Day News

West High product Emily Day emerges as beach volleyball star

14 Aug 2015

It took some unexpected turns for Emily Day to get to where she is as an emerging beach volleyball star.

Day was going to be the next Mia Hamm.

“I grew up playing soccer,” she’ll tell you. “I thought I was going to play college soccer.”

How did volleyball happen to enter the equation, an equation that includes playing Friday, Saturday and possibly/probably Sunday in the annual AVP Manhattan Beach Open?

“I grew taller,” she said.

That’s taller as in growing to 6-foot-1.

Tall and athletic led to volleyball at West Torrance High, which led to a volleyball scholarship at LMU and classroom equations. She has a degree in applied mathematics, which she has put to use tutoring high school students.

Your natural assumption is because Day is a Torrance native she grew up playing beach volleyball.

That was not part of the equation.

“My parents are from the East Coast,” she said. “They didn’t play volleyball. When we went to the beach, we laid out and had fun. I never really played volleyball at the beach.”

She was, clearly, an indoor player bouncing off the boards.

Then along came Steve Stratos, her LMU coach, with a suggestion.

Lmu days

Understand, a suggestion from a college coach carries the same weight as an order in the rest of society.

Stratos, an all-league basketball player during his days at Torrance High, “suggested” playing at the beach as a conditioning exercise.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be fun,’ ” Day said.

You know she flashed back to her childhood rollicking in the sand with her family.

“Then I got on the sand,” she said, grimacing at the memory. “I was horrible. I was like, ‘This is not fun.’ ”

Not even close.

You do not bounce off the sand the way you do a gym floor. Instead of six players on a team, there are only two to cover the court on the beach. The sun might blind you, wind is a factor with the flight of the ball and the sand can be blistering hot. Other than that, it’s a blast.

Demonstrating the resolve of a champion — she and teammate Jen Kessy won the New York City Open last month — Day did not fold. She took a deep breath and went to work.

Part of the deal during her undergraduate summers was entering beach tournaments. The results were not impressive at the start. This prompted her to ramp up her workouts at the beach.

“I decided, ‘I’m going to practice so I don’t get my butt kicked every weekend,’ ”she said. “Slowly, slowly, I started getting better and better.”

Her first AVP qualifier was in 2007 before her senior season at LMU.

“My dad goes, ‘There’s an AVP in Long Beach. You and Heather Hughes should try to qualify,’ ” she said. “I was like, ‘It costs $60. We don’t want to do that. We’re just going to lose.’ ”

They did it. They shelled out the $60. Where was dad with the cash? That was not part of his plan. Parental tough love?

“We ended up qualifying,” she said.

First pro tourneyShe had a big smile as she recounted how she and Hughes, her LMU teammate, became the lowest seeds ever to qualify for the main draw of an AVP tournament.

“We didn’t get to keep the money ($250) because you can’t take money as an amateur,” she said.

At least they got their $60 back. Right? Wrong.

“At that time, they didn’t allow that,” she said.

She laughed.

“It was a fun day, and that’s when I really realized if I really trained at this maybe I could make this happen,” she said.

It has happened slowly and steadily.

There was two years playing indoor in Switzerland, where she made enough money to live on, to travel some in Europe (Paris, Munich, etc.) and come home ahead financially.

After Switzerland, she shifted her concentration to the beach. Her teammate last summer was Summer Ross. They split following the season.

That’swhen Kessy, winner of a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics, thought by many to be ready to settle into retirement, decided not only to continue playing, but also decided she wanted Emily as her partner.

Day’s reaction?

“That’s cool,” she said.

It was unexpected, which no longer is unexpected for Emily Day.