DiG Fashion: Big Switch

DiG Fashion

Big Switch

Carly Wopat is hitting the sand after indoor career in the middle

by Don Patterson

Carly Wopat (Photo: Don Liebig, Makeup: Naomi Pajon)

Carly Wopat can walk on her hands. This was a learned skill, not something she just flipped over and did one day. It took practice.

“I started by doing a handstand and holding it, and I just kept getting better and better at it.”

She can juggle three volleyballs too, and next on her non-volleyball to-do list is dunking on a 10-foot hoop.

“I like setting little challenges for myself,” she says.
Big challenges, too. Like trying to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in beach volleyball after spending her entire career playing indoor. Improbable? Maybe. But then again, she has conquered unfamiliar foes in the past.

Take high school. When her coach switched her from outside hitter to middle, she jumped in with both feet and led Dos Pueblos High in Goleta, California, to a CIF Southern California title – and also set a school record in the discus.

Through her college career at Stanford, she stayed at middle, earning first team AVCA All-American honors her junior and senior seasons and ending up fourth all-time for the Cardinal in three different statistics: hitting percentage (.392), total blocks (614) and blocks per set (1.38).

Former middles are somewhat of a rarity in beach doubles, but the 6-2 Wopat prides herself on having good ball control.

“I always wanted to dig balls when I got the chance to play back row, and I wanted to be the best out-of-system setter I could be, so I think I developed some skills that not a lot of other middles have.”

Indoor was her world until last summer when she hurt her MCL. She had trained with the national team since graduating from Stanford and played a year each in four countries: France, Turkey, Japan and China. But the injury took her out of the competitive mix and prevented her from going overseas for a fifth season. That got her thinking about beach, which she had played a bit as a kid and for two seasons at Stanford. After a test run in the AVP qualifier in Chicago last September, she trained with Brazilian coaches as part of the p1440 development program. They took note of her physical strength and encouraged her to swing more and shoot less.

“My attack is one of my strengths,” she says. “That doesn’t mean I’m not going to use shots, but I think I can be pretty lethal by just swinging.”

Her physicality coupled with her rapid offseason improvement caught the attention of two-time Manhattan Open champion Brittany Hochevar, 38, who asked Wopat to team up for a run at Tokyo.

“That’s when I was hit with the decision to either make the full switch to beach or continue with the indoor national team,” Wopat says. “I decided to go for beach. It seemed like the more gutsy thing to do. It was outside of my comfort zone, and I liked the challenge.”

For Wopat, 26, switching lanes has always been a better option than staying put.

“You’ve gotta get outside the comfort zone,” she says. “That’s where you find the best life experiences.”