MAY 28, 2022, KENNER, LA – Mike Drury didn’t recognize the lady with the dog standing there on the deck of Coconut Beach, and when Mike Drury doesn’t recognize someone at Coconut Beach, it’s a bit odd.
He’s the man who founded the place, back in the mid-1980s, when it was just a single sand court installed to replace the baseball fields where too many fights were breaking out. He saw that expand to five courts when a man named Bruce White popped by and informed him he built the courts all wrong, and together they renovated and added more. He’s seen the greats play and win on those courts – Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos, Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes, Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd. And he’s seen those courts get washed into nothing when Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana in the summer of 2005.
“There wasn’t a stick standing,” White said.
Drury has even seen those courts move, over to Kenner, and double, then triple, then quadruple… and then add three more, just for good measure. He’s seen those courts, now numbering 23, become the largest man-made sand complex in the entire United States of America.
So when Mike Drury doesn’t recognize someone on his courts at Coconut Beach, after nearly four decades of being in business, well, it can be a bit strange. When he introduced himself, he asked where the woman was from, and what she was doing in town.
She drove in from Orange Beach, Alabama, she said. Her daughter had a lesson with Joey Keener, a local player and coach who oversees more juniors than he or Drury could have ever imagined.
“I said ‘You gotta be kidding me. You drove all the way from Alabama to have a lesson with Joey?’” Drury said, laughing. “It astounded me that she drives all the way from Orange Beach to have lessons with Joey.”
Next weekend, juniors will be driving and flying from all over the country – far further than Orange Beach – to descend upon Coconut Beach. They’ll be doing so for a host of reasons: the first stop on the AVPJuniors Tour, a three-star event with bids to Nationals for teams finishing first through fifth; a Collegiate Clinic with LSU and Tulane, headed by LSU assistant coach Cati Leak and Tulane assistant Jade Hayes.
It is as much an opportunity to win a beach volleyball tournament as it is to improve at the game – and to get noticed doing it. Colleges around the nation are taking note of the hotbed of talent that has become Louisiana, most notably because of LSU’s perennial success, and the success of so many of its players – Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Toni Rodriguez and Kahlee York, all of whom are in the main draw of AVP New Orleans.
“I can’t even believe where we are now,” Keener said of the talented juniors in the area. “I counted the other day, and I stopped counting around 30 – I’ve got 30 kids or more playing college ball or committed to play college ball. It is crazy. I don’t even think about it until I take a step back.”
As more clinics and tournaments like these continue to fill out the schedule every summer, it only serves to attract more eyes and attention to the area, and all those who travel to it.
“I bet you Louisiana has 40 girls on scholarship right now. Tulane practices at [White Sands],” White said. “When Kristen started making a name for herself, some people said ‘Bruce she works for you, why didn’t you get her to go to Tulane?’ I said ‘She was going to LSU at birth!’ She didn’t recruit. There was nobody looking at her.”
There are multiple elements to that story that are difficult to imagine now: That nobody was looking at Nuss, and that few coaches bothered to sleuth the Louisiana area for talent.
Now? It’s a can’t-miss area, hosting can’t-miss tournaments for juniors around the country.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew