The FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour four-star event in Itapema from November 10-14 will mark the end of a busy season for most of the players competing in Brazil. For American Taylor Sander, however, the tournament will be the start of a new stage in his career.
After nine years representing the United States volleyball men’s national team and some of the best teams in the world, the 29-year-old Californian will debut a partnership with standout defender Taylor Crabb on the sand.
“Playing indoor is really tough on your body and living in Europe is also really tough,” Sander said in an interview to VolleyballMag. “Not only for me, but for my family. Being able to live in the U.S. and travel a little bit, the lifestyle is a lot better. So for me, after playing seven years, I’ve had enough and I want a new challenge. Didn’t want to be burnt out anymore.”
Sander has had tremendous success in his volleyball career, having won gold at the 2015 FIVB Volleyball World Cup, bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics and the 2018 FIVB Volleyball World Championships and silver and bronze at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League, as well as countless titles at the club level.
According to Crabb, who picked Sander up after the retirement of Jake Gibb, his new partner has what it takes to be an elite player at the beach too.
“I think we’re going to do great,” the defender said. “In my mind, he’s a top five volleyball player in the world. He hasn’t played beach in a while but he grew up doing it, so it won’t take him long to get back to where he was. We played each other when we were 15 and he won every beach tournament there was. He’s one of the most athletic players I’ve ever seen on the beach, it’s going to be exciting.”
Sander only started practising at the beach after he represented the United States at the Tokyo Olympics and since then has only appeared in a four-man exhibition tournament in Austin, Texas, which he won alongside Crabb, his brother Trevor and Tri Bourne.
But he expects the enormous amount of time he spent playing on the beaches of California growing up will quickly put him on track – and also provide the lifestyle he’s looking for at this point of his life.
“I grew up playing beach, so it’s part of my life, it’s not completely strange to me,” Sander told VolleyballMag. “But it’s fun. I always preferred it over indoor anyways. For me, I’ve always wanted to make the switch, it was just the right timing for it. If it’s not meant for me, then I will reevaluate.”
His partnership with Crabb is one that should prove interesting to watch. The two players, who were born less than two months apart in 1992, grew up competing against each other and became good friends when they were 15.
After representing the United States together at the 2011 FIVB Junior World Championship, they went separate ways, with Sander quickly joining the American national team and Crabb moving to the beach following a couple of seasons playing volleyball overseas. Ten years later, they’re reunited where they first met and looking for a goal in common – to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
“It’s crazy how things happened for us after that,” Crabb commented. “I always thought I’d take the indoor route, like he did, and later on in my career would come to the beach. I had success on the beach faster than I thought and stuck to it while he became a fantastic indoor player. It’s always been in my mind that at some point of our careers I’d like to play with him on the beach and it’s always cool when friends can come together later in their lives and achieve a goal of both of their dreams.”