that knowledge,” Byrd said. “It’s so important that the kids learn now. Whether they have dreams of winning the MotherLode or being on the AVP Tour, it’s important to give them the option now.”
Byrd grew up in Chicago and first started taking volleyball seriously at the behest of her seventh-grade gym teacher. She parlayed her talents into an impressive four-year stint at Wisconsin, where she played outside hitter and helped lead the Badgers to two Big 10 championships and a national runner-up finish in 2000.
Byrd trained with the U.S. National Team in Colorado Springs in 2004, and played in Germany’s Bundesliga in 2005. In 2006, she moved to San Diego to pursue a professional career on sand.
The transition took time.
“They say it takes three years to translate from indoor to outdoor,” said Byrd, who, along with teammate Stephanie Chapek, has been a fixture in the AVP’s top 20 this season. She and Chapek, representing the U.S., won events in El Salvador and Puerto Rico in May, and last weekend won Vail’s King of the Mountain Volleyball Tournament.
“I wish I had this opportunity when I was growing up playing indoor.”
That wish spawned an idea for a camp, one with stops across the country. Byrd, leaning on the contacts she had made in years past, developed camps from San Diego and Madison, Wis., to Boulder and North Carolina. Her first camp took place in Memphis, Tenn., in late May.
Byrd met Leon Fell while competing in the MotherLode ” her first beach volleyball tournament. Fell introduced Byrd to Dahlman earlier this year.
“He has a caring attitude and a fun spirit, and I’m excited to work with him,” Byrd said. “A big reason for our success is because of him.”
Dahlman, who is leaving Basalt to take over at alma mater Aspen this fall, has routinely pleaded with his players to take advantage of the summer months to attend camps (at the University of Colorado and at Mesa State in Grand Junction, among others) and work on their games. He has a much easier sell this year.
The opportunity for players to work with a professional in their own backyard is proving to be quite a draw, he said. And the skills camp participants will learn during the three-day session will pay large dividends during the indoor season.
“There are a lot of different skills. With only two players on the court, you have to have the mentality of keeping every ball near you up,” Byrd said. “With a few simple tips, beach will make skills for indoor that much better. You’re quicker and more agile.”
“As a coach, I’m obviously excited,” Dahlman said. “If we can get kids at 9 instead of when they’re in middle school, we’ll be beating people up. It’s a huge advantage.”
Judging by early registration, Byrd said Aspen and beach volleyball seem like the perfect fit. She expects Aspen to be Mission Volleyball’s largest summer camp.
The enthusiasm also has her dreaming big.
“The city seems excited for the camp and have been so supportive,” Byrd said. “Maybe we can produce some pro beach volleyball players, not just X Games pros.”
For more information or to register, go to http://www.missionvolleyball.com, or call Dahlman at (970) 331-2998.
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Like most high school sports programs across the nation right now, Garfield County athletics directors are seeing fewer applicants for open coaching positions. Five years ago vacant positions were filled within just a couple of days.