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WomenOf the Month 2-06: Pro Beach Volleyball Players Dianne DeNecochea and Tammy Leibl

The women’s Professional Beach Volleyball season kicks off in early April with the first of 16 tournaments around the U.S. (go to for the complete schedule and locations). Thanks to wide exposure during the Olympics, the two-on-two sport is becoming a favorite with fans and has secured the support of sponsors like Fox Sports and NBC. In no small part its popularity stems from beach volleyball’s unique experience—full-bore athletic action in a laidback beach environment.

Two of the most compelling athletes competing this season (and seeded fourth going into the tournament) are not what you might expect to find diving for balls in the sand. They are WomenOf the Month Dianne DeNecochea and Tammy Leibl, 38 years and 40 years old respectively, and both moms. Those familiar with indoor and outdoor volleyball know their long and storied careers. Leibl is a three-time Olympian who took home a Bronze medal from the Barcelona Games in 1992, while DeNecochea starred in college, then in Major League Volleyball in the U.S. and in European leagues before returning to the U.S. and the AVP where she eventually teamed with Tammy.

When we talked with Tammy and Dianne in January, they were juggling their family lives with tough training regimens to prepare for the fast-approaching season. Their workouts consisted of three weekly sessions with a coach plus three weight conditioning sessions. “This is a really challenging time both mentally and physically,apostrophe noted DeNecochea. “After the workouts, I need to get dinner ready by 5:30 or 6:00 and then help get the children (aged 3 ½ and 15 months) ready for bed. It’s exhausting.apostrophe

DeNecochea had been taking time off from volleyball and working selling medical devices to hospitals when she became pregnant with her first child. One day soon after the birth of her child she and her husband attended a pro beach volleyball tournament. Her husband, himself a pro player in the past, maintained she could be just as good as the women on the court. Intrigued, five weeks after giving birth she returned to a training regimen to see if she could take up the two-person sport at the highest competitive level. Soon she was contacted by various top players who heard she was making a comeback and before long she and her teammate were enjoying success, taking home the Bronze Medal in the 2001 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour season finale in Brazil.

Along the way, in 2004, she needed a new partner. Her husband recommended Tammy, whom he had coached. Tammy’s stellar indoor record more than made up for her lack of experience playing two-person beach volleyball.

Tammy came to the sport after having had two children, who are now aged three and five. She had played more than 400 international matches and competed in the Seoul, Barcelona, and Atlanta Olympic Games for the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team. After several years playing professionally abroad in Europe and in Brazil, she also starred in four-on four beach volleyball. But when she returned to the U.S. in 1998 she decided to take a job as an assistant coach at the University of San Diego. She had no plans to return to playing, until DeNecochea contacted her in 2002.

“I really felt that coaching was not my gift,apostrophe Leibl says. “I really enjoyed it, but maybe because I played, and especially with my kids, I wanted to be able to be there to do things with my kids that coaching would have prevented.apostrophe

Initially she was intimidated by the prospect of getting back into shape for the grueling two-on-two game, and by learning how to play it. “You don’t jump as high as indoor, you’re not hitting down as much,apostrophe she says. “Outdoors is more finesse, you have more your own shots. The sun and the wind are factors, you must figure out defensively what balls you should get.apostrophe

How do she and DeNecochea handle the fact that they are older than most of the competitors they face? “We don’t think about it,apostrophe says Leibl. “We’re confident we’re in good shape. Physically we may not jump as high, but we’re both very tall—Dianne is 6’4 and I’m 5’10—and being veterans really helps. We’ve played in intense times. Mentally it helps us with pressure.

“Also, this isn’t my life. I’m enjoyed playing now because it’s not my life—that’s a neat perspective to have, to work hard but if I have to miss a workout for reasons of family or something else, I know I’m doing the best I can. It’s nice not to be so intense anymore.apostrophe

Not that the competitive fires don’t still burn fiercely in these players. Before Leibl committed to returning to the game as a player, she did some soul searching to see if she still had the drive she needed. “I realized that volleyball is my thing. I wanted to be good. I knew I’d have to have a lot of drive to play at this level at this age against better athletes in some cases. But I can’t stand to lose. That’s always been a part of me. I guess it’s part of being a perfectionist.apostrophe

Being team players makes their duo work, notes DeNecochea. ‘Neither of us is overly aggressive or cocky. We’re intense but we’re—I’m a nice, friendly person, and Tammy is too. But we’re both extremely competitive and rely on each other for success. We’re really excited when things go well and we’re alike on the ups and downs. We have a good trust and loyalty, and we’re very hard workers.apostrophe

Because they are both big, both are power oriented and work to hone their finesse play, notes DeNecochea. While they aren’t the most experienced beach players, they learned quickly because of their indoor experience at a high level and can handle different game situations skillfully.

This season they are especially encouraged to have coach Angela Rock accompanying them to tourneys and believe she will help them step up their play to the next level. “We expect to be in the final four and we want to put ourselves in a position to win,apostrophe says DeNecochea. “Our goal is to be in the final four consistently.apostrophe