Don’t expect the heat to affect Christal Engle as she aims for her first Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series win at the Belmar Open this weekend.
Engle, who is seeded fifth in the tournament with new playing partner Tealle Hunkus, is making sure to prepare to deal with the elements.
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“The transition from indoor to beach is so weird because it’s a completely different game,” said the 6-foot-2 Engle, who grew up playing indoor volleyball. “You have to learn the strategy and to play in the elements.”
One thing Engle isn’t a stranger to is success. In 2005, she won a national championship as an outside hitter for the University of Washington.
That, however, was with five teammates. In beach, it’ll just be Engle and Hunkus. In order to acclimate herself to the different style, the four-time All-American has learned to be a hybrid player, developing the skill sets associated with each position.
“Indoors you’re specialized to one position. So, you’re a setter, or a libero, or a middle hitter, or blocker,” she said. “In beach volleyball, you need to be an all-around player. I’m still learning and trying to get better every time I step out on the sand.”
Engle also deals with the pressure of trying to make a living in her sport. The Jose Cuervo Series awards prize money to the winners much like tennis and golf, though not at the levels you see on the pro tours – the purse for this weekend’s Belmar Open is $100,000 for the men’s and women’s tournaments combined.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure; if you don’t win, you don’t make money,” Engle said. “You’re always trying to fight for that one extra spot. The difference between fifth place and third place could be $2,000, so there is extra pressure in that you have to perform to get paid. But I think that separates the great people from the good people.”
Money isn’t the only factor pushing Engle to succeed. She’s also hoping to recapture the “addictive” feeling she experienced in being part of a national championship team.
“I know what it feels like to win a championship,” Engle said. “That’s what drives me to win an open. I can still remember winning it, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Beyond winning a pro beach volleyball tournament, the 26-year old said her “ultimate goal” is to make the Olympic volleyball team by 2016 or 2020. Competition is stiff, though; in order to make the Olympics, Engle would need to be ranked in the top 16 in the world, and even then, only two American teams qualify.
That’s down the road, though. For now, Engle would settle for winning her first tournament this weekend on the Jersey Shore.
The Belmar Open (June 22-24) offers free admission to all spectators. The tournament will also be shown on NBC on July 1 at 11 p.m.