JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Playing beach volleyball started off as hobby for Clay Messenger and Adam Wienckowski. The two teenagers were friends before they became teammates. The chemistry that was built outside of volleyball has also translated to the sand where they’ll represent the United States at the U-19 World Championships in Cyprus.
“I was probably smiling for 30 minutes straight,” said Messenger after he and Wienckowski earned their spot in Cyprus following the USA National Qualifiers back in May. “It was such an awesome feeling.”
Basketball was the first sport that caught the attention of Wienckowski, but he’s found a niche in beach volleyball and the feeling hasn’t quite sunk in that he'll be representing the Red, White and Blue later this month.
“It’s kind of surreal, I didn’t think it was real life. It still hasn’t really hit me yet.”
At age 16 and 17 Messenger and Wienckowski will be among the youngest competitors in the tournament. The duo practices up to five days a week and they’ll have to rely on that training because they have no idea who they’ll be facing during their opening match.
“They’ll probably get five minutes prior to the match starting to watch the other team warm up,” said Kent Ammons, who coaches the pair in addition to being the owner and director of Jacksonville Beach VB. “That’s what they have to go on. They’re going to have to pick out a weakness and say we’re going to go after this person.”
Adjusting on the fly isn’t new to Messenger or Wienckowski. Instead of playing against competition their own age they routinely sign up for tournaments against adults. That experience will come in handy once they reach Cyprus.
“We’re good at adjusting to people we play against,” said Messenger. “I think if we just watch them play for a little bit, we’ll see what we need to do and we’ll be ok.”
They’ll also have the benefit of learning from Ammons who participated in the first ever World Championships.
“They’re just going to have to stay focused,” said Ammons. “If they stay driven, play their game and stick to what they know, they’re going to come back with something.”
The next step for Messenger and Wienckowski is a trip to Manhattan Beach, California where they’ll continue training at the Olympic Center. Their first match in Cyprus is on July 27.