Burnham earns success on sand

After a ninth-place finish in the FIVB Beach Volleyball U23 World Championships, Kirby Burnham didn't want to sit around and sulk in disappointment.

She didn't even want to take a tour of Myslowice, Poland. Burnham, the former Newport Harbor High standout, only wanted to train. As the tournament continued, she practiced in Poland.

When she returned from Poland Monday night, she woke up Tuesday morning and wanted to practice some more in Newport Beach. There is no time to rest now. Burnham wants to improve. She has lofty goals in mind. She knows she can play two more years of sand volleyball at USC. Then there are goals of playing on the FIVB World Tour and taking her shot at the 2016 Olympics. She has the desire to keep on playing and shoot for the 2020 Olympics.

As she becomes closer to reaching each goal, she can credit moments like the ones in Poland for making her stronger.

"As soon as we got back from Poland she had that mentality that 'I want to be training and I want to get ready,'" said Anna Collier, the U.S. U23 coach who is also the USC sand volleyball coach. "[The U23 World Championships] took her to another level in her mind. She can be as good as these other players. She knows that is the next generation of beach volleyball players she played against. It really kicked her up a notch. It was great to see. You see the passion in her eye. It's a big light bulb that went on. I really believe it clicked. She's thinking, 'I can do this' and more important, 'I want to do this.'"

Burnham certainly garnered confidence before the ninth-place finish in Poland, where she teamed with Tara Roenicke out of Long Beach State.

Burnham is familiar with Roenicke. Burnham won the American Volleyball Coaches Assn. national title with Stevi Robinson against Roenicke and Caitlin Ledoux last month.

The national championship provided excitement for Burnham and made many at USC proud. To win a national title in her second year in the sport gave her more incentive to continue to work hard.

Dan Glenn, the Newport Harbor girls' volleyball coach, and Collier both said Burnham has great potential in beach volleyball.

Glenn said Burnham has the tools to succeed on the sand. She was talented while indoor during her senior year in 2009 when she helped the Sailors win CIF State Division 1 and CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA titles.

She played two seasons of indoor at USC and has made a smooth transition into sand volleyball for the Trojans.

"I think she is one of the most natural blockers I have ever seen," Collier said. "She instinctively understands blocking and brought that to the beach game. And also for a taller competitor she is incredibly fast. She can move to get that ball for digs. Plus, she has a really fast arm swing. She can put the ball down quick."

Burnham, 21, has enjoyed her time at USC, attending other sporting events and gaining more knowledge in her major of communications. Yet being a part of a new sport for the Trojans has made her college years even more memorable.

"Having the sand experience is like a dream come true for me," Burnham said. "It was always a hobby for me. I always played. The most exciting thing is to play for a school like USC that is so supportive of an emerging sport."

Burnham said it was "cool," to be one of the first All-Americans in sand volleyball with Robinson and to watch the program grow.

USC did not have a training facility in its first year as it does now with three sand courts near Galen Center.

Burnham said she likes how sometimes people watch from the parking lot. Her junior season was fun and successful as she went 25-4 with Robinson.

She'll have a new partner for her senior season. In sand volleyball, there are five two-person teams that compete against another school. Burnham is set to be on USC's top team. The question of who she'll be paired with is yet to be answered.

It could be incoming freshman Sara Hughes, the top sand volleyball recruit out of Mater Dei. It might even be Cinnamon Sary, who, like Burnham, is from Newport Harbor.

Sary, who was also on that Sailors state championship team as a sophomore, made her transition onto the USC sand volleyball team this past season. She teamed with Katie Fuller to finish fifth in the AVCA pairs tournament.

"Cinnamon was a great asset to the team last year," Collier said. "It will be nice to have her training longer. She came out very late. We couldn't train her the way we wanted to. But she's an unbelievably good, natural sand volleyball player. She has a natural instinct to play sand."

Burnham has also caught on with the game rather quick. She credits coaches like Glenn and longtime club volleyball coach Charlie Brande, she said. She's also grateful for April Ross, who starred at Newport Harbor and USC before winning a silver medal at the Olympics in London last summer.

Burnham and others believe she is capable of reaching the same type of success if she continues to work hard. That's why Burnham went straight into training mode after finishing ninth in Poland.

She feels great about the success while at USC, but she knows competing against international players is a whole different story. The majority of the teams in the U23 World Championships are pairs that have played together consistently in other international tournaments, Collier said.

While in NCAA competition, Burnham didn't see too many teams serve at her, but that changed while in Poland, Collier said, and Burnham needs to continue to train to be prepared for those type of situations.

Last year, Burnham juggled her summer with a public relations internship, volleyball training and competing in various tournaments. It felt good to accomplish so much with a busy schedule, but Burnham said she wanted to change her schedule and workload this summer.

She doesn't have an internship and has basically left her summer open so that she is available to play in tournaments overseas. She said she'll go back and forth with training at Manhattan Beach and living in Newport Beach with her family aside from traveling.

Burnham said she enjoys work in public relations, but she wants to keep playing volleyball for as long as she can.

"I think if I keep working hard it will all work out," she said.

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