JUNE 2, 2022, HERMOSA BEACH, CA – When the final point landed, there was no jumping into one another’s arms. No falling to the sand in that sublime mix of exhaustion and jubilation. There was no handshake from a member of the AVP staff, welcoming Heather Friesen and Agnieszka Pregowska into the main draw of AVP Hermosa.
There was, really, no celebration at all. They were sort of sure they had won the CBVA wild card series, earning a spot into the AVP Hermosa Beach Pro Series main draw – but they also didn’t want to bank on some sketchy math they did in their heads and begin celebrating too soon.
“We were pretty sure we got it, but I didn’t want to celebrate until we had official confirmation,” Friesen said. “It was a bit of a mental roller coaster.”
For four days, the CBVA and AVP kept Pregowska and Friesen – as well as contenders Lauren DeTurk and Katie Lindstrom – dangling on a cliffhanger, until finally, the email came in: Pregowska and Friesen had officially won the bid.
After 22 attempts in AVP qualifiers, Friesen had made her first AVP main draw, doing so alongside Pregowska, who is still not even a year out from giving birth to her first child.
“I’m proud of myself as a new mom but I’m really excited for her,” said Pregowska, who has made two AVP main draws, her first coming in San Francisco of 2018. “After we finished our last match of the day on Saturday, she said ‘I didn’t want to tell you this, but I’ve never made it into the main draw, so this is a big deal for me.’ That pressure, she could have put it on me beforehand, but I’m glad she didn’t tell me. It’s really special to know that this is her first one, this is huge.”
Indeed, few moments are as deeply etched into a beach volleyball player’s memory as a first main draw – even if it was, as Friesen says, a bit anticlimactic to receive the news via email, four days after the final ball landed.
“The last five years, I’ve imagined qualifying for a main draw and celebrating right there on the court, dogpiling, getting it all on video,” she said. “But there was none of that, so it was a little discouraging to not have those expectations met. However, I’ve realized it’s not the celebration and the approval and congratulations from others that matters; this is just one step in the long journey I’ve had since my accident, and I want to continue being faithful to whatever God puts in front of me every day.”
Friesen’s accident, in 2016, is a harrowing one. Hiking Honolulu’s Ka’au Crater Trail, she slipped down a waterfall, free-falling nearly 50 feet, breaking 10 rips to go along with a collapsed left lung and a broken left shoulder.
Now here she is, six years later, fully healed, playing the best beach volleyball of her career, making her first AVP main draw. Thriving.
“I’ve been working for this for five long years,” Friesen said. “It feels amazing to have finally made it into the main draw.”
She isn’t the only one earning her main draw debut via the wild card series. Jake Dietrich left no doubt when it came to who qualified, winning all three tournaments in the series, two with Hagen Smith, the final with Seain Cook, to punch his ticket into Hermosa. While he won tournaments with two different players, he’ll be competing in Hermosa with Smith.
Both teams will now have a full month to train and prepare for their AVP debut as a team – and Friesen’s debut as a bona fide AVP main draw player.
“She’s worked so hard. She’s worked with coaches and she’s been trying for five to six years and it’s so special,” Pregowska said. “I just cannot even put it into words.”
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew