Collegiate Player Transitions to the Beach

Veterans like Holly McPeak and Kerri Walsh have high regard for newcomer Brooke Langston.<br>  Photo: Butch Dill/AP

It's hard to believe a beach volleyball player could call Memphis home.

To get to beaches along the East Coast, it's a 700-plus-mile venture.

Add 1,000 miles to that total if you want to play along the Pacific Ocean.

You might as well try and find a sandbar along the Mississippi.

But Brooke Langston, 23, made it out of Evangelical Christian School via Michigan State and found her way to the beaches of Sarasota, Florida.

Langston, with partner Chara Harris, dug her toes into the sand on the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) Tour this season.

After growing up playing volleyball in tight shorts and a jersey indoors, she transitioned to playing in a bikini without air conditioning.

"It is a completely different game," she said. "People think it's the same thing, but it's a different deal. You have to be much more of a well-rounded player. It's all about who can stand the longest and who has the stamina."

Langston and Harris won two lower-level tournaments in Florida this season and broke through on the AVP Tour for 13th and 17th place showings.

They won a season-high $1,800--$900 per player for finishing 13th.

A press release stated that Langston and Harris "shocked the national volleyball world" in beating two top-10 teams to get the 17th-place finish.

Hyperbole aside, Langston has steadily improved since her first beach tournament a year ago, when she finished eighth.

At that same tournament last week, she and Harris won the title.

Langston and Harris flew to Long Beach, California, on Wednesday for the Long Beach Open.

"Nothing she does surprises me because she has always been a kid that was successful with whatever sport she tried," said Brooke's mom, Beth, a former Purdue cheerleader who acts as the team manager, hotel booker and publicist, and is known as "mom" to several AVP players. "She's come a long way. She's learned very quickly."

Langston, a former national equestrian finalist and Best of the Preps Private School Female Athlete of the Year in 2001, graduated from Michigan State in 2005 after four years with the Spartans.

As her time wound down in East Lansing, she told Michigan State's student newspaper, the State News, that she could not "play my days away any more."

"I didn't want to do volleyball ever again when we were finished because it was life-consuming as a college athlete," Langston said.

She relaxed in Memphis for six months before traveling to Turkey for a three-week volleyball tour. Eventually, she regained her passion for the sport and left the gym for the beach.

Langston and a Michigan State teammate went to Florida , where she met Harris.

With the right environment and the right partner, everything clicked.

"I always knew I would enjoy it as a hobby, a side deal," Langston said. "But this year, the love for it has come back."

Langston joins a growing sport that has been aided by the Olympic exposure of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.

Langston said she got goosebumps when she and Harris met beach legend Holly McPeak this season.

The conversation went a little like this:

"Hey, I've heard about you two. Welcome to the tour," McPeak says.

Langston pauses for a two-second eternity, unable to catch her breath, and fumbles a response.

"Hey...uh...thank you."


Nick Zaccardi: 529-2776, zaccardi@commercialappeal.com

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