HERMOSA BEACH, CA – It’s been more than 10 years since Tri Bourne last visited New Zealand, competing on his once-proud national tour with Will Montgomery. He couldn’t remember the route he’d taken to get there, or how long it would take.
“It’s 10 to 12 hours to Auckland,” Alice Zeimann told him. “Depending on the wind.”
She knows this because Alice Zeimann is the type of person who knows these things. As early as 2023, Zeimann flew from New Zealand to Southern California, Mexico, Southern California, Brazil, Southern California, the UK and, you guessed it, back to Southern California. She hasn’t been home to Mount Maunganui, New Zealand’s jewel coastal town, since she left for a training camp in California last winter. He also has no plans to fly back home.
Such is the life of a New Zealand professional beach volleyball player: pack your bags, hit the road and stay on it until there’s nothing left to play.
“Honestly, I just show up and play,” said Zeimann SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I feel like this year, I can’t think too much about it, I’m just going to show up and we’re going to win games… We have a bit of impostor syndrome with that, having the confidence to show up and say, ‘We can compete.’ “
Zeimann and her partner Shaunna Polley are the highest-ranked team in New Zealand. If that doesn’t sound like a noteworthy achievement, you’re not entirely wrong. Zeimann and Polley are currently ranked 31st in the world. Kiwi’s next team? NO. 135. And even that is not entirely accurate. After the 2022 season ended in only one major draw, Olivia MacDonald and Jasmine Milton no longer play together. Which makes Zeimann and Polley the only New Zealand women’s team in the top 200.
This limited supply of talent is not the only factor that has made them a top New Zealand team, however. In 2021, Zeimann’s rookie year on the Beach Pro Tour, the two qualified for the main draw in all six tournaments they played in. They won the gold medal in Portugal, finished fifth in Bulgaria despite Zeimann needing an emergency trip, and IV at a local hospital, and finished the season fourth at two-star Brno. By the end of 2022, they were in the Elite16 main draw in Torquay, Australia, where they upset the Americans Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth. The 600 points they scored as a team in Torquay was the biggest part of their partnership. Anyone who watched the match, where New Zealand won more than the Americans lost, would have to reckon with the fact that New Zealand now boasts a truly competitive team on the Beach Pro Tour.
“I feel like we’re at a point now where we’re a mid-sized team and sometimes we win, more often we’re not on the podium. We are still in the testing phase,” said Zeimann. “I think Americans get a good competitive mentality so easily. New Zealand is the head of the Participation Award. It’s hard for us to have a killer mentality, but now it’s becoming more natural. We’re competitive people, but it’s one thing to believe you can beat some teams on the road all the time.
The program is, make no mistake, on the rise. It led to an influx of funds Jason Lochhead, one of the greatest New Zealand players of all time to come home to lead the federation’s beach teams. No stranger to competitive programs, Lochhead once built the Vanuatu federation from the ground up, led Chaim Schalk and Ben Saxton to the 2016 Olympic berth and eventual world top 10 spot, and helped Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena for their second Olympic Games as a team in Tokyo. While the men’s side of the New Zealand federation has been set back by the retirement of its most talented blocker, Sam O’Dea, the women’s side, with Zeimann and Polley, have an immediate contender to medal at the Beach Pro Tour and qualify for the Paris Olympics.
“I feel really fortunate to have landed on the program after college, just in time for Jason to be released to coach us again, and we also received funding from HP Sport in New Zealand,” said Zeimann, a 24-year-old who played indoors in Minnesota and on the beach in Florida.
And, of course, just when the timing was perfect, the pieces in place… Polley was hurt. That’s sports. The minor, in kiwi parlance, ankle injury turned out to be more than a nuisance and the two had to withdraw from both Challenge events in Brazil, leaving Zeimann to train alone with Lochhead or team up with her good friend Lisa Reed or a trainer And Waineraichor anyone she can find.
“It’s really frustrating for her and the unknowns of the rehab process. For me, when we’re abroad, it’s quite difficult because you feel lost and all your routine and backtracking is difficult,” Zeimann said. “We couldn’t play Brazil. I really had to focus a lot on the good things. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just a situation. We’ve been lucky the last two years. We had nothing to really disrupt our flow.”
Which is remarkable when you think about it. When Polley and Zeimann first went on tour in 2021, Zeimann only had a year of beach preparation during the COVID-shortened 2020 season with the state of Florida. She had zero points for her name. Their first tournament was in Rwanda, a difficult place to travel and compete. Zeimann had no idea what life was like on the Beach Pro Tour, and then saw and felt nothing else until they flew home a few months later, culminating in a successful season.
“Every year it’s like this and it’s getting better, but I’ve definitely learned a lot from not getting enough of each other, how to develop our friendship and professional relationship, how to deal with losing, all of that,” Zeimann said. “This is our third year of partnership and now I know what’s going on, how to be and what needs to happen.”
Polley’s cube is coming. They will be ready to compete at the Asian Championships June 23-26 in Fuzhou, China. They will be on the verge of qualifying for the Gstaad Elite16 as well as the main draw of challenges in Portugal and Canada. At some point, maybe even in 2023, he will return to New Zealand.
“The days are blending together. But it’s just one of those things where you have to do what you have to do, and I’m really lucky to have a great training camp here, great practice partners, great sand, good weather,” said Zeimann. “It could be worse.”
It could be worse because Alice Zeimann is the type of person who knows that yes it can be worse than making a living playing beach volleyball traveling the world having friends with couches and extra beds all over the planet from Gstaad to Hermosa beach . Like her, she’s the type of person who knows that when you leave New Zealand in the winter and you don’t plan on returning to… things.
“Wherever the wind takes us,” she said of her winding and still very much-imminent 2023 season. “Where the cheapest flights are.”