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FSU opens NCAA beach volleyball tournament: Q&A with Torrey Van Winden

Florida State beach volleyball had a veteran team going into the 2021 season. But Cal Poly grad transfer Torrey Van Winden has been a welcome addition to strengthen the roster.

“She’s from California, so to come all the way out and want to play on a program that competes for a national championship is huge,” FSU coach Brooke Niles said. “And plus the mindset she brings to every practice is intensity, wanting to get better. She wants to play on the World Tour when she’s done with college and go straight on the AVP Tour. So she’s working towards those goals every day, and it’s making her partner better, it’s making her teammates better just to see that intensity. And she’s really unapologetically competitive. Which is nice to be around because she just wants to win so bad and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. A girl after my own heart.”

Van Winden is part of three pairs who were honored on Tuesday by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Keara Rutz and Van Winden are 29-6 as a pair this season, with a 4-4 record on court one and a 25-2 record on court two. Maddie Anderson and Sara Putt are 23-3 with a 1-0 record on court two and a 22-3 record on court three. Jenna Johnson and Kate Privett are 25-5 together with a 1-0 record on court four and a 24-5 record on court five.

FSU opens play in the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship at Gulf Shores, Ala. The Seminoles are the only program in the nation to make an appearance in every national championship event, starting with the AVCA Championship (2012-15) and now the NCAA Championship (2016-19, 2021). FSU finished as the national runner-up in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

The Seminoles open play against Stanford on Friday at 1 p.m. in the first match of the double-elimination tournament, which features a winner-take-all championship on Sunday.

Van Winden sat down with the Osceola to discuss why she picked FSU, playing with Rutz, the 2021 season and how to help market professional beach volleyball.

You spent your whole life in California, including attending school at UCLA and Cal Poly. So why was Florida State the right fit?

Van Winden: At Cal Poly, Todd Rogers is the head coach. And when I got my COVID year back, he’s just a really grounded person who cares a lot about his athletes as people and just wants us to succeed. He really puts an emphasis on academics and so he brought in all of the seniors who had their years cut short and basically did his own research and laid out essentially ideas for all of us. It was different for everyone. And I just think that’s a remarkable thing to do as a coach. And so for me, he just said, ‘Look, I know you were planning on moving to LA but it would be really smart of you because, based on the way that things are going right now, LA is going to be shut down for who knows how long. California will definitely have the strongest mandates.’ And obviously he really wanted me to stay at Cal Poly and he did a really good job at trying to sell me on that. But at the end of the day, I wanted to get a masters of sport management and Cal Poly didn’t offer that. They only offered two-year graduate programs. And I only had one year of eligibility left. (Rogers) and Brooke are longtime friends. Brooke was sort of mentored by Todd heading into her pro career. And he said, ‘I really love the way that Florida State’s program is run by Brooke Niles. And they have an Olympic coach on staff as well, which is Jason (Lochhead). And they have the No. 1 sport management master’s degree in the country. And so it was kind of a no-brainer at that point when I heard all of those three things put together. … So it really just all kind of fell into place pretty quickly once I got to the transfer portal, and I think he might have called Brooke first once I was in the transfer portal and just let her know. And then I had two phone calls with Brooke. I was going to either stay at Cal Poly or come to Florida State.

How did you get paired up with Keara?

Van Winden: I don’t think that anyone saw us as a partnership coming, including myself. Keara played at the 5s last year. And she’s young, but the coaches were trying out tons of different partnerships in the fall. And I really hadn’t been put with Keara that often at all but one of the days that they put us together, it just really clicked. She has this outward confidence, and she’s an incredible side-out player, meaning she passes the ball and she sides out on the first contact at a super high percentage, and so having a partner like that for me in collegiate volleyball where I’m hardly ever getting a serve throughout the entire game, it’s really important to me to have a side-out player who also exudes that sort of confidence. And so it was shocking to see it from a freshmen. And I didn’t expect it to be consistent, but it was consistent every single time that we played together. We were just absolutely crushing those practices, and I think the coaches sort of noticed it. She’s always very competitive, very locked in and I know she’s just really consistent. I know what I’m going to get out of her at all times, which is a great thing in a partnership.

FSU has played a challenging schedule in 2021. How has that prepared you for the NCAA Tournament?

Van Winden: Brooke likes to say a lot that we have the toughest schedule in the country. And we were lucky enough being in the South and being in a conference that is within driving distance from each other where we were able to play a significant amount of games early on in the season compared to our counterparts on the West Coast. I think there was a time where we had played 20 games and the West Coast schools had played nine games. And so that’s a huge difference being put on that stage 11 more times than somebody else. And to learn how to win you have to just continuously do it. It didn’t matter if the opponent was ranked or not. A win is a win and you learn and you grow from those each and every time. And so we were competing every weekend in the beginning when other schools were just training. I think that that gives us the upper hand for sure. We were able to play in two tournaments in Gulf Shores this year. We’re heading to Gulf Shores this weekend (for the national tournament) so we’ve already played there twice this year, we know the elements, we’re familiar with the beach. It feels like it’s almost our home court because we’ve only had two home tournaments and then two tournaments at Gulf Shores.

What was your view of Florida State and the beach volleyball program from a distance and then what is it now?

Van Winden: When I was at Cal Poly we would play in Florida State’s home-opening tournament every year. I came out for that for two years in a row. And every time we came out here, I didn’t really get to see the full campus or experience Tallahassee, but I just remember seeing the girls on the team and seeing Brooke as a coach and just the culture of the program and the way that they carried themselves, being really impressed with not only their physicality because they were all such incredible athletes but just how mentally tough the team seemed. It seemed like everyone was on the same page, they had a really good culture where you see girls in Florida State shirts, running to shag balls and cheering the loudest. And we were at their home courts, but it just felt like they had a good culture and you can tell that in a program. When I was getting recruited I knew I only wanted to stay on the West Coast. And so it was really ironic that this opportunity came up and it was easy to go back into those memories of seeing them from that outsider perspective and know that my intuition was right about the culture. And then in being here now I am confirmed that not only are they mentally tough and physically strong and they have all the resources and the great coaching, but they also are just such a great group of people. There’s a very limited amount of drama and these girls just grind. They’re such hard-working individuals, and there’s one common goal and there’s a common theme and it’s been really hard with COVID and everything of being in the bubble. It’s something that none of us have ever experienced before and that challenges a lot of things, but I was just really impressed with the way that everything was carried out this year.

Your goal is to play pro beach volleyball but what would you like to do with the master’s in sport management?

Van Winden: I am really passionate about women in sport and just creating more opportunities and moving forward with equality in sport. And so being in a sport management master’s program, I am one of the few women in the major. I just have always ever since a young age been passionate about being able to play my sport at a professional level, the same as one of the power four sports — the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB. There’s just so many more opportunities for making a living as a male in the industry as opposed to a woman. And so I would like to do something with marketing for women in sport because I think that especially with a sport like beach volleyball, it’s so marketable and so dynamic. And it’s the most watched sport at the Olympics every single year and yet we still don’t have a pro tour that pays a living wage for our female athletes.

Are men making more in pro beach volleyball than women? Are women working part-time jobs to supplement their pro beach volleyball income?

Van Winden: We do have equal pay on the AVP it’s just there’s no market for beach volleyball for fans, and there’s no platform that we’re being able to stream it on where people are actively watching it. So, yes, most of the AVP athletes have full-time or part-time jobs as they’re trying to pursue a professional career.

Have you thought about what the AVP could do?

Van Winden: I do have a lot of ideas. If you were to ask me right now, I think long term I would want to make it something like the U.S. Open for tennis. I think that’s a marketable crowd and they do a really good job of solidifying venues and making it kind of an upscale sport but then I go back and forth between that and the way that they did it in the late 80s and the early 90s on the AVP where it was kind of this giant party scene on the beach, which sounds crazy. But my mom was making more money back then playing on the 90s AVP Tour than people are making now, and that’s dollar for dollar, which is crazy. So 20 years ago they’re making larger checks as opposed to now.

Torrey Van Winden serves during a recent match. (photo via FSU athletics)