Tandie Wade has been a beach volleyball rat since she was in the eighth grade. In fact, everyone in her family just loves digging in the sand.
Living in Stockton, though, made such a hobby rather difficult. The Wades solved that problem by building their own beach.
"We moved to a new house and, when my dad saw how big the backyard was, a light bulb clicked," said Wade, a junior outside hitter/setter for the UC Irvine women's volleyball team.
"I think the court was ready even before the first piece of furniture was moved in. It is a little out of the ordinary. OK, it's weird."
No one should be quick to judge, considering Wade's volleyball career. She became a top player in the Stockton area, considered competitive in women's volleyball.
Wade was a Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 selection in 1994-95--the first Fab 50 pick to sign with Irvine. She was sidelined last season, when she had surgery on both knees because of tendinitis. This season, she is at full strength.
"I had a choice [out of high school]," Wade said. "I could go to an established program and sit for a couple years. Or I could go someplace where I could play right away and help make a difference."
That Irvine was located near a real beach certainly didn't hurt Anteater Coach Merja Connolly's chances.
Volleyball has dominated the Wade family's destiny. Tandie's parents, Ron and Stephanie, moved to Newport Beach two years ago to be closer to their daughter--and even closer to the sand. Their other daughter, Erica, is a standout player at Newport Harbor High.
The family became absorbed in the sport when Tandie was a kid. She had played soccer and tried gymnastics, then went to volleyball camp at the University of the Pacific.
"She threw away her bat and glove and gymnastic gear," said Ron Wade, a former UC Davis football player who is now a landscape architect.
He was hooked next, and it spread to the rest of the family. Outings consisted of a little two-on-two in the backyard.
"Our first house didn't have much of a yard, so we used to play on the cul-de-sac out front," said Wade, who still has a business office in Stockton and commutes once a week. "We built our dream home and ended up with a big backyard. Before we even unpacked, I rented a tractor and put a sand court in."
As a result, Tandie developed into a player, which Connolly noticed immediately.
Connolly, then an Irvine assistant, passed a note to Wade's club coach the first time she saw Wade play. On it was a scholarship offer.
"She was the complete package," Connolly said.
On Irvine's first trip to Stockton with Wade as a member, the team had dinner at her house and the players marveled at the sand court.
"It was kind of like playing catch with your son," Ron Wade said. "I played volleyball with my girls. Ultimately, we moved to Newport Beach, where we now have a bigger court."
This time, next to an ocean.
The Anteater volleyball team lost all three matches in the San Jose State/St. Mary's tournament over the weekend. The good news? Getting there and back went off without hitch.
The team's road record the last couple years has been a bit shaky. And that doesn't mean a lost bag or two.
"We're kind of cursed," Wade said. "Last year, we were driving to Las Vegas for a tournament. There was flooding, so we couldn't take the freeway. We had to take side roads and it was bumper to bumper most of the way.
"We got stuck in traffic right over some railroad tracks. Then the gates started to go down and the lights started flashing. We were honking the horn for the car behind us to move so we could back up. As the train got closer, some of the players started jumping out of the van. Finally, we got some room to move.
"Something always happens when we go on the road."
Kelly Dohmann, a defender on the women's soccer team, still isn't 100% recovered from the knee injury she suffered last season. But it would take more than a little pain to keep her off the field this week.
The Anteaters open Big West Conference play with games Friday at Utah State and Sunday at North Texas. Dohmann, a senior, missed all the conference games last year after injuring her knee against UCLA.
"It was tough last year," Dohmann said. "I tried to help from the bench. Coach [Marine] Cano had me make some notes during games, giving my point of view as a player. I would give them to him at halftime.
"It feels real good to be playing again," Dohmann said. "I didn't realize how much soccer meant to me until I couldn't play it. It was a good experience blowing out my knee. Well, good and bad. It did make me mentally and physically stronger."