It didn’t have any stake in the matter, but the crowd gathered
around court No. 4 nonetheless.
On this particular day, Rachel Inouye and Karly Drolson, the Bruins’ “smallest” sand volleyball pair at 5-foot-6 each, were faced with a Pepperdine duo, each player over 6 feet tall.
But Inouye and Drolson proved resilient. They dug hard-hit balls and forced long rallies to create a stir. Soon, players and parents from a third-party school took notice and flocked to their court to cheer on the Bruin pair.
After all, they are known as “America’s team.”
“They call them ‘America’s team’ because everybody always falls in love with them, (they’re) winning the hearts and minds of people,” said coach Stein Metzger. “They love the fact that they’re underdogs because of their size.”
Inouye and Drolson, both falling on the short end of their sport’s height standards, form an unlikely, yet successful, pair for the Bruins.
Most sand volleyball pairs tend to match a taller player with a smaller player – maybe even two taller players. But two smaller players together? It’s rare.
“Everyone always says ‘We’re so cute’ … (but) we don’t like when people say that. (They) always want to cheer for us ’cause we’re smaller players,” Drolson said.
For their coach, the pairing came out of nowhere.
“Last season, if you had asked me day one ‘would they play together’, I’d be like, ‘No way,’” Metzger said.
Yet in a midseason practice last year, Inouye and Drolson’s paths fortuitously crossed – and stuck.
Never having played as a pair before, the two were thrown together. That’s when they beat all of their fellow Bruin pairs; it just clicked, Drolson said, and it has ever since.
“We work well together. We’re both non-dramatic people … pretty even-keeled,” Inouye said. “We sometimes get frustrated, but we’ve been together for a while so know how to manage each other’s frustrations.”
But no matter the situation on the court, Inouye and Drolson aren’t a pair for many words. They don’t need to, they just seem to understand and connect with each other, Metzger explained.
“Personality goes a long way when it goes into creating pairs,” he said. “It’s like a marriage, really. Because it’s only the two of you … (and) you really have to get along through thick and thin, high times and low times.”
With a bond growing between the two and success ensuing, it came as little surprise who Inouye and Drolson wanted as partners this season.
In privacy, each UCLA sand volleyball player discussed her top three choices for a partner to the coaching staff in January. Fittingly, both Inouye and Drolson listed each other as their top choice, even doing so without the other’s knowledge beforehand.
Fast forward three months, and the duo sports the best overall pairs record on the team. The two have relied not just on their impeccable chemistry, but on a unique style of play.
In games, it’s their superb ball control that is at the core of their success.
But unlike most sand volleyball pairs, they rarely go up for blocks, leaving the opposition a free path at the net for spikes. Instead, the two hang back in the middle of the sand, using their polished digging abilities from their time as liberos on the indoor volleyball team to create long rallies.
“Just everything about them is very right. From communication to chemistry to defense to offense to not making errors,” said senior Madie Smith. “I think they have taken on being two short players together … and not made it a negative thing, but made it a positive thing.”
That much the “smaller” duo has done – and in a big way.