Matt Fuerbringer is an eight time AVP Open Champion, NCAA Champion, 2003 AVP Rookie of the Year, part of the No. 2 ranked American team on the FIVB World Tour in 2010, co-director of Mizuno Long Beach and Team Rockstar youth volleyball clubs, passionate surfer and father of two. In 2011 Fuerby and his partner Nick Lucena are scheduled to play in 13 FIVB events, with plans on also competing in 6-8 domestic events across the country.
Ace What makes a great beach volleyball player?
Matt Desire, athleticism, work ethic, determination, self-confidence, great ball control and volleyball skills are just a few qualities that make someone great on the beach.
Ace Tell us more about your partnership with Nick Lucena. How did it all start? How long have you been playing together? What makes Nick a great beach partner?
Matt Nick and I started playing together in 2010. We met after the 2009 season and decided to team up and chase our Olympic dream together. We both have a burning desire to win and both believe hard work is the best way to get it done. That is what keeps us going during tough times. Nick is one of the most athletic guys on the beach. No one is quicker, no one works harder than Nick, and he is a fierce competitor.
Ace What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your professional career and what did you do to correct it?
Matt I wouldn’t say mistake, I would say learning experience. I’ve had too many to count. Every match I have learning experiences. The key is to recognize them and learn from them. I see so many young players get frustrated on the court and when you get frustrated you don't learn and don't grow as a player.
Ace If a young player comes and asks you, what should I do to be like Matt Fuerbringer, what would you tell him?
Matt To be like me? Tall, goofy, skinny, not as tough to be like Matt as it is to be Like Mike! (That’s Michael Jordan for you youngsters out there). I do work hard though, so I guess they just have to work hard and believe.
Ace The recession has affected the beach volleyball world and makes it more difficult for players to find sponsors and tourney organizers, including those in the U.S., have lowered the prize money. With all the challenges an aspiring beach volleyball player goes through, is it still worth it to become a pro beach player?
Matt If you are getting into beach volleyball solely to make a lot of money, then I would probably suggest you try another profession, unless you have the skill set and size of Phil Dalhausser. But if you love the sport and the competition, then I would encourage you to chase your dream as long as you can because there is nothing more rewarding than playing at your best and winning a big match.
Ace As a husband and a father, how do you spend your time with your family when you’re not competing? How do you stay connected to them when you’re traveling?
Matt Skype is the key when I’m on the road. Free video calls from anywhere in the world can’t be beat and it’s so important to see the little ones especially after a tough match. When I’m home we go for a lot of bike rides down to the beach and the park and enjoy watching them run around.
Ace What are your guiding principles in life as a person and as a player?
Matt Do what you love and love what you do. It doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of battles along the way, but if you are doing what you love it makes those tough times so much better. Then once you learn to love the tough times, you are rolling. Still working on that!
Ace As an athlete, what are your goals this year and next?
Matt Continue to get better every day. If I do this I feel Nick and I will be representing the USA in London 2012, which would be a dream come true.
Ace Out of all the sports, why did you choose beach volleyball? How did the passion start for you?
Matt My best sport growing up and the sport I was passionate about was basketball. I was all set to play basketball in college but I went on a recruiting trip with Mike Lambert to Stanford for volleyball and we had such a good time, the school was so amazing, that I committed to go there and play volleyball and give up my first love, basketball. I guess I chose school over sport. I also knew that I had a chance to win an NCAA title at Stanford for volleyball but would not get that opportunity at UCSB, Pepperdine, USD and other smaller DI schools I was looking at for basketball. Once I committed to volleyball I spent my summers playing as much beach as I could with Casey Jennings and Scott Lane down at the Huntington Beach Pier. We would wait tables at night, go out for a night cap, wake up late and then play all day with one volleyball. I think we got more exercise shagging than we did playing. It was during those summers that I fell in love with the game and I made it my mission to qualify for the AVP Tour.
Ace Do you have any role models in beach volleyball or who do you think is the best beach volleyball player/team in the world right now and why?
Matt Best team in the world is Phil and Todd and it isn’t close. Any team can beat them on any day, but Phil and Todd are so consistent they rarely let their guard down. They are raising the level of play of every team in the world but it seems like as we get better so do they.
Ace What is the toughest decision you’ve ever made since becoming pro?
Matt I was cut from the indoor National Team in 1999. I had shoulder surgery the year before and just couldn’t bring it every day like I needed to. At that time the AVP was in the tank so going professional on the beach like I had dreamed was not an option if you wanted to make money. So I packed my bags and went to Europe. I played five years professionally in Austria, Spain and Greece. Each year my shoulder got stronger and my game got more dynamic. During my last year in Greece, then national team coach Doug Beal came to a match and asked me to rejoin the team and fight for a spot on the roster for the 2004 Olympics. I looked at the roster and thought I had a decent shot but I had already told Casey Jennings I would play with him on the beach in 2003 and had decided to hang up my indoor sneakers. The offer to return to the national team caught me off guard, and my ego was pushing for me to go back to the team and prove to Doug that he made a mistake in ’99. But every motivation I had to return to team USA was being driven by showing other people they were wrong and I knew my heart was not into spending four hours a day in the gym and beating my body to a pulp. The money was coming back on the AVP and I was ready to prove to myself that I could make it on the AVP. A chance at the Olympics was tempting but in the end I had put my heart and soul in the indoor game for 11 years and it just wasn’t in it anymore. I needed the new challenge of the beach and the freedom beach volleyball gives you. Casey and I ended up making the finals in our first event together in 2003 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. We were the 13th seed and I had only been back from Europe for two weeks. I still don’t know how we did it but we lost 20-22 in the 3rd set to Fonoi and Dax, the No. 1 team in the U.S., at the time. It was an amazing experience and complete validation that I’d made the right choice. I was expecting to go through a rough transition year and just do my best and we ended up making four finals and qualifying for the King of the Beach Tournament. We were living our dreams. It was good times.
Ace Where do see yourself a year from now, five years from now and ten years from now?
Matt Director and coach of Team Rockstar Volleyball Club, chasing after my kids, coaching a team on the beach and surfing as much as I can.
Ace What are some of the highlights from your very successful career at Stanford?
Matt There were a lot of highlights during my college days. A lot of them were with my friends enjoying life, but on the court it was blocking the final ball to win an NCAA title 15-13 in the 5th set versus our biggest rival, UCLA.
Ace Matt Fuerbringer is...
Matt A father, husband, friend, mentor and competitor.
Ace: If you were not playing beach volleyball professionally, what would you be doing instead?
Matt Probably still playing indoor volleyball. I just feel like I was meant to be playing this sport somehow, someway. Definitely would not be in a suit and tie.
Originally published in July 2011