Bruins Bring Out the Best in Beach Volleyball

2019 UCLA Beach Volleyball Champions
UCLA Beach Volleyball 2019 National Champions
In sunny Southern California, only a few miles away from the beach, UCLA is a natural breeding ground for beach volleyball enthusiasts. Volleyball legends like Christopher St. John “Sinjin” Smith ’87 and Karch Kiraly ’83, paved the way for Olympians and college athletes to bring us some of the best beach sports entertainment imaginable. In fact, it’s also UCLA’s most successful program in recent years, having won back-to-back NCAA championships by defeating Florida State in 2018 and rival USC in 2019.
AVP owner and CEO Donald Sun '98 (Robert Beck/AVP
AVP owner and CEO Donald Sun '98 (Robert Beck/AVP)
At the helm of professional beach volleyball is Bruin businessman Donald Sun ’98. A Taiwanese native and Southern California local, Sun decided it was time to take a risk a few years ago and leave his father’s successful Fortune 500 company, Kingston Technology, after 15 years to head in a direction that would allow him to merge his business philosophy and passion for beach volleyball. “I remember having a conversation with my dad about it. He said ‘maybe it’s something you should go into and pursue on your own to see what it’s like to succeed and fail in real life,’ ” Sun says.
Established in 1983, one of the longest running professional beach volleyball tours in the world, the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), went down a turbulent path. In 2010, the AVP had gone bankrupt and the brand was slowly fading away, along with the spirit of beach volleyball. Fast-forward to 2012, Sun purchased its assets and dug the franchise out of financial obscurity. Soon enough, his leadership took the program off in a direction of growth and sustainability. “I was always a lifelong fan of the AVP and played volleyball when I was in high school, even intramurals while attending UCLA, so I really wanted to see what we could do to build on it and make AVP better than it was,” Sun says. “I took this opportunity as a challenge, so when the AVP trademark was for sale, I figured, well, it’s something I have a passion for and I can embrace the history and legacy of the brand.”
2018 AVP Austin Open - Jeremy Casebeer
Jeremy Casebeer ʼ12 at Austin Open (Robert Beck/AVP)
In just four years, Sun and his team developed divisions within the AVP umbrella. The AVP Pro Tour is the most visible part of the brand showcasing their star athletes in televised tournaments from Hawaii to New York. The first official developmental program, AVPNext, brings opportunities for minor league players to earn their spot on the big AVP pro tour stage. AVP’s signature nonprofit youth volleyball program, AVP First, is specifically designed to engage all communities in the sport and focuses on underserved communities to provide the same opportunities in volleyball training available to more affluent communities. AVP Academy focuses on providing clinics and training for kids and adults by helping them improve their game with the help of top pro coaches, players and experts. And lastly, the AVP acquired AVP America, formerly Volley America, which is the largest recreational outdoor volleyball organization in the U.S., made up of 170 organizations from junior clubs to adult tournaments to recreational leagues. Sun began to reach a much more diverse audience through a targeted marketing campaign strategy that created opportunities for future star athletes to participate in the sport. “The AVP tours are clearly the pinnacle of being a professional beach volleyball athlete, so it’s really important to have the foundation where athletes, players, participants and fans have touchpoints with the AVP brand,” Sun says.
2017 AVP Championships in Chicago (Robert Beck/AVP
2017 AVP Championships in Chicago (Robert Beck/AVP
With the AVP taking a much more inclusive route by implementing youth programs and re-establishing successful partnerships with NBC Sports, Amazon, Wilson and other top brands, metropolitan cities like Seattle, Chicago and New York have joined in the beach volleyball craze and explosion in popularity. Year after year, beach volleyball participation also has rapidly increased across high schools and colleges. Right before the NCAA approved beach volleyball as the 90th championship sport in 2015, the AVP played an instrumental role in getting the sport recognized. Not only did they lobby tirelessly for the sport, but they also organized and produced the very first college event in 2006. Since its expansion, beach volleyball is now offered at about 90 colleges across all the NCAA Division levels, bringing young professional athletes to the surface and laying the groundwork for international competition.
The AVP has featured some of the best elite pro beach players across the country, including Bruins Elaine Youngs ’93, Holly McPeak ’95, Lauren Fendrick ’04, Ed Ratledge ’00, Ali Daley McColloch ’12 and Jeremy Casebeer ʼ12.
Sarah Sponcil ’19 at 2018 Austin Open
Sarah Sponcil ’19 at 2018 Austin Open (Robert Beck/AVP)
Recent graduate Sarah Sponcil ’19 and USC teammate Kelly Claes are currently in the race for a spot to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. En route to their title in May, UCLA’s beach volleyball team finished the season with an impressive 35-3 record under director and head coach Stein Metzger ’96, who also competed professionally in the AVP Tour and during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. “There’s a sense of pride when an American athlete goes overseas and represents the AVP Tour,” Sun says. “This is their tour and this is where they fight to get better and learn how to win.” During the offseason last year, Sarah Sponcil had tremendous success in the AVP Tours, becoming the third person in AVP history to land a spot in the Finals in their first-ever AVP Main Draw.
At UCLA, the sport’s popularity is attracting more investors. In 2017, UCLA Foundation Board member John Mapes ʼ90 and his wife Carrie ʼ90, M.Ed. ʼ91 donated $1 million for student-athlete scholarships and the creation of Mapes Beach, the beach volleyball courts located at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
Led by Sun and featuring several Bruin star athletes, the AVP continues to promote the sport worldwide by bringing new talent to the court, providing family-oriented events and creating a healthy lifestyle. Sun finds enjoyment whenever he sees large crowds coming in on a Saturday afternoon, knowing they made a commitment that weekend to come down and spend it with the AVP. “We are here to let you forget about life for a while,” Sun says. “Let us entertain you, not just with the event itself, but with the other activities you can enjoy while attending a tournament. It’s a beach lifestyle no matter where you live.”
Donald Sun - AVP Owner and CEO
Upcoming AVP Events
Gold Series / Manhattan Beach
Aug. 16 - 18
Manhattan Beach, Calif.
South side of the Manhattan Beach pier
Gold Series / Championships in Chicago
Aug. 30 - Sept. 1
Oak Street Beach, Chicago
Hawaii Open Presented by Hawai’i Tourism Authority
Sept. 20 - 22
Fort Derussy, Waikiki

General admission is free and seats are on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, visit