Suit: Lolë – Jewelry: Kaniwai – Photo: Don Liebig – Make-Up: Naomi Pajon
After an All-American beach career at the University of Hawaii, Santa Barbara native Katie Spieler is teaching the game and preparing to be a pro.
It wouldn’t be right to call Katie Spieler a rule-breaker. She is, after all, a model student (straight A’s at University of Hawaii) and a model athlete – a two-time AVCA beach All American.
In fact, the 22-year-old native of Santa Barbara, California, who is training to play AVP this season, has so impressed Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers with her maximal-effort attitude that he urged his teenage daughter, Hannah, to “train with and emulate Katie as a person and as a beach volleyball player.”
But with all that said, Spieler did have one noteworthy act of insubordination in her high school days.
“My indoor coaches banned me from playing beach,” she says with a laugh. “I was a libero, and the passing timing is different, and they also didn’t want me to overdo it and get too tired. I’m inclined to overdo things and play too much beach. But I would sneak down to the beach after my indoor practices and just play with adults and anyone who would play with me.”
Spieler, who was the Rainbows’ captain for four years and wrapped her collegiate career in 2016 as half of the Big West Conference Pair’s Team of the Year with Emily Maglio, has been jumping at any chance to play since her mom began bringing her to East Beach at age 4. Her cousins all play – “at family reunions, we’d play volleyball for 10 hours a day,” she says – and her aunts, twins Lisa Strand-Ma’a and Kelly Van Winden, were both standout pros on the WPVA Tour in the 1980s and 90s. They’ve provided plenty of guidance for Katie over the years, including one very intense pepper drill that requires full focus.
“Hand-digging pepper,” Katie says. “It was one of the first drills I did with Lisa on her backyard court in Hawaii. We were about a foot away from each other and you had to gator or hand dig the first contact and then hit it as hard as you could at the other person’s face. That was pretty fun.”
After graduating from UH, where she played one year of indoor before switching to full-time beach, Spieler moved back to Santa Barbara and quickly decided that her hometown wasn’t offering enough outlets for up-and-coming beach players. With encouragement from former pro Patty Dodd, founder of MBsand in Manhattan Beach, Spieler and a friend, Dana Kabashima, launched their own club, East Beach Volleyball Academy.
“Not many girls are getting recruited from Santa Barbara,” says Spieler, who has two degrees in accounting from UH – including an accelerated master’s – that come in handy on the business side of the beach club. “This is too good of a beach town and has too much of a beach legacy for there not to be the kind of opportunities that there are down in LA.”
Going forward with her own playing career, Spieler, who finished seventh at an AVP stop in Chicago last season with Karissa Cook, will no doubt be challenged by her size. At 5-5, she’s lower to the sand by half a foot than her aunts – Lisa is 6-0, Kelly is 5-ll – and four inches shorter than the next smallest player on the 2016 AVCA All-American roster.
But unlike when she was younger, she isn’t bothered by it.
“I used to see my height as a huge negative, and I always wished I was taller,” she says. “All of my cousins are over six feet, so I was like, ‘How did this happen to me?’ But as I played in college and found out that I could push my potential, I actually liked my height. A lot of people are like, ‘Wow, she can play at that height.’ And I’ve studied the game a lot. I’m always working on ways to make up for it and play a little differently than a 6-1 player would play.”